Tagged: Queens College

My Thoughts on CUNY’s “Recalibration Period for Educational Equity”

CUNY surprised a lot of people—myself included—when I received an SMS alert indicating that CUNY would be observing a “Recalibration Period.” The message, delivered by the same system is used for statewide emergencies and for Notify NYC, reads as follows:

S: CUNYAlert – CUNY has instituted a Recalibration Period for Educational Equity
CUNY has instituted a Recalibration Period for Educational Equity, beginning this Friday, March 27, through Wednesday April 1. Distance learning will resume on Thursday, April 2. The University’s previously scheduled Spring Recess will run from April 8-10. There are numerous exceptions, visit CUNY’s coronavirus page for details, and your college’s website for campus-specific information.

The Recalibration Period for Educational Equity is to allow CUNY colleges to identify and provide computing devices to students who do not have access to computers at home to continue with remote instruction. Many CUNY students live below the poverty line—some are even “food insecure”—and it is important that we ensure every student has access to the necessary technology for continuing their studies.

The “recalibration” period will run from Friday, March 27 through Wednesday, April 1; remote instruction will resume on Thursday, April 2. To make up for the lost instruction days, CUNY cut Spring Break from over a week—April 8–16—to three days—April 8 to 10.

In addition to emergency alert, I also received emails about the “recalibration period” from the following College officers:

When I learned about the recalibration period, I was peeved having to redo the schedule for my courses…again! I was also concerned that my students would confuse my students who are already disillusioned with continuing their students in this stressful time.

A few hours later, I received a message from my department chair regarding the recalibration period. She explained that she had consulted with the Dean of Faculty and decided that we faculty should “ignore” the directives about the recalibration period. This message specifically referenced the chancellor’s and provost’s messages.

The latter message from the Provost is clear about observing this recalibration period: “This recalibration period is not optional. No instruction is to take place during this period: please don’t schedule tests or due-dates for assignments.”

This is conflicting information. What would you do?

After giving it some thought and sleeping on it, I have decided today to observe the recalibration period. Here’s why.

  1. Rank. While I was never in the military, or anything of the sort, I am aware of the pecking order of university and college officials: Chancellor > College President > Provost > Dean > Department Chair. With all due respect, rank dictates that I observe the directives of the higher officials than those of the dean or my department chair.
  2. Equity. A week ago, at the beginning of the remote instructional period, I circulated surveys to my students, asking whether they received my messages about my plans for remote instruction. The survey had another purpose: to test whether students could access course materials remotely. If a student could access the survey, they could access the course materials on Google Classroom. In my Media Criticism class of twenty students, seven have not completed the survey. And in my History of Cinema class of fifty-nine (59) credit-earning (non-auditing) students, eighteen (18) have not completed the survey. In all, almost a third of my students (32%) have not completed the simple task of completing a one-question, online survey in the course of a week. This doesn’t bode well for them to complete other more complex, online assignments. I really hope CUNY and Queens College doesn’t squander this period to identify students who don’t have access to the requisite technology—and to provide them with the necessary tools.
  3. Spring Break. I suspect that a lot of resistance to the recalibration period comes from the shortened spring break. Believe me, I have strong opinions about spring break, including my objection to CUNY’s spring break acting like a moveable feast. But, look, in the Age of the Virus, spring break is over. No one in the New York area should be traveling or getting together during the Easter–Passover breaks… no matter how badly some dimwits would be “raring to go” by then.
  4. “Asynchronicity”. As I described in my earlier post about remote instruction, I mentioned that most of my course activities would be asynchronous. I plan to keep that mode because it allows students more flexibility to participate in the course and to complete assignments.

Even with these reasons, I am conflicted about this recalibration period. I don’t like the idea of interrupting the semester—a second time after last week’s instructional recess—because it is disruptive to teaching and learning. I’m also concerned that the university and the college have not communicated their plans for identifying students-in-need and providing them with the necessary tools for remote learning. The administration could very well squander this recalibration period without addressing the needs of our neediest students.

