I write to you about the uncertainty surrounding our fall semester. Unfortunately, I am not going to resolve that uncertainty in this memo, but rather tell you what we are thinking and how we are planning for the fall in the midst of it.
We can all follow the media reports and make our own judgments about the likelihood of being back on campus come late August or continuing in a fully online mode. What is clear to me is that regardless of the primary modality of our instruction, there will be students and probably faculty and staff as well who will feel unsafe coming to campus. Some will have long subway rides they want to avoid, some will not want to be in a classroom with other students and faculty, some will just feel unsafe leaving their homes after this long period of shelter-in-place orders. Whatever our personal outlook, we will all need to understand that each of us is in our own place, and we will need to make accommodations.
What this means for the fall semester is that we need to prepare for our classes to be accessible remotely, and to have the appropriate administrative supports also available remotely, including academic advising, student affairs, and enrollment services. Whether this means we are fully online again remains to be seen. That is not a decision that City College can make alone, but is one that will be made by the Chancellor in consultation with the Governor. Regardless of whether we are fully online or fully open as a campus, distance learning capabilities will still be needed to accommodate those who can’t or won’t come to campus.
To prepare for this we are doing two things. First, from the technological standpoint, we are planning to use some of the CARES Act funding to prepare as many classrooms on campus for live streaming and recording of lectures as possible. This will allow instructors to make their classes accessible to students who are not on campus, while also serving those who are, should the campus be open. It is also likely that even if the campus is open, we will need to keep the density down by having only a fraction of the students in a given class attend live on a given day. This will also allow us to manage that eventuality.
Second, this means that distance education is not something we are just dealing with this spring and summer, but is likely to be with us for a while in some form or another. This spring, nearly all of our effort was put into the technological challenge of moving online in emergency mode. We are past that now, and while there are still technological challenges to work on, we have to seriously turn our attention to the quality of the learning experience. To this end, the University is making available online education workshops through the School of Professional Studies. These three-week workshops focus on pedagogy and best practices in online education and come with a small stipend to compensate participants for their time. Professor Tom Peele is the campus liaison for the SPS workshops, and you should contact him if you are interested in participating. In addition, CETL is holding workshops and training sessions, which are so far focused on the nuts and bolts and how-to of using Blackboard and other tools, but will be turning more toward pedagogical training and will be pulling in our own faculty who have experience and expertise in online education to share best practices. At the end of August we will be holding a Faculty Development Day (online) during which we will have a number of sessions on techniques of online education, organized by CETL. Finally, ACUE, an organization with which we are already involved that specializes in training for effective pedagogy, is about to roll out a course on Effective Online Teaching Practices that we will be evaluating as another possible training opportunity.
Laboratory and studio classes present unique challenges that are not addressed by any amount of training and which resist technological solutions. In some cases we have been able to address these by purchasing tools and materials for students to take home. In other cases, online simulations have provided a way of moving a lab online. Such solutions can be expensive, but they can also be funded by CARES Act money, and so I invite you to think of possibilities for your laboratory or studio class and send me a proposal. CARES funding is not unlimited, and we don’t yet know all the bureaucratic requirements to use it, but we should know that soon, and the summer months are the time to put these things in place for the fall. Testing in some classes remains the great, unsolved problem on which we need to work intensively over the coming weeks and months.
Finally, the waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that allowed us to move to online education this spring, expires on June 1. The University, the State, and our accrediting body, The Middle States Council on Higher Education, are all lobbying the DOE for an extension. We expect an extension to be in place, but in case it is not, we are working with Middle States, and with the support of CUNY, to be officially approved for online delivery in time for the fall. Many other CUNY campuses are in the same boat and doing the same thing.
In closing, I want to thank all of you for the incredible effort you have each undertaken to continue to deliver on the mission of City College under the most difficult of circumstances. As difficult as it is for us, it is even more difficult for our students. Your dedication to them every day does not go unnoticed and it gives my job meaning. Thank you.
Be safe and be well,