Hello and welcome to the blog for the CUNY Syllabus Project! We’ll be blogging here throughout the project’s duration as way to communicate with contributors to the project, lend a sense of transparency to the ins and outs of what we’re doing, and highlight other related and important work happening around CUNY. We’re a community based project, so we think it’s important for our community to know as much about the thinking behind the project as possible and be updated on the progress that we’re making as it happens. With that in mind, this first post outlines a little bit of how we’re different than some other syllabus collection projects and how our methods work hand in hand with our stated objectives.
As our name suggests, the CUNY Syllabus Project (CSP) is an attempt to understand and analyze the structure of syllabi at CUNY specifically. We’re focusing on CUNY for three reasons. First, as graduate students at the CUNY Graduate Center and instructors at several of the colleges, we care deeply about the institution and the pedagogical practices that help to shape undergraduate and graduate students. Second, we believe that CUNY, as the largest public urban university system in the country, is both unique and vast enough to warrant a syllabus analysis project of its own that is specific to its situation. As of 2014, CUNY’s total enrollment (both part time and full time students) was nearly 250,000 students, over 70% of which were students of color. Teaching those students are 18,573 full and part-time faculty. Understanding the depth and breadth of what’s happening at CUNY is a task unto itself. Third, we also believe that using a submission system to collect syllabi instead of scraping the web makes the CSP a community building project for educators throughout the CUNY system.
Faculty who submit syllabi to the project are making a contribution to a collaborative digital community that will attempt to broaden their understanding of the pedagogical ecosystem that they belong to. While we hope that faculty members return to the site regularly to peruse the variety of syllabi that have been collected, identify interesting trends, and make changes to their own syllabi based upon the work of others, this kind of active engagement isn’t essential for maintaining the community on the site. Simply through the act of uploading their syllabi, faculty are already helping to build and maintain this pedagogical community at CUNY, and they are helping to shape the future of syllabi for newer faculty that use the CSP to plan their own courses. Although our user submission based model will ensure that, at least at first, our data is much “smaller” than the “big data” attainable through webscraping, we believe that the immanent user buy-in will lay the ground for a greater impact once the analysis has been done.
Ultimately, the CSP’s methods and focus are in line with what we understand the syllabus to be and the purpose it serves in our pedagogical philosophies. By crafting a syllabus, teachers are building pathways along which their students will travel during the learning process. They might not always follow those pathways, but the syllabus is the map of those potential routes. This project will look at these pathways and visualize the ways they intersect and overlap with and diverge from each other. The goal of the CSP is to empower teachers to be able to be more creative and innovative with their pathway building.