At the risk of minor insubordination, I’ve updated the syllabi for my Media Criticism and my History of Cinema 2 courses to reflect the revised schedule in the age of recalibration.

Why Bother Taking a Class When You Plan on Missing Half of It?

The winter session at Queens College begins in a few days, on January 2, and, today, I emailed the enrolled students about my online courses: Media Technologies and Contemporary Media. My welcome message lays out the schedule for the three-week term. My courses consist of twelve modules, just like the ones we cover in the in-person classes offered during the traditional fall and spring terms.

Within a few hours, I received messages from two students asking if they can finish all the course material early. Coincidentally, both students said they would be out of the country for about 10 days, starting on the 2nd, and that they would not have Internet access while abroad. One student suggested that they planned on finishing the work before they left on the 2nd. In other words, they wanted to complete all the work within a few days—something that takes over over two weeks on our accelerated winter schedule and that takes about two months in the fall and spring terms.

To be clear, going away is not the issue. I am running the course from California, which is quite manageable, because I have reliable Internet access and my mobile plan allows for tethering. But every year, my dad wants to visit Guatemala and I always have to rebuff him because I am not sure if I can reliably tend to the courses while out the country.

Why did these students enroll in a twenty-two day course and plan on missing about half of it?

This past semester, I found six cases of suspected plagiarism. Right now, I am in a distrustful spirit, and I have to wonder: were these students planning to cheat? Did they get the work from another student and just planned to dump that work as soon as they could?

I suggested to both students that they drop the course before it starts and take it when they actually have a chance of doing the work in a meaningful way.

It’s Always the Kids Who Suffer

It’s been a week since Amazon decided to not site one of their HQs in Long Island City, Queens. One of the promises of coming to Queens—and accepting about $3 billion in tax incentives—was to do outreach for local colleges.

At Queens College, there was an event scheduled for Monday, February 25, that was announced a few days ago in the weekly email newsletter, This Week at QC for February 19.

Amazon Information Session.

12:15-1:30 pm, location TBA upon registration for event. Amazon visits Queens College to discuss work culture and interview process, current paid internships and jobs, and how to plan your academic and career pathway. RSVP: http://bit.ly/AmazonInfoSession2019. Information: qc_career@qc.cuny.edu.

But today, the Center for Career Engagement and Internships announced that the event was cancelled.

I think we can all figure out why the event isn’t going to happen anymore, but it still seems wrong to not hold the event, regardless of last week’s announcement.

Reports indicate that Amazon already has something like 5,000 employees, It seems reasonable that the company could probably still hire a few Queens College students, with a normal rate of turnover, even without building a second headquarters here. This could have provided some opportunities for some college kids. But instead, by canceling [sic] this event, Amazon is acting true to its characterization by many in the press as childish, taking its proverbial ball and going home.

My Fall 2018 Classes at Queens College and Pratt Institute

The weather in New York right now is very hot— the temperature has reached the mid-90°s on Tuesday and will continue through Thursday. And although it seems like I should be packing for the beach, the fall semester is upon us. This semester, I am teaching two classes: one at Queens College and one at Pratt Institute.

Contemporary Media

This class acts like a sequel for Media Technologies, where we survey various media forms. However, this class sets aside the mechanics and the history and instead focuses on the how contemporary media industries function. One theme that I hope to address throughout the term and across all the modules is digitalization and how that changes what we mean by “media.” It’s not like the record industry sells records, that people read newspapers on newsprint, and that television programs are necessarily watched on televisions.

I’m teaching this class on two separate days: Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/contemporarymedia

There are two textbooks for this course:

  1. Straubhaar, Joseph, Robert LaRose, and Lucinda Davenport. Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2016.
  2. McChesney, Robert W. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York: New Press, 2013.

Documentary Film

This is the first time I’ve taught this class. When I was a cinema studies graduate student at NYU, I always wanted to teach a documentary film survey. Most of the classes that graduate students did were very narrowly focused—often closely related to his/her dissertation. I felt that this was a disservice to both undergraduates taking these class and the graduate students teaching them. It was unfair to undergraduates because they didn’t get a good foundation in cinema studies. And it was bad for us budding teachers because we didn’t get to develop classes that might be useful to teach after we graduated, especially if we didn’t get hired by a big film program.

