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Does it though?  

(TL:DR summary: increasing administrative efficiency does not justify radically curtailing academic freedom, surveilling instructors and students, and limiting innovation and real world experience for our classes.)

Does the draft policy forced LMS use actually do what it says it does?

Color still from the movie Thor Ragnorak.  A white man with a blong beard is wearing armor and has a squished expression on his face.  Text says, "Does it though"

The University-supported LMS is CUNY’s only platform for delivery of online instruction that:

  • Addresses user data privacy under various privacy laws, including FERPA, GDPR, CCPA, COPPA, PIPEDA, ISO 27001, 27018, SOC 1 Type 2, SOC 2 Type 2, Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), and Security Trust and Assurance Registry (STAR);
    • Does it though? I am not a lawyer, but this seems like an alphabet soup dump of privacy laws and regulations to scare faculty and staff into quiet acquiescence.  There are many others who can speak on this with more authority than I can, but I’ll pick some low-hanging fruit:  it’s unlikely that GDPR, a policy of the European Union about data processing in Europe, or COPPA, a federal regulation about collecting data from children under age 13, would apply to anything happening in my university class in New York.  So why are they included in the draft policy? 
  • Contains tools to assess, support, and improve accessibility of course materials to facilitate compliance with legal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act;
    • Does it though? ADA compliance is both ethically and legally essential, but forcing sole LMS usage (and automated evaluations/reports conducted by admins without the knowledge or consent of instructors) does not seem the best way to make sure our instructors are providing learning materials that are accessible to all of our students.  Providing extensive, funded professional development about how and why instructors should make their courses accessible would ultimately be more effective towards achieving this goal- Kingsborough’s Center for e-Learning’s Universal Design for Learning Summer Workshop is an excellent example, and you can see just one of the great training materials designed by KCeL to help faculty make their courses accessible here.  Sufficiently resourcing our campus centers for disability services and centers for teaching and learning would also go further towards providing accessible learning experiences for students than surveilling online classes.  
  • Is integrated with CUNYfirst to facilitate automatic data transfers such as class rosters and grades;
    • Does it though? I suspect this is more of a wishful thinking situation- this hasn’t been the case in Blackboard, and two decades in CUNY make me skeptical that a new LMS will seamlessly transfer data automatically (this is less a complaint against any new LMS than a statement of fact about how difficult it is work with CUNYFirst). 
  • Supports best practices framework for instructional design for distance education courses and programs, aligned with national standards (e.g., Universal Design for Learning);
    • Does it though? How, exactly, does this policy support best practices?  By making it easier to surveil online classes (their forms, designs, and content, as well as student’s work) and applying a score?  That sounds like the ability to constantly observe our classes, and I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed?  Even if such constant intrusion was allowed, you run the risk of reducing teaching to checking off whether an instructor posted 3 times in their classroom (the way some rubrics of online courses reduce learning to “posting 3 times and replying twice”).. This is bad for designing our classes, and an equally bad way to measure the quality of instruction.  Also, if we’re going to be using best practices for distance education, will we be cutting all class sizes to the recommended best practice of no more than 12-15 students?
  • Contains interactive features that foster student engagement and active participation;
    • Does it though? This is a big promise, and I would love to see what these interactive features are supposed to be.  So far as I have seen, they don’t amount to much more than the same automated surveillance emails currently available in Blackboard- the ability to set rules to send generic emails to students who have not entered the classroom, or spent enough time in the classroom, or submitted an assignment in X number of days.  Automated emails do not improve student engagement- real communities of learning, supported by authentic relationships between instructors and students do.  Furthermore, if a student is struggling with a crisis, an automated email may actually do more harm than good (while a sincere communication, from an instructor who has developed a relationship with them, could help them connect to relevant campus resources and find their way back to the course).  Finally, sending automated emails to students sends the message that automation is the way to manage the class- if faculty use automation and robotic replies to “foster student engagement,” can we really be surprised if students resort to using robots (Chat GPT and the like) to do the work for these classes?
  • Provides 24 x 7 x 365 support for faculty, students, and staff;
    • Does it though? This is a huge promise, and I’d love to see the details.  Will this support be provided by CUNY staff, who are being compensated fairly for this high level of availability and service? Or will it be provided by the vendor (and how much will that cost on an ongoing basis?).  I take issue with the claim that D2L is the only platform CUNY has that has excellent support for students, faculty, and staff, as I’ve gotten extremely fast responses from both CUNY Academic Commons and CUNY Manifold support.  I’m talking incredibly fast- I have  emailed at 3am, and gotten a response with a solution by 8am, or emailed a question on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and gotten a response within the hour!  And the responses I got were from actual members of the CUNY community who know and care about our shared students- I doubt that D2L’s tech support can deliver that.
  • Records academic engagement for financial aid disbursement to confirm eligibility for Title IV funds; and
    • Does it though? “Records academic engagement”-  nothing like reducing teaching and learning to “did they enter some amount of keystrokes into a discussion board” to really soothe the academic heart.  Who cares WHAT the engagement is, or if it is even actually engagement, as long as it can be recorded easily!  (Please also see the response to the next point as well, since the same answer applies in terms of “this policy only applies to online classes”)   
  • Enables reporting compliance for IPEDS, ADA, homeland security/visa status, and NC-SARA.
    • Does it though? “Enables reporting compliance” is another way of saying it’s easy for those with admin privileges to pop into a class (or hoover up its backend data) to streamline their reporting process by cutting the instructor out.  CUNY must already have processes for meeting these legal requirements that do not require mandatory LMS usage- why does the ECV believe that these processes are suddenly so terrible as to require a massive incursion into academic freedom?  And even if the processes are in fact so cumbersome or problematic, they would still have to be used for in-person classes, unless it is the goal of the ECV to use this policy as a test balloon, with the intention of soon requiring that all classes regardless of modality must use the one LMS. 

Overall:  increasing administrative efficiency does not justify radically curtailing academic freedom, surveilling instructors and students, and limiting innovation and real world experience for our classes.

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