Tag Archives: CUNY

Antholocheers

Totals

Antholocheers

I’m happy (and, frankly, a little surprised) to announce that my campaign to fund a round of Anthologize development, which ended last night, successfully met its funding goal of $2,500. Donations came from friends and strangers; individuals and organizations; and from the WordPress, ed tech, digital humanities, and other miscellaneous communities of awesomeness. Close to $1,000 (or more, depending on how you count – more on this in a moment) came in within the last 24 hours.

First off: Whoo! And thanks!

Second, here’s an exact breakdown of the funds:

  • The final tally from the Indiegogo campaign was $2,665.
  • I got an email late yesterday from the team in charge of the OpenLab project at CUNY City Tech. They pledged an extremely generous $1,000 for the Anthologize campaign. For bureaucratic reasons, their donation couldn’t come through Indiegogo, so we’ll be working out a different way to deliver the funds.
  • The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media agreed (amazingly) to match, dollar for dollar, all donations to the campaign. Their contribution comes to $3,665.

This gives us a grand total of $7,330, which translates to about 98 hours of development time. It’s worth saying again: Whoo! And thanks!

Next steps: In the upcoming week or so, I’ll be reaching out to donors to collect any information necessary for their awards: mailing addresses, links to their websites, etc. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to other members of the Anthologize dev team about a roadmap for using these dev resources. And I’ll be starting to work down those 98 hours around the middle of November, when my work schedule eases up a bit. That’s also when I’ll start blogging in earnest about progress on the plugin, as well as some more general thoughts about crowdfunding for this sort of project, about the viability of free software projects not owned by any specific institution, about the role of Anthologize in publishing, and other such philosophical delights. These posts will “sponsored by” the contributors who pitched in $75 or more, which means that I need to write at least 15 of them :)

I’m looking forward to the next stage of Anthologize. I hope you are too – you made it happen.

Ten years

I realized today that, as of a few weeks ago, I’ve lived in New York City for ten years.

In 2002, I was a college senior in Mt Vernon, Iowa. I’d received a few different offers for graduate school fellowships. In the end, I ended up choosing CUNY more or less on a lark; NYC seemed like a cool place to live. So, I packed up a truck, and moved to a city two thousand times the size of Mt Vernon, and one hundred times the size of any city where I’d ever lived.

In everyone’s life there’s a handful of breakpoints: moments at which you make a decision that (intentionally or otherwise) forever and irreversibly changes everything. Ten years on, it’s dizzying to imagine the path not taken – the road that didn’t lead to this city, this job, this wife, this child, this me. I’m humbled, and somehow comforted, by the power that chance and caprice wield over the formation of the things that make up a life.

Here’s a picture I took of myself a few weeks after moving to my first place in NY, a shared apartment at 129th St and Lenox Ave:

Plus ça change….

2011

A bunch of stuff happened in 2011.

Like 2010, 2011 was a year of transitions for me: in my relationship with academia, in the way I earn a living, in the way I present myself as a citizen-builder of the internet. Being a parent is the biggest transition of all, forcing me to put into perspective the ways I spend my energy and the ways in which I define myself and what has value to me. (This transition has been overwhelmingly a Good Thing.) Continuing to strive for the right balance in these areas will, I’m sure, be a hallmark of my 2012. (Thankfully, I have no plans to have a child or get married in 2012. A man needs a year off from major life events!)

Happy new year!

If high tuition is “normal”, then “normal” sucks

In the wake last night’s flap at Baruch College, I saw a number of tweets in my “CUNY” search column that expressed a sentiment like the following: “CUNY students are complaining about a $300 tuition increase? They’re spoiled – $300 is nothing, and CUNY tuition is already a bargain.” (Several were less politely phrased than this.)

It’s true that, compared to the cost of private schools – and maybe even other public institutions, I’m not sure – CUNY is pretty cheap. But it’s unwarranted to leap from the observation that CUNY tuition is relatively less expensive to the judgment that CUNY students have nothing to complain about.