Like a decade-and-a-half later, I finally get to do a survey of documentary film. However, as I’ve been working on this class, I can see why it’s tempting to avoid surveys. There is so much material to exclude. I literally have to prune my list of ninety-plus films to about twenty. I would feel a lot less guilty teaching a class like “Binging Truth: Documentary Films in the Netflix Age,” “Beyond the Interrotron: The Films of Errol Morris,” “WPA, FDR, and NYFPL: Interwar American Documentary and the New Deal.”

I remember an NYU professor teaching a whole semester’s seminar on the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Can you imagine how deep you could get with a topic like that? My class however is breadth over depth.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/documentary.

There is one textbook for this course: McLane, Betsy. A New History of Documentary Film, 2nd ed. New York and London: Continuum, 2012.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

Finals Week Strangers

If you’ve taken a large college class, you’ve likely experienced the situation where your class looks empty for most of the term, but then, all of a sudden, at the final exam, the lecture hall is full again.

Back in December, I kvetched back about how many of my students in Queens College classes fail, and I aimed to take measures to improve the success (failure?) rate. One such measure was to require students to actually attend class. Here is what I was thinking about at the time:

For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.

One step is to implement two new attendance policies:

  1. Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
  2. Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.

And that is in fact what I did. This past spring semester, in each of my syllabi at Queens College, I wrote:

For in-person classes, regular attendance is required. Attend twelve or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than four classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

For hybrid courses, regular attendance is required. Attend seven or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than three classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

This policy does not apply to online courses.

It might have worked, at least a little bit. In my Media Technologies class this semester, there was only one absentee student who showed up to take the exam. That student also walked in thirty minutes late to the final, something that the student did for the midterm exam. I directed that student to the written policy from the syllabus, and I did not permit that student to take the exam. Failing that student seemed like the right thing to do as that student’s absenteeism really did warrant retaking the class.

However, the 20% rule that I bemoaned in December emerged in another way. In my Media Criticism class, I added a policy that each student must meet with me—either in person or through an online call—over a two-week period to discuss his/her draft for the two written essays due in that class. Many flaunted the policy, and when it came time for them to submit their final drafts, I alerted them that I would not accept them, as stated in the policy on the syllabus.

Alas, just after the midterm exam, about 20% of the students enrolled in the class dropped because of this policy, suggesting that we as teachers are powerless against the larger social forces that CUNY students face.

My Revised Online Summer Intensive Course

This summer, I’m teaching two online courses at CUNY Queens College.

  1. Media Technologies, between June 4 and June 27
  2. Contemporary Media, between July 2 and July 26

I’m following a similar structure from the past, which I have described before on this site. Each course includes twelve modules, and for each module students will have to complete the following:

  • read an assigned chapter from the textbook
  • watch a video lecture of a narrated slideshow
  • take an online quiz consisting of objective questions

After four modules, students will take an exam consisting of subjective questions that they will have five days to complete.

In the past, I used to release module consisting of a video lecture and a quiz for a course topic and would have them due the following day. But having read a blog post by Anastasia Salter about “Rethinking the Online Summer Intensive,” I rethought my own online summer intensive courses. I didn’t quite go as far as Salter who released all the modules at the beginning of the course. Instead, I wanted to strike a balance between giving students the flexibility of completing work on their own schedule but also provide some structure where students won’t feel overwhelmed.

I kept the daily release schedule but changed the daily deadlines for quizzes to a weekly one. Everyday between Tuesday and Friday, I will post a recorded lecture and a quiz. But instead of making them due the following day, I’m providing students some flexibility and allowing them to submit the four quizzes by Monday night. That gives students at least three days to complete their quizzes. They can either keep apace completing a quiz per day or they can procrastinate and binge the weeks’ material.

