Faculty Publishing at BMCC

Every year, I host a reception for faculty who have published books in the past 12 months. This year’s group includes faculty who work in mathematics, poetry, computing, philosophy, and literary translations.

Photo featuring faculty and their publications.

(L-R): Professors Matthew Ally, Margaret Carson, Paquita Suarez-Coalla, Shamira Malekar, Marcos Zyman, Geoffrey Klock, Vincent Cheng and Holly Messitt (holding the book of the late James Tolan).

Authors and their books included Professors Matthew AllyEcology and Existence: Bringing Sartre to the water’s edge; Jodie CulkinLearn electronics with arduino: An illustrated beginner’s guide to physical computing; Margaret Carson, translator of the novel Baroni: A Journey, by Sergio Chejfec; Vincent ChengTime is out of jointKeridiana ChezVictorian dogs, Victorian men: Affect and animals in nineteenth-century literature and culture; Erik Freas,The Exclusivity of holiness: The Role of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in the formation of national identitiesGeoffrey KlockAestheticism, evil, homosexuality, and Hannibal: If Oscar Wilde ate peopleAmy LawlessBroadaxAndrew LevyArtifice in the calm damagesShamira Soren Malekar (co-author R.P. Mohanty), Success with emotional intelligenceSophie MaríñezMademoiselle de Montpensier: Writings, châteaux, and female self-construction in early modern FrancePaquita Suárez CoallaHestories pa contales (Más nomes de muyer);  Marcos Zyman (co-authors A.E. Clement and S. Majewicz), The theory of nilpotent groups.

Poet James Tolan, who died in 2017, had his book, Filched, published posthumously.

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What happens in the classroom matters

I have been saying this internally for some time now: our efforts to increase success rates (completion, retention, persistence) have improved services and supports for students outside the classroom. And we’ve seen some good progress.

And now, as Kevin Gannon says, “when it comes to closing the shameful gaps in college student success, we need to place pedagogy at the center of our efforts.” Read his commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Case for Inclusive Teaching.”

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Using Twitter in Teaching and Professional Development

As part of a series on using social media in the classroom, I did a professional development activity for BMCC faculty on using twitter in the classroom. (See my earlier post.)

At the end of the two weeks, I created a Storify summary.

You can see it here.

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Student Engagement via Twitter

It all started with a tweet, as these things often do, which led to a blog post.

A colleague I have met IRL and online wrote about teaching with Twitter. Joshua Eyler is the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University. He presented #twitterteaching as a way to increase engagement among students. Read his blog here.

I was faced with a course that met once a week, with too much content to even try to cover in the time allowed face to face. The course is on community colleges in graduate program on higher education. #AcademicTwitter is a thing, and I wanted students to see how academic professionals discussed issues and ideas online, not just in journal articles and conference presentations. So I adopted some of Eyler’s ideas for my own assignment (giving credit, naturally). Here’s how I put it in my syllabus:

This course will make use of social media, where the most up-to-date research and policy discussions in higher education are engaged. We will tweet, and we will blog. You may engage as yourself or create an anonymous account. If you do not use a recognizable version of your name on your account, email me your username, url, etc.

Twitter: higher education professionals use Twitter to announce initiatives, research, and policy. Start an account if you don’t already have one. Follow me @DeanJimBerg, other members of our class, and at least fifteen other higher education feeds (publications, organizations, and individuals). (I borrowed this from Joshua Eyler, so you can follow him too @joshua_r_eyler.)

You will be required to tweet a minimum of five times per week.  The only guidelines for tweets are: 1) they must have something to do with the class (i.e. a response to the reading, a link to a related article, a question, etc.); 2) they must be substantive; and 3) they must be respectful.

Use the hashtag #ORLH4012, so we can keep track of each other’s posts. Posts without the hashtag will not be counted. This portion of the class will be pass/fail. If you post the required number of relevant tweets, you get an A on this assignment. If not, you get an F.

