I took a break from grading [!] to go to the second day of this year's CUNY IT Conference held at the Graduate Center last Tuesday and thought I would share some interesting trends and even some relevant news. I was struck with two things: first, how mainstream IT and education are now (before this event was for 'sysadmins' and, well, 'geeks'). Secondly, I was amazed that the panels on online courses relied so much on Blackboard (and not so much streaming videos of mini-lectures) or Web 2.0 tools. I know some of us at LaGuardia are involved with online / hybrid courses. My department doesn't do this yet, but when if and when we do make this leap, we should be absolutely confident that we are ready for online instruction-the participants in this Community 2.0 are farther ahead than the presentations I saw when it comes to Web 2.0 tools!
The last panel was the most interesting, and we should all be aware of this. There is a movement underfoot to build a CUNY-wide 'student-publishing platform' using open-source tools like WordPress (blogs) and MediaWiki (wikis) with social networking ability using the expertise gained from an ad hoc group (centered at the GC and City Tech including English professors--who seem to have time to design and manage software development! -- and programming talent from the GC). They have put together the CUNY Academic Commons (which was launched last year). See http://commons.gc.cuny.edu/ . I haven't used the Commons much, but it seems simple enough: a social networking, publishing and blogging platform for CUNY Faculty only (and Faculty guests from outside institutions) to promote awareness and connections of research initiatives and particular programs. (I saw a strong demo. from a New Media program from York College. Using the Commons to promote itself instead of an in-house website is one solution to nder-responsive in-house IT support and restricted resources that they said they have at York. I wonder if there are any programs here which might take advantage of this approach.)
The flip-side to this effort is a similar platform for students. All kinds of issues and concerns were discussed including liability for inappropriate content, copyright, administration, hosting and development costs, etc. The CUNY Technology Director George Otte (whom I had the pleasure to work with at Baruch and at the GC) was in the audience, and he said a smart thing, "Build it and they will fund." Various ideas for funding a pilot were then discussed. And so this initiative is underway. (There was a fascinating discussion -- well, for me anyway, since I used to know a thing or two about designing software -- and that was their model at the GC and the Commons for supporting users, fixing bugs and such comes from Faculty and users, not from IT. This is possible only because of the ethos of open source, where any modifications can be easily requested and quickly made. If you have an iPhone / iPad this sort of thing goes on all the time with iPhone apps, which are not open sourced. You can write the developer or at least leave feedback with particular fixes and requested features. Try that with Google or Microsoft, for instance.) If and when the student version of the CUNY Commons arrives, it will be in what they said would be a 'federated' model where code and servers would be maintained on each campus, but content could be searched and shared across the University. This begs the question of what distinct advantage a 'curated' social networking / blogging site might offer vs. public Web 2.0 tools that we are using for the seminar and that students use in their spare time. I think there are several advantages: easier transfers between schools (overcoming huge costs for mis-matched Gen Ed. courses for transfer students as was mentioned), and also single-sign on for students, which means just one password. Student clubs and organizations could also establish an 'official' online presence more easily. (This interested me as an emissary for the upcoming Journalism Option at LaGuardia, for example.)
The last and most salient point was that for learning communities, resources and points of contact in content could be shared. I spoke up in my small group and mentioned that we are engaged at a pilot of just such an operation at LaGuardia! (That's us!) But wouldn't it be pretty amazing to connect students across CUNY campuses, for example, between Journalism students at LaGuardia and Brooklyn (where we will be sending students with an articulation agreement) and between LaGuardia and Queens / John Jay for our Writing and Literature Major, etc.? 'Virtual mentoring' between 4-year and 2-year colleges would seem to be a natural way to improve pass rates and promote student retention. Well, one day. We are already ahead of the curve, aren't we in this seminar? Well, back to my final grading.... Happy Holidays to All!