And I’m also setting up twice-weekly office hours via Google Meet, which I’ve only used once, but I think is a tremendous improvement over Google Hangouts.

I didn’t implement her other changes, such as the 100-point grading scale for the whole semester. I understand the appeal of a “progress bar,” but how would I account for getting ten quizzes and three exams to add up to 100 points? That would require granting students four points for a quiz of at least ten questions.

Students Charge Not Their Computers or Their Phones, but Their Vape Pens

In almost every college classroom, there’s some pretty stiff competition for the power outlets. Students need to charge their notebook computers and, of course, their smartphones. But last night, I saw a new device charging in one of my classrooms. It was a vape pen.

Vape pen charging in a classroom at Queens College, Kiely Hall, third floor

While I didn’t ask the class whose pen this was, I did try to shame its owner by snapping a photo and indicating that I was posting this on the Internet.

I wonder, though, if this will be the next class of digital distractions that we teachers have to confront in the classroom. Not just that they use an otherwise unused outlet to charge a vape pen, but when they start vaping. Because vaping is as natural to them as having a touchscreen device at their fingertips.

Twenty-Percent Rule

A few moments ago at a Starbucks in Sylmar, California, after grading a set of take-home exams and posting grades to CUNYFirst, I finished another teaching semester at Queens College. I now get about a week off before starting anew with an online, winter session course that I will be conducting from my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house. This shortens my winter break a bit, but the online course allows me to extend my stay here in California until mid-January. New York is always so cold, sad, and boring in early January, and I am not the least bit bereft about missing out on whatever winter dreariness there is back east.

While I should be excited about finishing another semester and again submitting grades on time, allowing me a peaceful Christmas break, that enthusiasm is tempered because just over 20% of students in my Media Criticism course didn’t receive a passing grade. Nine out of forty-five students outright failed, and one student just stopped attending but still submitted a take-home final exam. In all but two cases, the students just stopped attending class.

Sadly, this is a common occurence at Queens College. I was shocked to see that, in the first class I taught there years ago, about a third of the class failed. Up to that point, I had only limited teaching experiences: as a TA at UCSB and NYU, and teaching one introductory film course at Marymount Manhattan College. In those situations, there was always one or two students who didn’t complete the course, usually because of an extraordinary circumstance, but having ten students fail a single course was a terrible surprise. In my second semester at Queens College, I alerted my students to this fact, imploring them to not repeat this same, terrible feat. For whatever reason, in that second semester, the failure rate was much lower, but since then it has crept back up.

I don’t have a single explanation for why so many Queens College students fail these courses compared to similar courses at other colleges. However, a few factors, however, come to mind:

  • Some students have challenging socioeconomic circumstances.
  • Some students have demanding family obligations, either raising their own children or tending for other needy relatives.
  • Some students work full-time and are taking courses in their scant spare time.
  • Some students’ commutes make it hard to attend class.1
  • Some students are returning to school after an absence and are having a difficult time readjusting to school and/or learning how to “do” college.
  • Some students come from NYC or other urban public schools, where they largely excelled because they stayed out of trouble, not necessarily because they were academically proficient.
  • Some students are stuck in “K-12 mode,” treat the classroom as a battleground between student and teacher, and are consumed by what they “get away with” in class, with assignments, and on exams.

These are some pretty significant obstacles to overcome, and it’s not unreasonable to see how students facing these would have trouble in a college class, especially where I really push the students beyond procedural learning into more conceptual terrain. In other words, my courses are hard because I expect a lot of students, and I haven’t yet come to terms with dumbing down courses for more favorable reviews or a higher passing rate.

For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.

One step is to implement two new attendance policies:

  1. Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
  2. Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.

These two seem a lot more consequential than factoring their attendance as a percentage of their final grade.

I’m also instituting a second policy in my Media Criticism course: require students to present on assigned readings. This worked really well in the New Technologies class that I taught years ago but never got to do again. The class relied a lot on readings and developing conceptual frameworks for understanding media. It also spared them from having me lecture, pontificate, and yammer for a three-hour (!) class period.