The first reason is that, for many students in CUNY’s target demographic, $300/year is a significant amount of money. When you consider that the $300 hike is slated to happen once per year for the next five years, it becomes less controvertible that the increase is significant. A student in her first year at a four-year CUNY school will pay an additional $1,800 over her next three years, an increase of about 11% over what her tuition would be at current rates. (The percentage is higher at community colleges.) Even if you know nothing about CUNY students, there’s no question that an 11% (or higher) increase is something worth getting upset about.

And there’s something more insidious lurking behind the “they’re spoiled” sentiments: the idea that the insane costs of higher education are somehow “normal”, or even “the way things ought to be”. Charts like this one (assembled here from Consumer Price Index data) suggest that tuition increases have outpaced inflation by about two to one in the past decade or so. Unless wages have also outpaced inflation in this way (which, ahem, I doubt they have), it means that college tuition is, in some objective sense, a greater proportion of income than it used to be. Why should this seem right? Is higher education is a privilege that should be available only to people with financial means? In what way is income a meaningful indicator of who should be able to go to college?

Look at it another way. If the “CUNY students are spoiled” comments comes from people who are pissed off about the fact that they pay far more for their private schools – if it’s sour grapes – then it’s downright idiotic. People paying outrageous tuition to private schools, scraping by only by recourse to enormous student loans, should be right alongside of CUNY students, fighting the cultural sentiment that allows their $40K tuition to seem somehow acceptable. I fall into this category myself. My student loan debt is staggering. My wife and I make good money, and pay off large amounts of principle on our loans every month – but still we’ll be 40 before they’re paid off. If this is normal, then “normal” is something that we should all be resisting.

Dude, Where’s My Blackboard Contract?

[UPDATE: 9-23-2011 9:54EDT] The original links to vendor searches on Open Book seem to be working again. I guess that means that the issue was a poorly-timed technical outage. In light of this, I take back my tentative speculations about Open Book actively suppressing results – I was wrong. Leaving this blog post up for historical reasons.

[UPDATE: 9-21-2011 1:46EDT] It looks like all vendor information is missing from Open Book at the moment. The contracts are still available by contract number (example). This may point toward an Open Book technical problem. Until a bit more is known, I think it’s reasonable to assume it’s an innocent accident. The general points still remain.

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how CUNY and Blackboard have, in various ways, inspired my work in free software. In that post, I linked to a page that showed search results for CUNY and Blackboard from Open Book New York, a service provided by the NYS Comptroller’s office that lets citizens see how public institutions are spending tax money (a great idea, right?).

The blog post got many thousands of hits, and many hundreds of those users clicked on the link in question, which showed the amounts of CUNY’s current hosting contracts with Blackboard. This morning, one of my commenters, Brian, let me know that the link no longer worked. In fact, when you search Open Book for Blackboard, no contracts at all are shown for the entire state, while just a few days ago, a similar search turned up lots of results.

My decision to hotlink to the contract details in the original post, instead of spelling the dollar amounts in the text, was completely intentional. While I think that the high cost of Blackboard’s service is indeed an important symptom of a larger problem, I think that the dollar amounts have the potential to overshadow other considerations. So I linked, knowing that few readers would click through.

But now, because I don’t want that aspect of the original post to be lost, I’m going to bring to the foreground what I’d intended to leave in the background.

- The original link to the search
- Google’s cached copy
- Screenshot, 9-21-2011

If removing the results was intentional, ie if Open Book removed the results at the request of Blackboard or of CUNY (I consider the former more likely, given the evidence), it is obviously quite disappointing, and lends a certain irony to the “Open Book” moniker.

I develop free software because of CUNY and Blackboard

For two reasons, Blackboard is the key to why I develop free software.

