The first panel was a presentation of the work of the CUNY Online Baccalaureate Program. This was likely the most highly attended session at the conference, and also the most densely populated panel (I believe there were thirty-seven presenters limited to forty-five seconds each… or at least it seemed that way). The speed of the presentation and the minimum time allowed for questions made it difficult to come to any conclusions about the program. The presenters also, more than once, positioned their experiences as “one-hundred eighty degrees” different from one another concerning this pedagogical conundrum or that, so it seems that the faculty teaching in the program also haven’t yet reached any synthesized conclusions. That, I suppose, is to be expected from something so young and experimental. Each course in the program, which offers a degree in Communication and Culture, is taught entirely online through Blackboard and Learning Objects, Inc. extensions to it. While some of the faculty felt that Blackboard did a fine job of facilitating their classes, others felt stifled by the software and its proprietary logic, and have looked for outside solutions.
The short presentations combined with the Blackboard wall between the public and the program make it difficult for me to assess exactly how effective the online instruction is. The faculty do seem to feel as though they are teaching and reaching many of their students… this, it seems to me, is the most you can really hope for from a program that’s taught entirely online. Clearly, there are a lot of talented faculty involved in the program and a lot of resources invested, so it seems likely to me that a lot of good work is happening. Hopefully, we’ll hear more about the CUNY Online BA in the future.
No faculty member really wants to teach a course entirely online, but I do feel that this program allows students to complete a degree who, due to work and family commitments, might otherwise find it impossible. The program fits well within the CUNY mission of providing affordable, quality higher education for the diverse population of the city and, judging from what I saw, the instruction is rigorous and demanding. In this case, technology is entirely responsible for making it possible.
The most astounding factoid to come out of this session was the claim made, privately to me, that there hasn’t been a single instance where a student has needed technical aid, because the program orientation covered every possible potential problem. I have a hard time believing this, but if it’s true, that must have been the Best Orientation Ever.