Last week we got CUNY Board of Trustees approval, and State Higher Ed approval is most likely forthcoming soon, for the CUNY Online Baccalaureate for Degree Completers. I’ve been involved in the planning of this new program from early on, and I’m very excited about it. I expect to do quite a few more posts about it, now that it’s approved and as it goes public.

The program has faced quite a bit of opposition, and some of that has surprised and disappointed me, but I’m convinced it’s going to be a huge success. I want to discuss some of that opposition, and some of what I think is innovative and exciting about the project.

But to begin, as a first post, I thought I’d post the statement I presented to the Board of Trustees hearing last week. The hearing was in a very beautiful and imposing courtroom in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. I was strangely nervous and intimidated by the setting (and by the antagonism of some of the opponents), but I still feel like it was a pretty good statement.

I am an associate professor of English, and director of teaching and learning with technology, at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. I have been at BMCC since 1985, and a member of the full time faculty since 1993.

I began teaching online at BMCC in 2001. Even before that time, I took online classes as a student, and since that time I have observed other faculty’s online courses, I have trained faculty to teach online, and I have been trained and certified to evaluate online degree programs as an Institutional Capability Reviewer by the State Board of Higher Education. I have researched and published on asynchronous online discussion, as well as the scholarship of teaching and learning with technology, social software, digital storytelling, and electronic teaching portfolios.

As a teacher, a scholar, and a student, I have seen the benefits of online education, including online degrees, and as a member of the SCORE committee and the OBD curriculum committee, I have been working to make those benefits available to our students at CUNY.

I want to briefly describe some of those benefits.

  • Meaningful personal contact with instructors and fellow students—students in online classes, almost universally, report that they have more contact and more meaningful educational contact with their professors than in face-to-face classes. Even more important, the opportunities for collaborative learning and student-centered education are much greater in the online class than in face-to-face classes.
  • Depth of intellectual exploration—in the online class, because discussion is asynchronous, students have the opportunity to explore subjects and ideas, even when tangentially connected, motivated by their interest and desire, and not constrained by the limits of a synchronous face-to-face class session. Students and instructors alike can make connections and links to material outside the classroom, as the entire range of information resources provided by the internet are within easy reach.
  • Opportunities for reflection—discussion in online classes leaves a persistent trace, rather than being ephemeral—students not only have time to think deeply about statements and responses, they can go back and review what they and other students have said in discussion, when reviewing material, thinking further, or preparing for exams or writing papers.
  • Strengthening of essential skills (reading/writing/critical thinking across the curriculum)–because the work in online classes is conducted by reading and writing, along with associated other media (audio and video), reading and writing become part of the medium of every course, not just specialized composition or literature classes.
  • Access—Online courses allow students to have the full academic rigor and intellectual stimulation of a college education, on their own schedules, with flexibility and adjustment to meet the demands of work, family, and other personal obligations.
  • Participation/Equity—in online classes, students can participate without apprehension about their accents, physical appearance, or discomfort with interrupting others. In the face-to-face classroom, no matter how equitable and student-centered it may be, it is impossible for every student voice to be heard. A few voices, more forceful or more confident or more eloquent than the rest will always be dominant. In the online classroom, every voice not only can be heard, but can be responded to, valued, and encouraged.

There are more advantages, too, but because time is limited let me emphasize that my experience has shown that online education, like any educational experience, is not appropriate for every student, not for every subject, and not for every faculty member.

But in working on the proposal for the CUNY OBD, my fellow committee members and myself, all experienced, dedicated, CUNY faculty, have been conscious throughout of CUNY’s mission of access and excellence, and I am certain that the CUNY OBD will support and enhance that mission.

When I presented this orally, I started to run over time (there was a strictly enforced three minute maximum time limit), and I added some remarks about our experience with the Sloan Semester for Katrina victims, so I had to cut some of this. I also had a bad asthma moment, unfortunately, so I had to do some gasping for breath! But that might have added a little pathetic appeal–so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.