How CUNY Grad Center Fellowships Changed the Course of Edtech History

Now for a little history you never wanted. I had many fellowships while I was a Ph.D. student at the CUNY Grad Center from 1997 through 2005. I started with a Graduate Teaching Fellowship from 1997 through 1999 at the College of Staten Island where I was given a 2/1 load and got my first taste of teaching Early American Literature thanks to then department chair David Falk. That fellowship was awesome, the Fall semester teaching two English 101 equivalents killed me on many levels, but the Spring semester’s Early American Literature survey made me fall in love with the classroom once and for all.

My next gig was a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Fellowship—again at the College of Staten Island—from Fall 2001 to Spring 2003. This was a fascinating experiment in trying to help faculty at CSI integrate writing into their Economics, Film, and Sociology curriculum. This was my first extended training at working with faculty to rethink their curriculum, a skill I’ve depended on for my livelihood to some great degree since.

But I was not done yet, I got another fellowship at the Center for Place, Space, and Politics to actually work on my dissertation—but I never believed in doing that during Grad School—so I went to teach English at Clara Barton High School for a year and a half from 2003 through 2004. I wasn’t long for that world—that job is where my aversion to authority got its first real exercise in the workplace.

I took my final CUNY Grad Center fellowship in the Spring of 2004 as a replacement for a departing Instructional Technology Fellow (ITF) at Hunter College. I was part of a cadre of 10-12 fellows working with students at the newly established Macauley Honors College to integrate technology into the curriculum. The faculty I worked with were from disciplines as disparate as Urban Panning and Chemistry. This was the first time I used WordPress and MediaWiki as part of a class project. All this provide to be quite fateful given that in less than a year I was on my way to the University of Mary Washington as an instructional technologist. I would be joining a group that was hellbent on integrating open source applications into the teaching and learning environment.

While writing this post I’m struck by how much professional and personal development I got while at CUNY. I like to joke about CUNY’s trial-by-fire approach to grad students as new teachers, and there’s no question I was thrown into the classroom in 1997. Nonetheless, by the time I left CUNY in 2005 had a ton of experience teaching, working with faculty from a variety of disciplines, and integrating technology into the classroom. Those fellowships were crucial to my time at CUNY, and in retrospect I tend to think they were equally as important, if not more, than any of my coursework given my subsequent role as a technologist, faculty developer, etc.

But I digress! In fact, this self-indulgent walk down memory lane was brought on by yet another kind of fellowship I discovered at the CUNY Grad Center: The Digital Fellows! This rough and tumble group describe themselves as follows:

The GC Digital Fellows work with Graduate Center faculty members on digital scholarly projects, design websites for special initiatives, receive skills training workshops, and, more broadly, explore new ways for Graduate Center faculty, students, and staff to share their academic work through new technological platforms and social media tools. Our reflections on this process can be found on our blog, Tagging the Tower.

This is near and dear to my heart because the above paragraph essentially frames the work I have been doing with my colleagues at University of Mary Washington for almost 10 years. Helping faculty and students build out their digital presence online, explore new ways to integrate technology into the classroom, and building tools and platforms to make it all accessible.

And finally we work back to the inspiration for this post, a simple announcement I found on the CUNY Academic Commons for an upcoming workshop on  “Creating a Digital identity using WordPress.” The Digital Fellows Patrick Sweeney and Keith Miyake will be running this session, and I can’t think of a better tool than WordPress to create a digital identity. Why not use the web’s single more powerful and popular open source publishing platform to frame your scholarly presence online? It’s a lay-up. What’s more, it could be argued that the impetus for pushing WordPress as a teaching and learning tool in higher ed more than a decade ago got an early start as part of a similar CUNY Fellowship 10 years prior—gotta proudly own my ITF roots, the OG Digital Fellows. Keith and Patrick stand in a long line of CUNY faithful who have put their life on the line for the WordPress cause—evangelists in the purest sense of that term. Bringing sweetness and light to all the dark and secretive proprietary tools that would hide us from the truth.  Preach on Digital Fellows, you are part of a prestigious line of edtech zealots that have transformed what was once a monolithic culture of the LMS to what is now a monolithic culture of WordPress. Hallelujah!

So what did we learn today? CUNY Grad Center Fellowships changed the course of instructional technology 10 years ago, and may be the reason why WordPress is currently a household name in higher ed. You heard it here first on Citation Needed 🙂

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