Dear Members of the City College Community,
I wanted to write to talk a little bit about the CUNY decision to enter into a recalibration period — you'll also see a new broadcast from the Chancellor explaining the decision in more detail. I know that many of you worked hard to get up to speed on distance learning and that you view this period as an interruption in this momentum. CUNY was not satisfied that every student had sufficient technology to keep up with distance learning classes, and this is a large part of the motivation behind the decision — hence the language around educational equity. That concern is, at any rate, consistent with the language issued by our chief diversity officer around making sure that we do not allow inequity to seep into our distance learning practices.
There are two ways that we can make the most of this second cessation of teaching.
The first is easy. We want to make absolutely sure that no student is unable to access their distance learning courses because they have neither a device that will go online or internet. If you have not filled out the student technology gap survey, please do so immediately. You'll find a link to that survey here:
If you still need technical assistance, please fill it out as soon as possible, and we'll make sure that you will have access to technology.
The second issue has to do with how we're teaching. In some ways, even though most of us were not used to teaching or learning on line, Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate allow instructors in many cases to sit in front of a screen and teach classes much as they would have done in person. However, the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus suggest that there are more effective ways to proceed, and in particular, that we should start exploring more asynchronous modes of teaching. This means that material — a lecture, exercises, something else — is posted online, and students can access that material at a later period. You may make that period open-ended. You may replicate “attendance” by requiring students to access the material within a set period of time.
But it would be an important improvement in synchronous education, in the sense that students who are home now, are often living in vastly changed circumstances. Students with children may now have them at home, needing attention during class time. Others may be in cramped and newly-crowded spaces and would want to access lessons in the evening when things are quiet.
Moving to asynchronous instruction would mean recording lectures and posting them, making time at different moments of the day to interact online with students — so that a class may have discussion sections posted at different times. You may need a little bit of time to think about how you might introduce some of these changes, and the recalibration period gives you a chance to think about and introduce these changes. You might even begin producing these new lessons over the next several days. In my reading of the recalibration period, as long as you are not requiring students to attend your sessions, in real-time, during the period, you may even begin posting them — so long as student participation is not required until after we resume sessions on Wednesday.
Other matters: I also wanted to make sure we all understood the latest policy from CUNY regarding credit/no credit grades. The policy was devised to give students, during this period of extreme disruption, the greatest leeway possible — both in deciding that they wanted to take a class on a purely credit basis, or opting to get a letter grade. There is some misinformation floating around concerning this policy, so to be clear:
- Students have the option of selecting a grade, or a no grade but credit only option;
- Students do not need the permission of their professor or their department; the option extends to 20 days after you get a final grade, and will be managed by the registrar, rather than your professor;
- Students will know their letter grade before the make a decision about converting it to CR/NCR (Credit/No Credit);
- We are using CR/NCR instead of P/F, because an F grade would have pulled down your GPA, while an NCR grade simply does not count toward your credit total.
- Classes that earn a CR grade this semester will count toward your major even if your major does not allow you to take P/F classes in your major. This is a university policy overwriting local rules.
In every respect, these measures are designed to give students as much leeway as possible. We do this because we understand that this is an incredibly disruptive semester. We are all worried about people we love and about our own health and safety. We are all concerned that distance learning is a new thing, and we may not perform as well in these unfamiliar circumstances. The pressure to stay on top of classes is now augmented with the pressure of trying to navigate the new normal in our homes and communities.
We can't alleviate all of those problems, and we can't make the monumental transition of distance learning on a dime. What we can do is work to make sure we're getting better and better at it over the course of this semester. And — and this is where the section on CR/NCR grading comes in — we can also do everything we can to give students options and discretion to influence how the new normal will impact their education.