The City University of New York (CUNY) is launching a comprehensive academic online program that will offer 175 online options and programs, most of them, housed at senior and community colleges that are the core structure of the university. A significant number of Associate Degree Online Programs will be offered at CUNY community colleges. As part of this CUNY initiative, at Hostos Community College, we will be offering two fully online programs: an Early Childhood Education and a Liberal Arts Associate Degree.
The rationale for this institutional move toward more online degrees at the university is that CUNY will be able to provide affordable and flexible academic options for students who cannot attend in person traditional classes offered at the colleges but who would be interested in online learning as their best academic choice. After two years (2020-22) in which most of our classes were online —because of the COVID 19 pandemic—, CUNY has significantly extended its online programs. According to CUNY Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez: “The shift to online instruction that took place during the pandemic demonstrated the great promise of technology to help us meet students quite literally where they live, but course materials need to be optimized, and best practices incorporated, to realize the full potential of these tools.”
Online teaching and online learning are based on the use of Internet resources and instruction is delivered electronically using computer-based technologies, multimedia and web-based platforms. For more than two decades, CUNY has used Blackboard as its main platform for web-based learning, but now we are in transition to a new web-based technology called “Brightspace.” CUNY expects to have this new learning management system (LMS) in place before 2025 and at Hostos, we are expected to have all our online classes using the new web-based platform in 2024. That means, that during Fall 2023, faculty will be in the process of creating new courses and restructuring the ones that we have been offering using Blackboard. The transition from Blackboard to the new LMS will take two years, with four groups of campuses transitioning over sequential semesters, according to an online update posted by CUNY’s Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost.
I have been teaching online since 2005, and I will be involved with the Hostos’ liberal arts online program. After my experience teaching asynchronous, hybrid and web-enhanced classes, I am eager to start this institutional transition to a new LMS. I think that online learning can be a rewarding and great academic experience for many students with genuine personal and family issues who cannot attend traditional face to face classes. Thus, for them enrolling in online academic degrees would be their best educational choice.
On the other hand, I don’t think that online learning is for all types of students. Effective online learning, specially in asynchronous courses, requires strong motivation, self-discipline and a sharp sense of academic responsibility. This is essentially a modality based on independent learning and students’ capacity to work “alone.” There is limited social interaction in online learning and most communications and interactions between faculty and students (and among students) is done in writing. In addition, students need to have access to reliable computers and a good internet connection. Some students use smartphones and they manage their online classes as best as they can, but my experience with Blackboard suggests that phones are not the best tools with which to do the required academic online works and they (sometimes) fail in the most critical moments. I don’t know if the new LMS that we will be using after 2024 would be better for students who don’t have computers and depend on their smartphones.
After underlying issues related to online learning, I should address some questions related to online teaching. To be an effective online instructor, faculty would need effective training and experience. I have been teaching online for many years (after a training that we did in 2005 sponsored by CUNY and the Sloan Foundation) and I must stress that I learn new things about teaching online every semester, not just regarding the technology but also about the need to make adjustments to the pedagogy and teaching strategies that I have been using.
In order to help students in the online learning environment, faculty should develop effective teaching strategies. We should do our best to help students in the process of achieving their academic goals and work hard to motivate them to accomplish their academic works and improve their performance in online classes.
Finally, during Spring 2023 I have participated together with other Hostos faculty members in “training” on Effective Online Teaching Practices organized by the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE).
This is a full year (two semesters) online training program and the main rationale for it is to enhance faculty abilities to create a supportive and inclusive online learning environment. So far, it has been a great experience and this training should be taken by all faculty interested in online teaching. Faculty interested in enhancing their online teaching skills should contact Associate Dean Andrea Fabrizio in OAA to participate in the ACUE’s training that the college is sponsoring. ACUE’s teaching philosophy —and pro-active pedagogy— is to provide faculty with critical tools to enhance their teaching online resources and ideas, learning more about strategies to cope with challenging teaching and learning experiences both in asynchronous and synchronous classes offered through web-based platforms.
Prof. Felipe Pimentel holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from CUNY Graduate Center. Before joining the faculty at Hostos in 2004, he taught at several other CUNY colleges, including Lehman, BMCC, York and Hunter College. Prof. Pimentel has served as PSC faculty grievance counselor at this campus and has been a member of the University Faculty Senate (UFS) since 2005. Professor Pimentel has done research on the racial and ethnic composition of the full-time faculty at CUNY and has published, “The Decline of the Puerto Rican Full-time Faculty at the City University of New York (CUNY) from 1981 to 2002”. Policy Brief, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY (Fall 2005). Currently, Prof. Pimentel is working on a sociological research about the social and cultural aspects of birding in urban areas.