Getting started with Groups and This Site

I am Director of Undergraduate Studies at Hunter, a new position designed to provide resources for and encourage collaboration among instructors of core courses in our department (at present, 252, 306, 338, and 395, with more to come in the near future). In what follows, I will orient you to two new resources: this public-facing site and some private “groups” on the CUNY Academic Commons open to instructors of particular courses. I will also give an overview of what I hope to do in the coming semesters with this initiative and suggest some ways you might, on the one hand, find materials to take and/or adapt to enhance your teaching and, on the other, contribute your hard-won teaching expertise in these courses for the benefit of colleagues.

Overview of the Initiative

Teaching at a commuter campus like Hunter’s has enormous rewards (non-financial, of course), but it is also quite challenging. The department has little to no control over central issues like compensation, office space, poor classrooms, etc. What we can create are a) more and better resources to help faculty, especially GTF and other novice faculty, teach core courses and b) some infrastructure to facilitate discussions of “best practices” in teaching these courses, and indeed all courses in our department.

Accordingly, the first wave of development focuses on some very basic platforms, hosted on the CUNY Academic Commons, that will help us share materials and ideas securely and conveniently. All instructors of these core courses should have been invited to a “group” on the Commons that corresponds to the course/s they teach. I’ll describe these groups, and how to get aboard, below. For now, know that the “groups” are open only to fellow instructors and will function as a listserv and document repository for the most part, with sample syllabi, exam questions, assignments, ideas for texts, etc. We will also use this LitHub blog, which is open to the public, to feature brief essays and posts on pedagogical issues. Some will be relevant to particular courses and some will resonate more broadly, but in general, the site will grow into something like ACERTs site, albeit with material that is much more discipline-specific.

Beyond these resources, I will hold open hours (HW 1208, Tu/Th 10a-1p) in which instructors of the above-mentioned courses can schedule time for discussion and troubleshooting. I will also invite veteran instructors in during this time, as feasible, to solicit ideas for materials that might benefit instructors of those courses that I haven’t taught. Without burdening an already very hard-working bunch, it is a high priority to bring other voices onto this site and make it reflect the intellectual and pedagogical diversity of approaches that make this department tick. I’m open to further ideas as well: themed brown-bag lunches, guest speakers from other campuses, a pedagogical colloquium along the lines of our monthly presentations of ongoing research in 1242, or whatever else you might think of.

Getting Started

You should have received an invitation to the Commons “group” for the class (or classes) you teach (remember: only 252, 306, 338, and 395 exist thus far). The invitation should prompt you to join the Commons as a whole and the group/s in particular. Once you’re enrolled, you’ll see a display with the various resources in the left-hand column:

screenshot from Commons Group

The main resources we will use are the “forum” (basically a listserv) and the “files,” at least initially. The forum should be self-explanatory: use it to ask questions about issues pertinent to the course, request materials from peers, or ask for advice, for example. Files contains at present mostly syllabi. If yours isn’t there and you’d like to share it, do so! All users can upload and download materials, so take a penny or give a penny, as it were. That also goes for assignments, exams, slide decks, or anything else you’ve painstakingly devised that others might appreciate. As Howard Rheingold inimitably put it, we’d like to build a commons where the sheep sh*t grass, so get busy and build on what I’ve started! And if you haven’t received an invitation, or not for one of the courses you teach, email me: be sure to include your Hunter (or other CUNY) address, since one can only join the Commons via a CUNY email address.

Further Steps

I will use this LitHub site to collate essays, lessons, tips, and announcements relevant to our teaching in the department. The cupboard is pretty bare at present, but I will devote a few hours each week to creating content and/or encouraging others to contribute content for it. Notice that the top-level menu has links to each course: clicking on these will call up all posts relevant to that course in particular. If you click 306, for example, you’ll see a post on a useful reading from Foucault to get the course started. You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the lower right-hand corner of this window. Subscribers will get an email notification when new posts appear.

Finally, and most important, get in touch with me if you’d like to contribute something to LitHub. This could be anything from a think piece about “open education” or social class in the classroom to more practical topics like how you structure exams or classroom discussion. I will walk you through becoming an “author” on the site (in WordPress parlance) who can create posts. If you prefer, or are pressed for time, I’m happy to listen to your ideas via email or in office hours and shape them into posts myself, with attribution.

I look forward to working with you to bring what I hope will be beneficial changes to our department, resulting in more vibrant exchanges among faculty and, of course, better teaching for our students.

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