This year’s CUNY IT Conference was a good one for me–although different than it’s been in the past. I got to see people from my various communities in CUNY, including some I don’t see so often anymore. As time goes by and my CUNY role broadens, so do those communities–so it’s even more fun, like a reunion, to see and greet them all. I was still recovering from a bad cold, so I had to be careful about hugging and handshaking (and forgot about that more often than I should have–apologies to anyone I infected!).
I also was pleasantly surprised and honored to receive (as a member of the Consortial Faculty of the CUNY Online Baccalaureate) a Mike Ribaudo Award for Technological Innovation. A beautiful certificate, and (it’s rumored) a Zune are my reward–but the recognition was worth a lot more.
And I moderated two very successful panels with the Macaulay Honors College Instructional Technology Fellows. That was another difference for me–instead of presenting on my own, I was a convener and moderator–letting the ITF’s do the real presenting. And their presentations were fantastic. I’m so happy and impressed to be able to work with such a brilliant group of colleagues. Their work with the students, their willingness to try new things, to think about pedagogy, to learn new technologies from scratch…I can’t take credit for any of that, but I sure do enjoy seeing the benefits.
Of course the conference also had its drawbacks–as it always has. Because it tries to meld the two kinds of “I” in “IT” (“Information” vs. “Instruction”…but more specifically, it’s administration vs. teaching/learning) into one conference, there’s a division of audience, and a division of types of panel, that doesn’t always quite work. (Jim Groom has an excellent blog post on this subject) Presentations about telephone systems or ID card scanners make a totally separate “track” from presentations about using wikis for interdisciplinary seminars–and the limited space and time of a one-day conference makes it so that there is only room on the program for a few presentations all together–somebody is always going to get left out. And that means that it’s just impossible to get to see everything you want to see. (This was even worse for me, because with two panels of my own, I just couldn’t make it to some of the panels I really wanted to attend–for example, Jim, Mikhail Gershovich, and Matt Gold’s presentation, as well as Howard Wach’s).
I know how hard the conference committee works to balance these two directions in putting the program together, and I think they usually do manage to maintain a fairly even balance. Last year I tried to do a numerical count, and it was just about dead even. But it could be that these two directions just don’t belong in the same conference.
Yet on the other hand, maybe there’s really something to be said for getting these two areas, the people in these two different roles, to talk to each other. That doesn’t happen at this conference very often, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Or at least I like to hope not.
My own role these days is an attempt to bridge those two directions–or actually to reinvision the traditional hierarchy between them. At Macaulay we’re making a real effort to put teaching and learning first and foremost–to make the administrative/IT side totally answerable to, and totally in the service of, teaching and learning. And maybe there’s part of an answer there. Traditionally it’s the administrative side that has held the reins. They have had the money, they have had the decision-making power and the institutional influence. And all too often their priorities and interests have been very different from the teaching and learning side’s. And all too often their attitude toward the teaching and learning side has not been positive (and that goes both ways, possibly).
I’ve written before about how I think that has to change–and now that I’m in a position where I’m really actively trying to change it, I think that just flat reversing it, putting the reins in the hands of the other side, will not take care of the problems all on its own. I do think that the ultimate authority, the ultimate influence, really does have to be on the teaching and learning side, but I also think there has to be more room for conversation, communication, and mutual respect than there has generally been. If that is possible.