The CUNY Distance Learning Archive (CDLA) is a group project developed as part of Matthew K. Gold’s Spring 2020 “Knowledge Infrastructures” seminar in the Ph.D. Program in English at The Graduate Center, CUNY, in partnership with the CUNY Digital History Archive (CDHA) and The Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate Program. The goal of the project is to resist or trouble the discourse of catastrophe around the shift to online learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by documenting the lived experiences of students, faculty, and staff across CUNY’s 25 campuses. Further, we wanted to document the moment of crisis response from a critical approach to educational technology. We hoped to collect different forms of data from a wide range of sources to produce a multi-perspective narrative that includes both the institutional and the lived experiences of multiple actors occupying different positionalities and identities.
On March 11, the news of CUNY’s switch to distance learning to mitigate the health risks posed by the pandemic broke just a few minutes before our last in-person class of the semester. At that point, the impact of the pandemic on CUNY’s teaching and learning infrastructure, urged the class to commit to documenting the unprecedented disruption we were experiencing. Over the rest of the semester and through the spring of 2021, the CDLA was developed as a crowdsourced archive that allowed students, faculty, and staff from across the CUNY system’s 25 campuses to submit personal narratives about the experience of moving online, emails, and communications related to the decisions to move online, documentation of online learning experiences (e.g., photos, narratives, screenshots), and links to digital media artifacts that capture the event in real time. The CDLA also sought to preserve social media posts and reactions (Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Instagram) of the CUNY community to both the crisis and the shift to remote learning.
Under pressure of the need to capture the moment, the team quickly developed this website (featuring an online submission system) and a social media presence via major digital platforms, and partnered with the Core Interactive Technology and Pedagogy class of the ITP Program, whose students devised a number of suggested writing prompts for CDLA contributors. Over the following months, the CDLA collected dozens of contributions (in the form of personal narratives, correspondence, official email communications, and learning resources) and its social media collection efforts resulted in scraping to hundred thousand posts.
Beginning in the Fall of 2020, the CDLA team has been working with the CUNY Digital History Archive (CDHA), a participatory Omeka-site developed by the American Social History Project, to create three public facing digital exhibits using a selection from the large number of digital artifacts collected. We focused primarily on three narrative threads that highlight some challenges common across the twenty-five CUNY campuses starting in March 2020. “The Shutdown” collection documents the uncertainty of the weeks immediately preceding and following the official March shutdown of the City University of New York system. The “Teaching and Learning” collection offers an additional record or trace of the ephemeral and often unseen dimensions of CUNY’s educational landscape during the pandemic. Finally, the “#CutCOVIDNotCUNY” collection aims to document the fight against CUNY’s austerity politics during the COVID pandemic.
Through the juxtaposition of artifacts showing different perspectives and experiences, the CDLA team hopes to enable researchers, students, and members of the community to understand, learn from, and engage critically with the consequences of the pandemic on the CUNY system. Finally, we hope to better understand the particular means through which the accommodation of distance learning has in some ways troubled educational instruction. Further, given the possibility that distance learning practices may become instituted as the norm for higher education, we hope to maintain a collection that acknowledges the human cost of such practices, assisting in the development of pedagogy that truly meets student needs through the digital medium.
Members of the original team: Matthew K. Gold, Travis Bartley, Nicole Cote, Michael Gossett, Jean Hyemin Kim, Charlie Markbreiter, and Stefano Morello, and Zach Muhlbauer.
Curatorial team: Travis Bartley, Nicole Cote, Matthew K. Gold, Stefano Morello, Zach Muhlbauer.
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For questions, comments, and concerns, the CDLA team can be reached at: