First Year Learning Community at The Cooper Hewitt

First Year Learning Community at The Cooper Hewitt

“Community Collaboration”


Course Improvements and Coordination:

Over the last five years, as more of my workload hours at City Tech have shifted from Teaching to Service, I have had the opportunity to focus on what is most essential in my work with students. I feel fortunate to have been able to devote my time and energy to the development and coordination of one course, Graphic Design Principles 1. This course, a first semester required course for all COMD majors, serves as a critical foundation for incoming freshman. As Course Coordinator, I have worked with part-time faculty to develop a framework that better connects the course content to its counterpart in the second semester, Graphic Design Principles 2, and to create unified learning outcomes, specifically with regard to a shared design vocabulary and design process.

Additionally, I developed a series of digital projects to help faculty integrate the use of digital tools. Several faculty members have been teaching the course for decades and had focused on the use of traditional, hand methods. This transition was a challenge for many, but all faculty have now incorporated several digital projects into their course sections. I supported faculty through this transition with workshops, individual tutorials, use of our OpenLab Course Coordination project, and by encouraging the incorporation of OpenLab student ePortfolios into the course learning outcomes.

Learning Communities:

In Fall 2013 I began collaborating with Professor Jody Rosen, English on our Learning Community, “Ways of Seeing: Adventures with Image & Text.” This Learning Community for COMD students taking COMD1100 & ENG1101 includes field trips, hands-on projects, and cross-sensory experiences to help students discover and express their creative vision and supports their first year learning experience.

As our Learning Community has evolved we have explored cooperative (small-group) learning, alternative assessments using peer critiques through blogging and commenting on our shared OpenLab Course Site, low-stakes writing assignments, field trips, shared assignments, and critical thinking activities.

Our 2015 semester-long, cross-disciplinary student project “A Humument,” which was based on artist, Tom Phillips’s altered text, culminated in an exhibition at the Ursula C. Schwerin Library and also a student research poster at the City Tech Student Research Poster Presentation. Both were well received and gave first semester students the unique opportunity to showcase their creative writing and visual design to the college community.

CUNY BA Mentorship:

As a CUNY BA mentor, I have worked with twelve students (six in the last five years) to guide them with the development of their own curricula, tailored to their career goals and interests. I am currently mentoring Shofiyaa Abdul Samad and Sara Solomon. Both students are working toward their CUNY BA degrees for anticipated graduation in 2018. Being a CUNY BA mentor is a volunteer position, but it has helped me to look at my teaching in a different light. My CUNY BA mentees are often self-driven, independent, mature students. By comparison, the freshmen I teach are at a very different point in their education, requiring academic and emotional support at a much more basic level. I find this diversity of experiences invigorating, and it has pushed me to grow as an educator to meet the needs of all my students. I love the contrast and enjoy the intellectually stimulating conversations I share with my CUNY BA students as we work together to navigate their curricular and professional paths.

Online Teaching Resource & Portfolio:

When I built the initial iteration of my online teaching resource during my first year at City Tech, the concept of open access to educational resources was not widely accepted among my colleagues. As a teaching resource, my site has provided a way to document and reflect on my activities over the years, but it has also been of benefit to other faculty who work on related courses and initiatives. My teaching materials have been open and available for all to use for over fifteen years. Faculty from City Tech and other colleges have used my site and its contents for their courses. On many occasions, I have had the opportunity to help new faculty avoid the “trial by fire” that I experienced in my first year of teaching by sharing my course content and giving them a structure to build upon. has grown and evolved, archiving over a decade of my teaching sites, housing my teaching portfolio, and more recently a blog, which I have used to document and share certain scholarly activities and observations. My teaching portfolio is used as an example for faculty on the City Tech Faculty Commons website and in professional development workshops. As an early adopter, I am pleased to now see a growing number of faculty build and share their course content and teaching experiences with the College community.


Exhibitions and Major Projects

During my 2010-2011 sabbatical, I started exploring ways to merge together my varied lives: artist, designer, educator, and environmental advocate. Birds of Brooklyn was one of my first forays into a type of creative practice that integrates art and design using ecological education and community collaboration. I have named this approach “ecomedia” and it is a direction that defines much of my current work.

Birds of Brooklyn is a PSCCUNY grant-funded, public audio installation that highlights Brooklyn’s endangered and bygone birds and was reviewed in several media outlets, including as a feature on ABC News. Still on-going at several Brooklyn locations, it was also showcased to thousands of visitors during Art Basel Miami at the entrance to Pulse Art Fair.

