The City University of New York (CUNY) has pioneered the creation of online and blended courses since before 1998. CUNY students from the densely populated New York area benefit from courses which blend online and face-to-face interaction between faculty and students. Just as asynchronous learning networks enable learners who are far away from campus to access education, blended methods work best for both near-to-campus and on-campus learners.
CUNY has grown from an initial group of six faculty in 1998 experimenting with online education to as many as 1000 faculty using blended methods. Fueled by grants from the Sloan Foundation and matched by city and state funds in New York, funding has totaled somewhere around $3.4M from the Sloan Foundation plus matching funding over the last 8 years. CUNY initially used funding to develop courses and has now moved away from course development towards creating learning objects and helping trained faculty mentors spread methods of online education and blending into their schools and departments. However, there is still a long way to go; perhaps only about 1/5 of the courses at CUNY are now offered in a blended fashion. It is interesting to note that fully online degree programs (completion and administrative supervisory) are just now being developed. CUNY opted to follow the path of creating courses throughout their curriculum before creating complete degree programs.
There are several key observations about the CUNY online activities:
• CUNY has focused first on courses, not programs • CUNY can take advantage of closely packed local learner populations, due to the geographic density of learners in the New York City area.
• A large untapped learner population is easily reachable by blended local methodologies.
"Localness" is a term used to describe working with populations of learners who can be best accessed via blended educational methods by reaching larger numbers of students in a local area. For example, students who might not attend a fully face-to-face course, perhaps due to having work or family obligations or requiring a long commute time, might attend a hybrid or blended course. Expanding student matriculation from populations that live and work outside the geographic area from which students are traditionally drawn by an institution is considered to be part of the “localness” idea. Increasing access via blended or hybrid education is difficult in some geographic areas (e.g. the Midwest or South), but is quite straightforward in a densely packed area. CUNY has the potential to move strongly into serving additional “local” populations due to the population density in the New York area. CUNY should be able to move toward increased outreach and be able to tap a blended population much more easily than, say, University of Illinois. Another way that the “localness” phenomenon could be demonstrated is in expanding the CUNY “brand” geographically. CUNY should be able to become more widely known among New York’s populations via the offering of course in this manner.
What could propel CUNY to be an example of a successful localness implementation? Several things are possible – first, CUNY has a delivery model that minimizes cost of delivery (a single Blackboard Enterprise system). Second, the large number of faculty trained to teach online and to view online as an extension of their normal duties may eventually convert the remaining faculty at CUNY into blended instructors. CUNY has moved toward developing shared assignments, model courses, and facilitating on-going discussions among the faculty. And, through the influence of faculty mentors in online education even more buy-in for the vision of blending can be secured. These methods seem to be wholly suited to “capturing the core” of higher education for online education, probably in an easier and more rapid fashion than creating large programmatic initiatives from the outset.
Will this program be sustainable after Sloan funding ceases? Are there barriers that cannot be overcome? We think that CUNY exhibits potential for a vital blended education program for New York City. Currently reaching about 220,000 full-time students, the full-time faculty of 6000 and about that many adjuncts will be continuously drawn into the blended paradigm. The faculty and student influence, however, is actually much larger, because of CUNY’s additional 240,000 students who take continuing education, high school/college collaborative programs and workforce development courses. For Sloan-C, the method for reaching the core of higher education in this manner is important since it may serve as a model for other institutions. The ability to reach a population of millions with a trained and knowledgeable faculty may enable CUNY-online to sustain its growth to become one of the first institutions where online and face-to-face are inextricably intermingled.