The first reason is historical. I first got into free software development because of my work with the CUNY Academic Commons project. As spearheaded by Matt Gold, George Otte and others, the Commons is intended to create a space, using free software like WordPress and MediaWiki for members of the huge community of the City University of New York to discover each other and work together. The project is not pitched as a Blackboard alternative, for a number of reasons (primary among which is that the Commons’s Terms of Service prohibit undergraduate courses from being held on the site). Still, the Commons was conceived, at least in part, out of frustration about the near lack of collaborative tools and spaces in CUNY. And more than anything else, Blackboard (by which I mean Blackboard Learn, the proprietary learning management software that has been CUNY’s official courseware for quite a few years) is the embodiment of what can be so frustrating about academic technology at CUNY: central management, inflexibility, clunkiness, anti-openness. In this way, Blackboard begat the CUNY Academic Commons, and the CUNY Academic Commons begat Boone the developer.

There is another reason why Blackboard is integral to my free software development. It is ideological.

Short version: I love CUNY and I love public education. Blackboard is a parasite on both. Writing free software is the best way I know to disrupt the awful relationship between companies like Blackboard and vulnerable populations like CUNY undergraduates.

Here’s the longer version. I’ve been affiliated with CUNY in a number of capacities over the last decade: PhD student, adjunct lecturer, graduate fellow, full-time instructional technologist, external contractor. I’ve seen many parts of CUNY from many different points of view. Like so many others who have philandered their way through CUNY’s incestuous HR departments, my experience has rendered a decidedly love/hate attitude toward the institution. You can get a taste of the what CUNY hate looks like by glancing at something like @CUNYfail. The love runs deeper. Those fortunate enough to have “gotten around” at CUNY can attest to the richness of its varied campus cultures. In every office and every department on every campus, you’ll meet people who are innovating and striving to get their work done, in spite of a bureaucracy that sometimes feels designed to thwart.

And the students. CUNY is the City University of New York, the City University. It belongs to New York, and its history is tied up with the ideals of free education for New York’s residents. While the last few decades have seen the institution (as a whole, as well as a collection of campuses) evolve away from these ideals in various official and unofficial ways, it’s impossible to step into a CUNY classroom without getting a sense that CUNY still serves as a steward for New York’s future. CUNY is too huge and its population too varied to make general statements about the student body, but I’ll say anecdotally that, of all the universities I’ve been associated with, none even approach the level of racial, economic, and academic diversity that you find on a single campus, to say nothing of the system as a whole. CUNY is (to use a lame but apt cliché) a cross-section of New York: her first-generation Americans, her first-generation college students, her rich and her poor, her advantaged and her vulnerable. (See also Jim Groom’s I Bleed CUNY, which makes a similar point with a lot less abandon.)

Public education is a public trust, maybe the most important equalizer a state can provide for its citizens. CUNY, with the population of New York City as its public, could demonstrate the full potential of public education in a more complete and visible way than perhaps any other public university. It’s for this reason that it breaks my heart and boils my blood to see CUNY money – which is to say, student tuition and fees – poured into a piece of software like Blackboard.

In virtue of their age, undergraduates are inherently a vulnerable population, and CUNY undergraduates – reflecting as they do the full demographic spectrum of New York City itself – are doubly vulnerable. Many CUNY undergraduates go to CUNY because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t go to college at all. This imposes certain moral strictures on those responsible for managing and spending the money paid by CUNY students in tuition and fees. Wasting CUNY money is a far worse crime than wasting, say, shareholder money in a private company. Shareholders have freedom; if they don’t like your management, they vote with their feet/wallets/brokers. CUNY students, by and large, do not have the same freedom; it’s safe to say that, for most CUNY students most students, big-ticket NYU and Ivy Columbia are not reasonable alternatives. CUNY students are, in this sense, captive, which means that their hard-earned tuition money is captive as well. Thus it is a very bad thing to spend that money on things that aren’t worth it.