I presented my unified approach to creative scholarship among other artist-educators at the College Art Association’s panel called “Hybrid Practices.” I have completed several other large scale exhibitions and installations, including the following:

8 Extraordinary Greens, a participatory project first exhibited in a solo exhibition at Mixed Greens in New York City in the spring of 2012, explored through interactions with gallery visitors the value placed on food and artistic social practice. This exhibition was reviewed in dozens of media outlets with exposure in the thousands. It has continued via community workshops/classes on “household agriculture” and will be featured in an upcoming November 2016 exhibition at Building 92 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and on the television program, Tiny House Nation.

An extension of 8 Extraordinary Greens, Seeding the City was a participatory, site-specific project exhibited at Pulse Miami during Art Basel 2012. It featured furniture farms and a collaborative audience-created drawing to support Verde Gardens, a community supported urban farm. The project was reviewed in Huffington Post and other media as part of this high profile, high-traffic event and was also exhibited at Franklin Works in Stamford, CT.

InsideOut House is a large-scale participatory, binaural audio installation, which simulates the experience of solitude within a natural soundscape. Funded by a PSCCUNY grant it was exhibited at the BRIC Biennial, Brooklyn and as part of the exhibition FoodShed, Hudson NY, curated by EcoArtSpace Curator, Amy Lipton. This project embodied my approach to audience/community created art in a way that previous projects had not. Viewers were invited to visualize their auditory experience of nature by creating a drawing and adding it to the installation. The work was not finished until the audience interacted with it.

I continued this approach when I was awarded a four-month residency on Governors Island through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, 2016. During my time in residence, I created a new large-scale installation. Treetones Tour was a site-specific installation presented on Governors Island this past summer. Hand-sewn fabric wraps, made from tree rubbings, were tied to 12 different trees on the Island. Visitors were guided by a self-directed tour map to locate and identify the trees. They were also encouraged to collect bark rubbings from each stop on the tour. This project was made possible by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Trust for Governors Island, and the National Park Service.

In my studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I am continuing to working on a project that I presented (in progress) at LMCC Open Studios on the Governors Island. Supported by a PSCCUNY grant, Overtones will be public audio installation that aims to create aural connections to natural environments through the harmonic tones generated by aeol instruments discreetly installed in trees, abandoned buildings and on bicycles.


Service to the College and University

OpenLab Co-Director: Over the last five years I have had the privilege to work with a fantastic group of colleagues on the development of City Tech’s OpenLab, an open-source, digital platform designed to support teaching and learning at the College and to promote student and faculty engagement in the college community. OpenLab was part of a five-year initiative called “A Living Laboratory: Revitalizing General Education for a 21st-Century College of Technology,” and was funded by a $3.1M (HSI) Title V Program grant. As Co-Director, I am responsible for planning and implementation of website features and improvements, including visual design, information architecture, usability, and development. I recruit and supervise our development team, including a web services firm and consulting developers, and I interface with the City Tech Community Team and City Tech community partners for college-wide adoption. I have had the honor of presenting unique collaborative workshops and presentations with my OpenLab Team members at several digital pedagogy conferences, including CUE, CUNY IT, Emerging Learning Design, among others. Our peer-reviewed article about the design and development of the OpenLab community was published in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy.

Some of the contributions of which I am most proud are the restructuring of the original OpenLab architecture and code to improve usability, implementing responsive/mobile site redesign, researching and implementing accessibility Section 508 improvements, as well as being able to contribute to the design and development of new widgets and features. Some of this work has been released not just to our College community, but to the larger Open Source community, as well.

I am currently involved in three new grant-funded OpenLab development projects: the public release of OpenLab in collaboration with CUNY Academic Commons / Graduate Center, WeBWorK integration with OpenLab, and OpenLab adoption at other CUNY colleges. These are described below.

Digital Humanities Implementation NEH Grant: As Co-Director of Design for the “Learning in the Public Square: An Open Platform for Humanities Education,” I collaborate with a team from the CUNY Graduate Center and members of City Tech’s OpenLab. The project builds on the success of City Tech’s OpenLab and the Commons In A Box platform developed by CUNY Graduate Center, and will involve working with testing partners at institutions nationwide. To be released for open-source public use, this OpenLab-flavored CBOX will be dedicated specifically to teaching and learning, integrating many of the features I’ve developed over the last five years as OpenLab Co-Director. In the process, we will update the core code of CBOX, integrate a suite of teaching- centered digital tools for content sharing and annotation, and package a set of tools to ensure that CBOX-OL communities meet accessibility standards.