From my point of view, and luckily this can be supported with evidence, the Twitter assignments did engage the students with the material. I was responding to students’ tweets and they were responding to mine on days that class did not meet. One student wrote on the end-of-semester evaluation that Twitter was one of the “most valuable” aspects of the course:

Loved the Twitter # and convo we had over twitter! Never before had an instructor do this and I think it contributed a lot to interacting with each other outside of class and kept us thinking about community colleges and higher education.

Some fun things happened on twitter. About half of the students read Sara Goldrick-Rab’s book Paying the Price. She’s an active twitter user (@saragoldrickrab) so many of the students followed her. Imagine their pleasure and surprise when she not only “liked” their Tweets but Tweeted back! Students engaging with a prominent scholar about important issues in the field. When else does that happen?

We even did a Twitter activity in class. In response to a discussion of what makes students “college ready,” we posted with the hashtag #collegeready.

Student tweets on the issue of college readiness.

Student tweets on the issue of college readiness.

Student tweets on the issue of college readiness.

More student tweets on the issue of college readiness.

Note that the last tweet in this line is from the day after the class.

Students used the hashtag to discuss other issues as well, such as some pod casts that several of them were listening to on their commutes. At the end of the semester, the students insisted that I retire the hashtag #ORLH4012. They completely owned it and the experience.

My first Twitter requirement was rather loose, and I let students choose the what and how of their tweets. There are a lot of good ideas out there about how to create good assignments on Twitter. Here are some:

This post is the start of a professional development activity for BMCC faculty on using social media in the classroom. The series has several modules, looking at various platforms. Twitter is up first, from October 10-24. Check out the website: https://socialmedia.commons.gc.cuny.edu/ Follow along on with #BMCCSocialEd.

Tweet ya later.

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Humanities at the Community College

Today I gave opening remarks to a symposium called “Reimagining Borders and Boundaries within a Globalized World.” It is the culmination of a project on cultivating global competencies in the community college curriculum, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In a nod to the sponsor, I chose to speak about the state of the humanities at BMCC. I am posting my remarks here.

When talking about the humanities, I assume I’m like a lot of people and feel that I need to come up here and make a case for the utility of the humanities. To explain that, by studying the humanities, we give students in science and technology fields the “soft skills” they will need to be successful in the workplace.

But I’m sure that with this audience, I don’t have to do that. We know that the humanities serve a purpose in the market place of work that our students will enter or are already in. We also know that the humanities hold a central space in the market place of ideas.

And then many of us hold on to the idea that the humanities have value in and of themselves, and we don’t really want to defend their utility all the time.

So we can celebrate the place of the humanities in the community college, and I believe that place is at the center. That’s one reason that BMCC has recently joined the Community College Humanities Association. And so all of you faculty from BMCC are now members.

And speaking of our fabulous BMCC faculty, last night we recognized forty-five faculty members who had achieved tenure or have been promoted at BMCC in the last year. About twenty of them were in fields considered to be in the Humanities, or as the NEH describes them, “those aspects of the social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods.” Those fields include language, linguistics, and literature; history, philosophy, and art history.

BMCC faculty who were tenured and promoted in the last year were recognized at BMCC’s Fiterman Gallery.

In addition, every year the office of Academic Affairs awards research and publication grants to faculty, many of whom are conducting research in humanities fields. Studies have examined the literary careers of certain authors, aestheticism in popular culture, as well as autobiographical essays of growing up Chinese in New York City.

What I want to illustrate here is that the Humanities is alive and well at BMCC.

But I’m very proud to say that we are also pushing the Humanities in new directions at BMCC. In addition to your activity today and over the last year and a half, we have also had an NEH funded project to infuse Asian-American studies across the community college curriculum. That project, led by sociologist Soniya Munshi, involved BMCC faculty as well as faculty from Laguardia, Kingsborough, and the Bronx Community College.  They came from the disciplines of English, Japanese, communications, as well as the social sciences.

Our students have many opportunities to study the Humanities. BMCC has majors in Art History, Communication studies, Modern Languages, Writing and Literature, as well as interdisciplinary majors with significant humanities content, such as Gender and Women’s Studies.