And Blackboard is not worth it. Vats of digital ink have been spilled expounding Blackboard’s turdiness, and this is no place to rehash all the arguments in depth. A short list, off the top of my head:

  • The software is expensive [EDIT 9-21-2011: See this post for more details on cost]
  • It’s extremely unpleasant to use.
  • It forces, and reinforces, an entirely teacher-centric pedagogical model.
  • It attempts to do the work of dozens of applications, and as a result does all of them poorly.
  • Blackboard data is stored in proprietary formats, with no easy export features built in, which creates a sort of Hotel California of educational materials
  • The very concept of a “learning management system” may itself be wrongheaded.
  • As recently reported, the software may be insecure, a fact that the company may have willingly ignored.
  • Blackboard’s business practices are monopolistic, litigious, and borgish

In short, Blackboard sucks. Blackboard supporters might claim that some, or even most, of the criticisms leveled above are false, or that they apply equally to other web software. Maybe. And I certainly don’t mean to downplay the difficulty of creating or assembling a suite of software that does well what Blackboard does poorly. But the argument against spending student money on something like Blackboard goes beyond a simple tally of weaknesses and strengths. As Jim Groom and others have argued for years, shelling out for Blackboard means sending money to a big company with no vested interest in the purposes of the institution, which in the case of CUNY is nothing less than the stewardship of New York City’s future, while the alternative is to divert money away from software licenses and into people who will actually support an environment of learning on our campuses. Frankly, even if Blackboard were a perfect piece of software, and even if its licensing and hosting fees were half of what it costs to hire full-time instructional technologists, programmers, and the like to support local instances of free software; even if these things were true, Blackboard would still be the wrong choice, because it perverts the goals of the university by putting tools and corporations before people. The fact that Blackboard is so expensive and so shitty just makes the case against it that much stronger.

As long as our IT departments are dominated by Microsoft-trained technicians and corporate-owned CIOs, perhaps the best way to advance the cause – the cause of justice in the way that student money is spent – is to create viable alternatives to Blackboard and its ilk, alternatives that are free (as in speech) and cheap (as in beer). This, more than anything else, is why I develop free software, the idea that I might play a role in creating the viable alternatives. In the end, it’s not just about Blackboard, of course. The case of Blackboard and CUNY is a particularly problematic example of a broader phenomenon, where vulnerable populations are controlled through proprietary software. Examples abound: Facebook, Apple, Google. (See also my Project Reclaim.) The case of Blackboard and its contracts with public institutions like CUNY is just one instance of these exploitative relationships, but it’s the instance that hits home the most for me, because CUNY is such a part of me, and because the exploitation is, in this case, so severe and so terrible.

On average, I spend about half of my working week doing unpaid work for the free software community. Every once in a while, I get discouraged: by unreasonable feedback, by systematic inertia, by community dramas, by my own limitations as a developer, and so on. In those moments, I think about CUNY, and I think about Blackboard, and I feel the fire burn again. For that, I say to CUNY (which I love) and Blackboard (which I hate): Thanks for making me into a free software developer.

Social Media and General Education: My Queens College Presidential Roundtable talk

This week I gave a Presidential Roundtable discussion at Queens College. The talk was titled, somewhat anemically, “Teaching on the Coattails of Text Messages”, though arguably what I was saying didn’t really end up having much to do with text messages! (I justify my being misleading by reference to the fact that the Presidential Roundtable was not in fact a roundtable format.)

The thrust of the talk was that there are important structural similarities between social media like blogs and Twitter (their openness, their relative lack of imposed structure, their focus on audience and emergent conventions, their positioning of the individual as the locus of value and meaning) and the kind of general education that we’re seeking during this year of gen ed reform at QC.

I transcribed the video after the break, mainly so I’d have the text for my own purposes. It’s lightly edited to cut out some of the more egregious ums and ers and actuallys. Video of the talk is below for anyone who is interested. I spoke mostly extemporaneously and said some dumb things, so please be generous in your interpretation!!

Special thanks to Zach Whalen, who generously answered some of my questions about his Graphic Novel class. (And to his students, whose tweets served as fodder!)

