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‘Living Laboratory’ of Brooklyn Waterfront, Digital Learning Focus of $3.1 Million Grant Awarded to City Tech

Professor Gold at the Brooklyn waterfront.
Photo credit Yaniferz Cantor

City Tech students, faculty and curriculum will connect to the dynamic “living laboratory” of the Brooklyn Waterfront in new and creative ways thanks to a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Professor Matthew K. Gold (English) is leading the five-year project entitled “A Living Laboratory: Redesigning General Education for a 21st-Century College of Technology.” Building on a series of recent grants to City Tech from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) that have supported interdisciplinary study of Brooklyn’s shores, the grant will help the College take advantage of its prime location at the foot of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.  

“We’re taking an approach to learning that utilizes the natural and built environments around City Tech — and their social, cultural, environmental, political, professional and literary histories — as our classroom.  In doing so, we build on faculty expertise in place-based education and student interest in new technologies,” Professor Gold explains.

The grant was awarded by the DOE’s Strengthening Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Title V Program, which has the goal of improving retention and graduation rates of Hispanic and low-income students. For City Tech, the additional goal is to prepare students for leading roles in the cutting-edge technological and professional workforce.

Toward this end, Professor Gold and his team of faculty and administrators from across the College will conduct four major activities: a redesign of the College’s general education (gen ed) curriculum to enrich connections between the courses taken by students throughout their four years at the College; the creation of a state-of-the-art digital platform for teaching and learning; the integration of comprehensive outcomes assessment into the curriculum; and the establishment of a restricted endowment to support the recently-created Center for the Study of the Brooklyn Waterfront.

City Tech’s Title V team includes, front row (from left): Emma Moll (Architectural Technology), Peter Spellane (chemical technology), Shelley Smith (Architectural Technology); back row (from left): Barbara Burke (grants), Julia Jordan (faculty commons), Matthew K. Gold (English), Robin Michals (advertising design and graphic arts-ADGA), Maura Smale (library), Daniel Wong (ADGA). Not pictured: Provost Bonne August, Tammie Cumming (assessment) and Richard Hanley (English). 
Photo credit: Yaniferz Cantor

The Title V grant is the culmination of multiple projects at City Tech funded by the NEH since 2007, including two faculty-development projects, “Water and Work: the History and Ecology of Downtown Brooklyn” and “Along the Shore: Changing and Preserving the Landmarks of Brooklyn’s Industrial Waterfront,” and Professor Gold’s “Looking for Whitman: The Poetry of Place in the Life and Work of Walt Whitman.” A related NSF-funded project, “The Brooklyn Waterfront 2050,” explores the geophysical environment surrounding the College from an interdisciplinary scientific perspective.  

The Whitman project, a “multi-campus experiment in digital pedagogy” that served as a precursor to the new undertaking, used a central website to bring together students from four different colleges in a collaborative digital environment.  Students used social-networking platforms and tools such as WordPress, MediaWiki, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and Google Maps to connect with the texts they studied and with one another.

Participating in this type of richly collaborative digital environment enabled City Tech students to study Whitman’s Brooklyn-related writing alongside both undergraduate and graduate students at institutions as diverse as Rutgers University (Camden, NJ), the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, VA), and the University of Novi Sad (Serbia).

Professor Gold is excited about the digital platform that will be developed as part of the new grant because it will allow for more vibrant online learning experiences for students.  He notes that the site will use open-source software – software that is distributed along with the code upon which it runs, thus allowing for highly customizable platforms — and social media.

“City Tech’s new digital platform will forge bonds among students between courses, deepening their engagement with course materials,” Professor Gold notes. ”It will also make the shared intellectual culture of the institution more visible to the College itself and to the wider public.”

The project builds on related projects within CUNY, such as Blogs@Baruch, the Macaulay Honors College ePortfolio site, and the CUNY Academic Commons, an online community where faculty, students and staff collaborate on academic projects across the 23 campuses in the City University of New York System. Professor Gold, who serves as project director of the CUNY Academic Commons, says that the site was developed to link the University’s colleges in a social network that promotes connections and shared research among campuses.

The newly established Center for the Study of the Brooklyn Waterfront, whose three-fold mission is research, education and public programs, will be central to the new grant. Says Professor Gold, “At a time when New York’s waterways and waterfront spaces are undergoing rapid redevelopment and redeployment, the Center will promote original scholarship that seeks to understand those changes from historical and interdisciplinary perspectives.”

Contemplating the overall structure of the grant, he adds: “The project has a large scope, and there is a great deal we want to accomplish. It’s an exciting time to be at City Tech.”

In addition to Professor Gold, the project team includes Professors Robin Michals (advertising design and graphic arts) and Shelley Smith (architectural technology), who will steer work on general education, organizing annual seminars; Professors Maura Smale (library) and Daniel Wong (advertising design and graphic arts), who will spearhead the creation of the new digital platform; Tammie Cumming, director of assessment and institutional research, who will promote a culture of assessment across the curriculum; and Professors Richard Hanley (English) and Peter Spellane (chemistry), who will direct work done through the Center for the Study of the Brooklyn Waterfront.

Also playing key roles in creating this project were Provost August, Professor Julia Jordan, acting director of City Tech’s Faculty Commons, Ms. Barbara Burke, director of grants and contracts, and grants officers Patty Barba Gorkhover and Eleanor Bergonzo. The project will be evaluated by Professor Thomas F. Nelson Laird of the Indiana University School of Education.


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