How It All Works: Breaking Down the Structure and Purpose of “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education”

We are often asked to carefully break down exactly how the “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education” course  is  structured.  It seems more complex than it is but since, to our knowledge, no one has done anything like this before, it is worth tracing out each of the parts for this exercise in innovative peer-learning and student-centered learning methods.

  • President Emeritus Bill Kelly and Futures Initiative Director Cathy Davidson (moi) team teach a graduate course at the Graduate Center, CUNY, called “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education.”  It’s focus is on how one teaches ones research field to undergraduates in the most innovative, engaged ways possible, with an end, too, of also contributing to institutional change.  We read pedagogical research, and try new teaching methods.   (NB: Bill and I practiced what we preach by having the graduate students design the four central “units” around which this course is based.  They take responsibility each week for assigning us reasearch in the areas and having us do some kind of exercise in class and then we discuss it together, under the leaderships of the students leading the unit.)
  • The one essential requirement for admission to this graduate course is that you had to either be teaching in one of the CUNY colleges or directing a program in one of them while taking our course.   There are twelve graduate students, either PhD or MALS students.  They represent nine separate fields across STEM, arts, humanities, and social sciences.  They teach or direct programs across nine CUNY campuses plus the Graduate Center (where our “Mapping” course is based).
  • Each week, all of the graduate students in the “Mapping” course then apply some technique we’ve read the research on and discussed and worked on in the graduate class to the undergraduate course they are teaching or the program they are directing at one of the CUNY colleges or community colleges.
  • The following week is a “debriefing” where the graduate students come into the “Mapping” course and report back, on how the peer-learning exercise worked that week  in their particular field for their particular audience (pre-Chemistry at Borough of Manhattan Community College or the Classics course at Hunter, etc).
  • Katina Rogers, Deputy Director of the Futures Initiative, developed a C-Box collaborative course site (based on Word Press and Buddy Press) and each of the graduate students has a course site (usually private only to the course) on the site.  Students can communicate with one another on this site and can also comment there on how well a given pedagogical exercise did or did not work.  They can make suggestions for improvement.  And they can communicate with other students in the other CUNY courses.
  • The next meeting of the “Mapping” course is then a debriefing.  The graduate students convey what happened in their class and the response of the students.  So basically a student at BMCC is giving feedback on a weekly basis to the former Interim Chancellor of the entire CUNY system and the director of the Futures Initiative on a variety of research-based peer learning methods.
  • The learning happens on many levels at once:  Bill and I are learning.  Our graduate students are learning.  Their undergraduate students are learning in an introductory course to a field that the graduate students are specializing in, using a research-based peer learning methodology .   The undergraduates are giving feedback to their profs (the graduate students) on how well the learning method worked in their attempt to master the subject matter (Speech and Audiology or Intro to Narrative or Pre-Chemistry or Classics, etc).  We also see which methods work best for which kinds of students.  How can we all learn to teach better in all our fields, to these remarkably diverse students?
  • The following week in the “Mapping” graduate course, the pedagogical focus shifts to another one of the four units that the graduate students have devised.   The four units are “Assessment and Evaluation,”  “Student-Centered Pedagogy,” “Life Circumstances and Professional Ethics,” then a final one on “Space Movement and Dynamics,” designed to emphasize non-verbal aspects of teaching and learning.
  • The process begins again with each unit:  We read the pedagogical research, try a different set of peer-learning methodologies in the graduate class, discuss how they might be applied in the specific introductory field-specific undergraduate courses, and how it might work for the particular kind of student being taught.  A pre-chem student at BMCC might have different needs than a Classics student at Hunter.
  • And the amazing apart is how often we find that engaged, student-centered learning works across all those different areas and all those different audiences.
  • We are all learning by doing and learning through “meta-cognition,” deep reflection on how we learn.


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309