On a personal note, and as a thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has supported your efforts, I’ll tell you that I was the recipient of a grant from the Minnesota Humanities Commission, and affiliate of the NEH, in the early 2000s that help facilitate my study of the writer Christopher Isherwood at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. The grant supported the publication of a collection lectures that Isherwood gave to California colleges in the 1960s, that I published with the University of Minnesota Press under the title Isherwood on Writing. The NEH made that possible, and I will be forever grateful to my former home state and my nation for their support of humanities scholars. Long may it last.

So, the humanities aren’t dead. And they are not only represented in the curriculum as “general education” or as an “add on” to technical or science-based degrees. They are at the center, and that’s where they will remain.


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Online Students and Learning

Did you know that Blackboard turned twenty? It’s true, and they recently released a white paper on the future of higher education. “Future Forward” says that online learning is the most important thing to happen in higher education in the last twenty years. Not surprising, really, considering.

Here at Borough of Manhattan Community College, we have three major goals for online learning: 1) improve student success, 2) increase access, and 3) create a faculty community of practice. [See the strategic plan here.] I’ll write more about the second two, but first I want to talk a bit about our online students and their success.

In Spring 2017, we analyzed demographic data of students taking online courses. We also sent a brief survey to students enrolled in online classes. 324 students replied. This was the first time we tried to get any information from our online students.

A little over half of them said that they were taking an online course for the first time. The vast majority (94%) said they had “consistent access to internet service at home,” and 34% said they used computers on campus to do coursework for online classes. Over three-quarters of those who were not graduating or transferring said they planned to take more online courses at BMCC. (Note: we did not ask how well they liked their classes or how well they thought they were doing.) Only 15% of the respondents said they were taking any classes anywhere else.

It turns out that online students are a lot like students who take face to face classes at BMCC. However, they are somewhat older and more of them have sophomore standing. About 72% of them are women compared to 57% of the student body overall.

There are a few reasons for these differences, we suspect. BMCC had, until January 2017, a policy that only students with a 2.0 GPA or higher could take online classes. This policy was not enforced in any systematic way, but it tended to keep first semester students out, as they did not have a GPA. Also, some departments offer more upper level courses than they do lower level courses, this is true for accounting and psychology, for example. Those factors may account for the relatively older online student population.

Other research tells us that students who take online courses may do so for the flexibility that they offer. Many community college students have characteristics that suggest that flexibility is important to them. Many students have dependents or may be single parents. Those factors may help explain why more online students are women.

Students who take online courses fall into the same top three majors as the rest of BMCC students: Liberal arts, business, and criminal justice. Very few of our students are taking courses online only, and 70% of the students taking online courses are fulltime students at BMCC. So basically, the students we see in the classrooms are the same students we interact with in the Blackboard space.

So, how well do our students do in their online courses? BMCC colleagues Katherine Conway, Claire Wladis, and Elise Hachey have been looking at online education at the college and in CUNY. They report “that there is no meaningful difference online versus face-to-face in the proportion of students who successfully complete a course with a C- or better, once the specific course taken and student characteristics are controlled. … Students in online courses actually had higher successful completion rates before these other factors were controlled.” (Wladis, Hachey & Conway, 2016).

Overall, our internal data show that pass rates in online and hybrid courses are about the same as they are in face to face courses. They range between 65% and 70%, from 2007 to 2015. The pass rates by instructional mode in academic years 2014, 2015, and 2016, were all between 71% and 73% as shown below. (Office of Institutional Research and Analytics)

Chart shows that Students succeed at nearly the same rates online and face to face at BMCC.

Students succeed at nearly the same rates online and face to face at BMCC.

These are things we know. And they are a starting point for a discussion about how we can help our students to succeed in online courses. The staff in our E-Learning Office works hard every semester to help students log in to their courses and provide technical and to encourage new online students to complete a Blackboard orientation module. We will also be implementing a number of recommendations from a task force on student success that met last spring, including a new early alert system and expanded academic supports for online students.

Online learning is an important element of modern higher education. Leaders interviewd for the Blackboard white paper agree that it will continue to transform higher education in the United States. BMCC is committed to offering quality online courses with the supports students need to be successful.