Teaching on the Coattails of Text Messages from Boone Gorges on Vimeo.

Continue reading

Moving on

This week I resigned my position as instructional technologist at Queens College. May 27 will be my last day.

My main reason for leaving is my dissertation, or rather my lack of dissertation. I’ve been done with graduate classes for longer than I care to admit, with nothing between me and the degree but the dissertation (as if it were a small thing!). During my time at Queens College – two years as a CUNY Writing Fellow followed by two years as a full-time instructional technologist – I managed to consistently use the job as an excuse not to work on philosophy to the extent that I should. I plan to continue doing web development for the CUNY Academic Commons and elsewhere while I work on my thesis.

Вперед!

Вперед!

As a number of my dear readers are already aware, the path leading to my decision was paved with self-doubt and second guessing. Obviously, there is the stress of going from having a full-time job (and paycheck) to not having one. More surprising, to me at least, have been the nagging misgivings about my relationship with the world of educational technology.

Like a lot of other people I know in the field, I entered edtech on accident. But over the last four years I have found a place in several different kinds of communities built around the intersection of technology and the classroom: communities at Queens College, across CUNY, and beyond. To the extent that leaving day-to-day instructional technology means distancing myself from those communities, I am very sad to do so.

As for the work itself? Here my feelings are more mixed. Certainly the high points of the job have been quite high indeed: working in close collaboration on meaningful projects with great people. But even during the good times I’ve always had a lurking feeling (which has occasionally crossed my lips in mixed company!) that the position itself was an unnatural one. It’s in a broken system – mediocre software, insufficient resources, unthoughtful pedagogy, a stagnant culture surrounding the relevance of digital technology in the university – that the instructional technologist flourishes. Like a doctor or a plumber or a parent, a big part of my job was to get people not to need me anymore.

That’s not to say that edtech is somehow pointless, anymore than it is to suggest that medicine or plumbing repair or parenting are without value. You might even argue that a field that arises out of such genuine need deserves to exist even more in virtue of that very fact. And so it probably is with edtech. Still, a sort of (mild) existential angst has plagued me since I took the job, a feeling that I’ll be glad to leave to my more intrepid colleagues.

I have enormous respect for people doing the extremely important job of on-the-ground edtech. That I will be respecting from a distance leaves me feeling bittersweet. But mostly I’m excited, to watch, as an outsider, how the field evolves in the upcoming years. In the meantime, I’ll be being productive in new ways!

Вперёд!

Tweeting the CUNY Gen Ed Conference

On Friday, May 8, I attended the 2009 CUNY General Education Conference at Lehman College. I got a chance to see some really interesting presentations: Marc Prensky’s broad keynote on how today’s students demand a different kind of education; a panel on using games in education; and a panel on ePortfolios and the Online BA. More importantly, I met a few people doing cool stuff in instructional tech around CUNY.

There was a bit of a Twitter backchannel, which I thought I would post here for posterity’s sake. For the time being, it can be viewed via Twitter Search. I’ve also used Cast Iron Coding’s awesome (and free) Tweetripper PHP script to archive the stream. Download that text file here: cunygened-tweets.txt.

Check out Revisions

Every year, the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Queens College (where I was a Writing Fellow for two years, and across the hall from which I currently have an office) publishes a zine on writing called Revisions. This year’s issue is titled Inside the Writer’s Process: Inspiration, Perspiration, Procrastination, and features articles written by Writing Fellows as well as QC faculty and students.

Check it out here: http://blogs.qc.cuny.edu/blogs/revisions. There’s lots of stuff worth reading.

I was asked to write a piece related to technology (being a Technologist and all). Here it is: http://blogs.qc.cuny.edu/blogs/revisions/procrastination/gorges.html. In it, I challenge the related assumptions that technological distractions are necessarily bad for writers and that the best way to become a good writer is to isolate oneself.

Also, I made the website. I am awesome!