CUNY is the largest public urban university in the country, but frequently our size is a hindrance rather than a benefit. In my three years here as a tenure-track faculty member, I have met only a handful of professors from other colleges, and only one-or-two outside my discipline (English). Too often when CUNY faculty do gather, it is for non-interactive lectures, job actions, or policy meetings. Through its format that brought faculty together into a room to work on our most vital concern—teaching and the research of teaching–the seminar broke down boundaries across disciplines, campuses, ranks and pedagogical and curricular philosophies. Prior to the seminar I had been really dismayed at how little attention is paid to this primary goal. We are charged with the responsibility of carrying on CUNY’s mission of innovative and productive pedagogy and curriculum development for teaching underserved students who come from all sorts of underprivileged “classed” circumstances. This seminar gave rightful space, time and seriousness to this task.
The seminar has had a profound influence on my teaching. Each session gave me a great deal to think about, but there is space—and time—her to mention only a few. Maria Jerskey (LaGuardia) and Leigh Jones (Hunter) emphasized for me the importance of developing curriculum and pedagogy that teaches “self-efficacy” in our students. I tis so easy to fall into a model of teaching that relies heavily on content delivery, where some students get it and the rest are dismissed because they do not. Of course I knew this already—that students need to take charge of their own learning. But Maria and Leigh’s work showed me how important it is not jus tto think this but to enact it with specific assignments and classroom practice. I will be using a version of Leigh’s podcast assignment in my Fall classes.
The use of technology in the classroom is an area I had been meaning to work on in my teaching and Leigh’s assignment was only the first instance of the seminar’s influence in this regard. Amy Wan Erica Ackerman and Joe Bisz all had presentations that involved creative and beneficial ways of using technology for learning. What was important here was thinking (and now in the fall enacting) how curriculum goals need to drive the use of technology not the other way round. We all think technology is cool, and we all think our students will like having more technology interface in the classroom but too often in my use of technology in the past, it seemed to distract or even derail the students from the real learning goals I had for the course. The hard part of using technology in the classroom is not finding technology to use. It’s finding the right technology to achieve what you want to accomplish. Since Amy, Erica and Joe delivered presentations that were so connected to the classroom, I was able to envision which specific technologies would work in my own space and time. My wiki and blog have already been designed for my fall writing course and I have integrated them fully into my class.
Corey Mead (Baruch) gave a presentation that at first had only limited connection to my classroom. But by showing how the army uses video games to lure prospective enlistments by engaging them with a medium they are interested in, I have been giving some thought to what role alternative visual literacies could play in my course. Can I transfer the strengths of the students’ understanding, analysis and performance of dynamic, fast moving visual texts like video games to the more staid genres of reading and writing that I want them to master.
In fact, a thread that ran through Corey, Joe and Leigh’s presentations was the crucial message of generating and maintaining student interest. This thread was capped off by the final presentation of the year when Nelson Nuñez-Rodriguez (Hostos) showed us his lively, productive, and student-engaged classroom space. Like Nelson, I often teach required general education courses where students’ pre-conceived notions of boring and apathetic trajectory for the course start on day one and go only lower when they see the syllabus. Nelson reminded us how innovative curriculum, respect for the knowledge the students bring with them, and a willingness to make the classroom a space of energy and fun—God forbid even laughter—can go a long way toward motivating success. It struck me, in the end how that final day connected all the way back to the first presentation about self-eficacy. Making students accountable for making it a good, particpatory and fun course is a sure-footed step in making them accountable for their contribution to the work that needs to be done. Raising expectations raises performance and, in the end proficiency.
The resulting impact on my teaching is profound. teaching a 4-3 load, well that is seven classes and close to 200 students a year. As faculty development, this seminar will be paying off for year.
Jason and Cheryl’s email about how they will use these posts to build their final reports made me overly conscious about my writing here—very unblog like I know. The assignment parameters always influence the outcome, right. Thanks to each of you for being willing to talk honestly, openly and directly about your teaching. I hope to keep in touch or at least cross paths accidentally.