“E-Learning Success Update.” (2017a) Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics. Borough of Manhattan Community College. [Office web site.]

“E-Learning Student Profile Fall Terms 2013-2016.” (2017b). Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics. Borough of Manhattan Community College.

Wladis, C., Hachey, A.C. & Conway, K.M. (2016). Who Succeeds Online? Using Student Characteristics to Predict Online Versus Face-to-Face Attrition, NSF Envisioning the Future of Undergraduate STEM Education Symposium, April, 2016, Washington, D.C. [See more about the online learning research project here.]

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New Year New Faculty

Ask any faculty development professional about the beginning of a new school year, and four out of five will talk about New Faculty Orientation. (The other one will wonder how on earth New Yorkers are able to take vacations in August.)

As they say on Twitter: same.

new faculty

New colleagues at BMCC gather

At BMCC our NFO was a day and a half, which allowed for a good amount of time for the group (around 2 dozen) to interact with each other and with our staff. Our first day was just the afternoon, followed by a reception on the 13th floor terrace of Fiterman Hall, a space that not many people get to see very often.

New faculty enjoy the terrace at Fiterman Hall

We reduced the amount of time people came to “inform” our new colleagues about programs and services, and instead used active learning techniques to talk about common issues that might arise and what services were available to faculty and students to address those. Early feedback indicates that the time together was appreciated.

The orientation came two days before the start of the semester, so new faculty had time to get IDs and meet with department colleagues if they had not already done so.

The orientation continues throughout the fall. We’re piloting some short-term mentoring opportunities this year: engaging subsets of the new faculty group with three mentors from the faculty. The cohorts will meet four times and the whole group is scheduled to meet three more times in fall.

Finally, we’ve added a Blackboard “community” to the orientation that will last throughout the fall. The community is run like an online course, and we have more resources and activities posted there that include issues of tenure and promotion, research and scholarly activities, and of course teaching.

Here’s a piece our public affairs department posted about some of our new colleagues: Read More. 

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It’s August?!

Remember all that writing you were going to do this summer. I hope you got some of it done.

I did. SOME of it, that is.

And now here we are, in the middle of August, with the start of the fall semester staring us in the face. And a passel of new full-time and part-time faculty joining us. We’ll be welcoming them with activities next week.

I’m writing this post mostly to get myself back onto the Commons and back to blogging.

As you may know, I’m an avid Twitter user. My feed, @deanjimberg is filled with higher education news, faculty development experts, and (so it seems) a lot of sociologist and librarians. I’ll be posting soon about how I used Twitter in a class last semester.

For now I’ll leave you with this:

Happy Teaching.

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The Unavoidable Curriculum

I’m looking forward to joining some colleagues this weekend at a summer institute organized by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU.org). We’re planning to get some good work done to organize professional development for high impact teaching practices for the next four years.

Our goal is to write a professional development plan that is part of a five-year project supported by a Title V grant to expand the BMCC Learning Academy and to improve student outcomes. The Learning Academy will serve more students and expand from a first-year cohort program to serve students in years two and three.

The Learning Academy is built on High Impact Practices, primarily a First Year Seminar and Learning Communities. We hope to create a student experience in which high impact practices are the “unavoidable curriculum,” as Carol Geary Schneider and Debra Humphreys of the AAC&U call it in Ensuring Quality and Taking High-Impact Practices to Scale.

I’ve been trying to visualize what this might mean for students. So far the closest image I can think of is the “balanced meal plate” developed by the US Department of Agriculture. My version of it looks like this at the moment:

In the Learning Academy, students begin their first semester in a success seminar (the placemat) that is linked to a discipline course. The pie chart illustrates the variety of high impact practices students have to choose from in their time at BMCC. In their first semester they also have access to learning communities and start building their electronic portfolios. All BMCC students need a writing intensive course to graduate, so the purple circle on the top right isn’t a choice. The pie chart suggests food again, but it also looks like the game piece in Trivial Pursuit. So I hope we can present attractive options to students and engage them to collect all the pieces, so we don’t come across as trying to get them to “eat their veggies” in an educational sense.

