Across CUNY, Scaling Student Success Through Quality Instruction

Head shot of Matthew Witter

Matthew Witter wanted to start the spring semester off on the right foot.

For the licensed clinical psychologist, it had been a bumpy first semester of teaching in fall 2019 CUNY’s City College of New York. He wasn’t planning to teach at all until he heard about a last-minute opening for an introductory course in clinical psychology.

“I was like, ‘let’s do this.’” Witter recalled. “They said, ‘Can you start tomorrow?’”

With no experience and little time to prepare, Witter made it through a “nerve-wracking” first few weeks filled with PowerPoint glitches and insecurities about his ability as an instructor. Witter was an expert in the course’s content, but he felt unprepared to teach it effectively. Then his department chair invited him and other faculty to enroll in a new year-long course in effective teaching practices offered through the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE).

Again, Witter didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.

Now, with more time to prepare and after completing ACUE’s module on Leading a Productive First Day, Witter was determined to have a strong start to the spring 2020 semester. On the first day, Witter’s students completed a syllabus reconnaissance activity where they reviewed the course syllabus, discussed topics of personal interest and set individual learning goals for the class.

“I could just feel the energy in the class from students talking to each other, writing down questions,” said Witter. The activity, he said, helped set the tone and establish a supportive learning community that would sustain itself through a semester of unprecedented challenges as the campus closed and classes went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Screenshot of Matthew Witter's City College of New York students in virtual class

“I’m glad that ACUE was there at a time when I was so new to the teaching profession,” Witter says. “It was a perfect opportunity to sharpen my skills.”

CUNY’s Priority on Quality Instruction – for the Pandemic and Beyond

Witter was part of two inaugural faculty cohorts to pilot the ACUE program at CCNY, supported through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. By the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, Witter and more than 50 faculty colleagues had earned nationally-recognized certificates in effective college instruction.

“CUNY is one of the most powerful engines of social mobility that we have in this country. Investing in the faculty who teach these students, through support and high-quality instructional training, will have a significant and long-lasting impact on student success,” said Farhad Asghar, program officer for Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Pathways to Postsecondary Success portfolio.

The successful launch has generated momentum across City College and CUNY as part of a larger focus on effective pedagogy to improve student achievement, close equity gaps, and support faculty. Quality instruction has always been a key priority for CUNY, but the pandemic has shown the need to support faculty has never been greater.

“If we invest in our most important asset, faculty, we’ll get faculty that are happier and more motivated, and we’ll achieve better outcomes,” CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodríguez said. Numerous and independently validated efficacy studies confirm that students are more engaged, learn more, and complete courses in greater numbers—more equitably with their peers—when taught by ACUE-credentialed faculty.

Scaling Across CUNY

This year, City College enrolled six new cohorts of faculty into ACUE’s microcredential courses for online teaching. The CCNY pilot was also a driving factor in CUNY’s decision to participate in a national “Scaling Instructional Excellence” initiative through the National Association of System Heads.

And a second grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York was funded to support 14 faculty cohorts across CUNY’s seven community colleges in the 2020-2021 academic year.

When the pandemic hit, Asghar said, “there was an immediate realization that the most underserved students would be disproportionately affected.” As CUNY quickly pivoted to online teaching and learning models, expanding the foundation’s support for the CUNY ACUE grant, to reach more faculty in the system’s junior colleges, was a “no brainer.”

Brielle Buckler - LinkedIn Post“The grant’s initial impact is expected to reach up to 80,000 students, but we believe it will have lasting benefits,” he said. “Once the immediate crisis passes, those faculty will carry their learning and experience forward to benefit students in the future, too.”

Once again, participating faculty have shown a hunger for professional learning opportunities and a shared passion for helping students achieve their goals.

“I’m so thankful to the Borough of Manhattan Community College for allowing me to work toward my #microcredential in Creating an Inclusive and Supportive Online Learning Environment,” wrote Brielle Buckler on her LinkedIn page.

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