Digital Pathways Title III HSI-STEM: As OpenLab Integration (Development) Lead for Title III HSI-STEM Articulation Grant with BMCC, I will provide guidance on design and development of BMCC’s Open Digital Platform, leading the design of enhancements that will benefit BMCC students in their use of both platforms, and overseeing the work of the consulting developer. This five-year program aims to increase the number of Hispanic students at BMCC who major in Computer Information Systems and Media Arts and Technology, and then transfer to related bachelor’s degree programs at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

WeBWorK Integration Title V Cooperative Arrangement Grant: As OpenLab Integration Co-Director & UX/UI/UA Designer and Steering Committee member on the “Opening Gateways to Completion: Open Digital Pedagogies for Student Success in STEM Title V Cooperative Arrangement Grant with BMCC, I am working with Opening Gateways leaders from the Math Department. In collaboration with external developers we are designing and implementing an effective user flow, site structure, and visual interface to integrate WeBWorK, an open source online homework system for math and science courses, with OpenLab.

Middle States Committee
At the Provost’s request, for the second time in my tenure, I am serving this year as a member of the Middle States Committee, Working Group Standard IV: Support of the Student Experience. Although I have been at the College for 15 years this experience has made me more fully aware of the incredible contribution of the administrative staff in keeping City Tech running and how much they care about the wellbeing of our students.

Through faculty, student and staff interviews my colleague Professor Cailean Cooley, Library and I have been collecting, compiling and analyzing the information flow for the critical processes at the College that affect student support. I hope the information we have gathered will be of use for the Middle States report, but the knowledge I have gained about those who work behind the scenes to support the college community has enhanced my appreciation of their contribution.

Service to the Communication Department

Curriculum Development: Upon returning to the Communication Design department in 2011, after a brief stint in Entertainment Technology Department to develop a new program in Emerging Media, I happily discovered that the Department’s focus had shifted under the leadership of Prof. Mary Ann Biehl and many new junior faculty. Part of my motivation for accepting the offer to develop new curriculum for ENT was the desire to challenge myself and explore new models of teaching and learning. Upon returning to COMD I have had the opportunity to collaborate with my dedicated colleagues on the Curriculum Committee to develop two major curriculum modification proposals, including authoring a new course in Graphic Design Theory.

The proposed changes to the COMD curriculum grew out of the efforts of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) Steering Committee, of which I was a member. Our work on this committee to work toward departmental accreditation has challenged us to put forth a new comprehensive solution that simplifies the structure of the department’s degree requirements, offering fewer concentrations, more flexibly and improved job preparedness for all students and graduates.

Department-wide Design Process: Another idea that has evolved out of curriculum discussions is the need to unify the Department’s method and approach to design thinking and process. Part of my approach to teaching first year students has been to instill an understanding and appreciation for a clear Design Process. I have been and will continue to work toward developing a department-wide creative design process to provide faculty and students with a defined and consistent framework that all students can follow throughout their academic career at City Tech. My aim is to find ways to integrate a shared Design Process into each class, allowing students in all concentration areas to graduate with the ability to develop innovative and professional solutions to visual communication problems. Using ePortfolios to support the practice of Design Process, especially in First Year Foundation Courses, is another way I am exploring this important creative experience in my own teaching with the hope of integrating it into the fabric of the Department in the future.

Conclusion and Future Goals

The goal I set for myself five years ago was to merge my varied titles: artist, designer, educator and environmental advocate. My motivation was simple: to integrate my life. However, what I’ve discovered from this blending was something unexpected.

As an artist whose default mode of working is alone in her studio, I did not realize that what I desired and what I could achieve through this creative integration was a greater sense of community and a desire to share, learn, and grow among others.

As I move toward the second half of my life and my teaching career, I am shifting gears: to accept the quiet, thoughtful loner in myself and support my students with a similar temperament, but also to find ways of creating and contributing that embrace community collaboration and sharing.

OpenLab was conceived to bring people together, to have meaningful shared experiences, to build new types of connections and communities. My participation in learning communities has enabled me to work towards these same goals, creating new curriculum that crosses traditional academic boundaries and brings vulnerable students together into a supportive, shared learning environment. My creative scholarly work has moved in the same direction, increasingly focused on creating experiences that bring people into shared spaces, and enabling them to become partners in the creation of my work.

Community collaboration has been the thread that binds my Teaching, Scholarship and Service and I look forward to continuing and evolving this theme in the years to come.