In a meeting to prepare for the institute, we discussed some guiding principles for the plan, including that our work should benefit all BMCC students and faculty, although its main audience is faculty who teach in the Learning Academy. In addition, we will keep in mind some principles voiced by Provost Karrin Wilks at our Winter Faculty Convocation in January 2017, among them:

  • Students can learn anything under the right conditions
  • Ability, motivation, and intellect are not fixed
  • It is possible to significantly improve learning outcomes
  • Faculty are the mechanism for scaling success

Even before we write the plan, we know the Learning Academy has some specific needs that may also benefit the rest of the college. We’d like to encourage more faculty to get involved, and we’d like to expand and strengthen the learning communities we offer to students. We are also expanding our undergraduate research programming and trying improve student outcomes in Gateway courses. So the plan we develop needs to support our other ongoing efforts.

So we’re off on the Amtrak to Boston!

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Learning from peers

At a recent gathering of meeting of our Faculty Leadership Academy, I asked the group to think about a “significant, supportive relationship with a colleague” and what made it valuable. Although I was careful not to use the word “mentor,” people naturally went there. (The session was billed as a discussion of mentoring, after all, and they had suggested it.)

Some of the things they mentioned about how to maintain work-life balance, learn about the institution, how to find funding, etc. Some talked about the particular attributes of the colleague, such as that they were “very supportive.” Others mentioned a particular aspect of the guidance they were given, such as how to put the mission of the college into their teaching.

word cloud on mentoring

Another word cloud

After that opening discussion, we talked about other aspects of the faculty work at BMCC, particularly about the contractual evaluation of teaching and the tenure and promotion process. Collectively we would like to find ways for these formal and informal procedures to be more supportive and nurturing of the faculty.

Speaking for the administration, I said. “The college wants you to succeed. The college wants you to be happy.” I thought this was fairly innocuous statement, but it took some people by surprise. Even though I believe that it has always been true, it is not a message that has often been sent. Too often, administration and faculty are seen as being in opposition.

At the conclusion of the gathering, the group was agreed that the college should set up some more formal mentoring system, to complement the mentoring that exists in some of our departments. They also agreed that the old model of a sage, older professor mentoring a younger protégée or novice is neither necessary nor sufficient. The very terms of protégé and novice are somewhat suspect. They resonated with a networked mentoring approach.

It was actually kind of hard to find an image of the stereotypical mentor. Maybe it’s not so common any more. (Photo from LinkedIn.)

The idea for networked mentoring came to me from a couple of articles by Mary Deane Sorcinelli and Jung Yun (see below) from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The practice goes by various names, such as mutual mentoring, mentoring constellations, or a multi-mentor network. As described by Sorcinelli, et al (2016), Amherst developed a “flexible, network-based model of support” where “faculty work with multiple mentors who provide support in their respective area(s) of expertise, rather than a single mentor who is less likely to be able to the wide variety of opportunities and challenges faced by diverse scholars in a modern academic career.”

We will start with a pilot project in the Fall of 2017. We are going to add two or three seasoned faculty members to our semester-long new faculty orientation program. Each mentor will facilitate a cohort of new faculty throughout the term, through small group meetings and conversations. In addition, one or two experienced online faculty will work with a cohort of instructors teaching their first online course in the fall. When we sent out a notice asking for faculty to lead one of these groups, we were surprised and impressed to get nearly 25 respondents within a few days.

Clearly, there is a lot of faculty expertise out there to be tapped. It’s gratifying to know that faculty want to share with each other, to help their newer colleagues to be successful and happy.


Yun, Jung H., Brian Baldi, and Mary Deane Sorcinelli. “Mutual Mentoring for Early-Career and Underrepresented Faculty: Model, Research, and Practice.” Innovations in Higher Education (2016), 41:441-451.

Sorcinelli, Mary Deane and Jung Yun. “From Mentor to Mentoring Networks: Mentoring in the New Academy.” Change, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 2007), pp. 58-61.

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