The Macaulay Teaching and Learning Collaboratory (formerly known as the Instructional Technology Fellow/ITF Program) has deep roots in helping students explore and have agency over the technologies they encounter in their lives and academic works. As early adopters of open-source systems like our eportfolios, we have embraced teaching students about their digital footprints, privacy, and what it means to be both a consumer and creator of digital content. In March 2020, we were, of course, the mainline of support for our faculty switching to emergency online teaching. Working in community with each other in the TLC provided a solid base of knowledge for technical aspects of the work, but also a place to talk about the difficulties we, our students, and our faculty colleagues were facing in this suddenly changed world, especially as NYC took the hardest hits in the earliest wave of the pandemic. Well before the pandemic, we had already been engaged in conversations about supporting student-centered pedagogies and unpacking some of the terms that are commonly associated with honors education: excellence, rigor, elite–especially in the context of CUNY’s equity and access mission.
The 2022-23 academic year has occupied an especially peculiar place in the continuum of pandemic recovery, a year when we took stock of what coming back to campus, addressing so-called “learning loss,” and trying to re-establish expectations could and could not achieve for both students and educators. Staffed primarily by GC doctoral candidates, the Macaulay TLC has a dual perspective on these experiences, and its members also occupy a midway point between the undergraduate students and faculty members that affords multiple perspectives and connections with our honors students. Feeling the fatigue of both the pandemic and recovery efforts, our team voiced the need for professional development that would help spark new ideas and provide more tools to meet the needs and mission of the college. With the generous support of TLH, we were able to bring Jesse Stommel for a talk and workshop on Pedagogies of Care on March 6, 2023. We hosted about 40 community members for the talk, before breaking into a more intensive workshop for our staff.
The talk and workshop gave us an opportunity to address some of the common difficulties we have, for example, encouraging experimentation and growth in a grade-driven environment (Macaulay students are required to keep a GPA of 3.3 initially, and then a 3.5 after their first three semesters). This requirement disincentivizes students from pursuing coursework that they may be interested in but either decline to take or withdraw from with a preoccupation on grading. Students are both motivated by and scared of grades, and we discussed ways to support faculty in taking new approaches to their grading practices.We plan to pilot ungrading and contract-based grading workshops and reading circles in AY 23-24, and hope to establish a community of practice within the honors college of instructors who want to do this work. Students would be encouraged to take risks and experiment with unfamiliar coursework, resources, and approaches. We also have two faculty members supported by the grant who will be developing new, care-based recommendations and language for faculty to add to their syllabi. These are just a couple of practical and action-oriented steps that came out of a day that included a much-needed break to step back and consider how we can care for each other and our students in ongoing times of uncertainty, austerity, and change. Together, we can provide the community and care that we and our students need for transformative learning.
–By Lisa Brundage, Director of Academic Affairs, Macaulay Honors College