I hope these policies keep students engaged and invested, not just for my Media Criticism courses, but for all their other courses at the college. We owe it to our students to push them into realizing their greatness, especially in the face of the formidable circumstances many of them face. Allowing them to pass, by doing subpar work or missing many class sessions, is a disservice to what they should expect from us and why they enrolled in the first place.


  1. My eight-mile commute from Brooklyn to Queens College is a lethargic agony. I can bike there in less than an hour, but it’s through some pretty bike-unfriendly terrain. Alternatively, I can take public transportation, which will take about an hour-and-forty minutes to travel those eight miles, via a mix of subway lines and busses. 

Forward Nation Radio

One of my former students at Queens College has been producing something really valuable lately. Forward Nation Radio launched in March as a videocast and podcast that the producer refers to as a “progressive show with ‘bite.'” The program arose as a response to what I would call the “fake news” echo chamber. This is where the commercial press publishes something critical about the president and then he and his surrogates cry “fake news.” The commercial press responds with “no, you’re fake news!” And on it goes…

The latest episode starts with a skit of a childlike Donald Trump character inviting his pal Sergey, presumably Sergey Kislyak, to come over to his White House for play. He entices him with a few secrets that he wants to tell him. It reminded me of what Harry Shearer does on Le Show, voicing several characters in humorous but chilling skits about current political topics.

The episode continues with a news summary, responding to listener feedback, and interjecting a healthy dose of political opinion. The host, David Leventhal, is undoubtedly a political progressive but offers well-reasoned and critical counter arguments to what you normally hear on commercial print and television media. And it is certainly a lot more thoughtful and educated what you get on right-wing propaganda outlets.

Leventhal’s finest moment in the episode came when he responded to an op-ed about the “lack of diversity” on campus, apparently written by one of Leventhal’s colleagues at Queens College. (Departmental infighting, anyone?) He immediately deconstructs the questions, noting that it is not referring to ethnic, gender, religious, or even income diversity. He quick identifies that the question is referring to ideological diversity: a balance between liberals and conservatives on campus. Leventhal draws on his professional experience to debunk this question: this was “bullshit” and “propaganda” thirty years ago, and it is “bullshit” and “propaganda” today, he says.

Leventhal take a long view about the purpose of labelling college campuses as liberal havens to undermine the value of education. He correctly identifies that what passes as conservative media is actually propaganda. The only way to counter propaganda is through education, he says. When quote-unquote conservative media rally against liberal bias in the media and in education, they are really trying to undermine the professional investigative methods of journalism to uncover truth and, at the same time, undermine the research methods and expertise of academics. In other words, quote-unquote conservatives aren’t represented on campus because those quote-unquote conservatives are actually propagandists who spread “alternate facts,” and Leventhal concludes, those “alternate facts…are not what should be peddled on college campuses.”

Of course, this is an extremely partisan series, but honestly, it was refreshing to listen someone use a balance of fact, reason, and emotion to argue against the attacks on journalism, academia, democracy, and even our own government that the right-wing is seeking to dismantle.

Textbooks for 2017 Winter and Spring Courses

Are you enrolled in one of my courses for Winter 2017 or Spring 2017?

Here are the textbooks required for your class. Most of these titles are available in print and as ebooks and are also available for sale or rental. Buy early to ensure your best pricing options.

Please note that the course websites are still not live, but I’m linking to them now for when they are ready.

Contemporary Media

A survey of contemporary media institutions and their economic, social, political and cultural implications.

Media Technologies

An overview of media technologies, including early writing and the printing press, the rise of mass culture and electronic media, and the digital revolution

Film History

An historical survey of film from the advent of commercial motion pictures in the 1890s, the proliferation of national cinema movements throughout the 20th century, and the influence of each in the formation of a global film culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

History of Broadcasting

The history of radio and television broadcasting from the 1920s to the present. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course focuses on broadcasting institutions, issues, research trends, and program format analysis.

The above links to Amazon are an affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.