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Vol. 24, No. 18 March 29, 1999

Bringing Faculty Up to Speed on the Information Superhighway


Taking Columbia University one giant step further into a brave new digital world, the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning (CCNMTL) opened its doors to faculty on March 1.

Even in its infancy, the Center is well on its way to becoming an indispensable part of the culture of teaching at Columbia. The Center is committed to providing concrete support for faculty incorporating new media in their courses and encouraging the creation of custom-made digital content for Columbia classes. Made possible by a $10 million grant from Lionel L. Pincus, University Trustee chair emeritus, the Center is backed by the full support of Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow.

"The CCNMTL brings Columbia's new media support for faculty under one roof," said Frank Moretti, co-director of the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teacher's College and executive director of the Center. "As a hub of Columbia's new media activity, the center will also act as a broker of partnerships among the University's new media domains."

The new Center is certainly not the first body at Columbia devoted to innovation in the digital domain. The difference between this new media center and others on campus is underlined in the final two words of the new Center's name: Teaching and Learning. The Center's primary purpose is to explore and create new media applications in the interest of improving the teaching and learning environment.

Most of the innovations coming out of the center will be put to use right here on campus. Enterprising Columbia faculty, some with technical assistance from the Academic Information Systems (AcIS), have already explored digital teaching tools for music, art, architecture, chemistry and physics. In Columbia classes today, 3-D reproductions of molecules serve to visually explain organic chemistry, virtual buildings put architectural techniques into perspective and a new online resource, the Sonic Glossary, explains elusive musical concepts to Core Curriculum students in Music Humanities. Also, several professors have extended their classroom boundaries to include online discussion groups and many more have switched to a digital syllabus. Already, clients of the Center-Professors Ian Bent, Brian Greene and Don Melnick-are extending their forays into the new educational medium.

The Center will cater to all levels of faculty skill and interest. Workshops include sessions on the use of technology in teaching; the development of Web pages and online course syllabi; the enhancement of Web pages through audio, video and advanced software tools; the development and integration of Web-related student assignments into curriculum; the development of online data sets for student use, and an introduction to the Core Curriculum's Contemporary Civilization Web site. And, for those faculty members without a cyber thumb, Center technologists will digitize, organize, design and integrate content provided by the faculty member.

"New media has the potential for changing the nature of the way education works," said Moretti. "By making possible the opportunity for online discourse, it can create continuity where discontinuity existed."

In development now at the Center are cutting-edge applications such as Hyperfolio, a tool allowing users to capture and analyze information found on the World Wide Web. This taming of the vast information on the Web will accelerate the creation of multi-media content. Also in the not-so-distant-future is the Five Biome Project, an inter-institutional collaborative effort to combine existing digital resources at Columbia in five science-based summer programs that take place in different locations, each in one of Earth's biomes (desert, deciduous forest, ocean, rain forest and freshwater wetlands). Eventually the project will evolve into a distance learning experience capable of supporting global participation.

Director of Technology and AcIS manager Maurice Matiz said, "The Center is essentially a central clearinghouse for all centers and an advocate for academic excellence through technological innovation. From the collaboration of AcIS, the Columbia University Libraries and Teachers College's Institute of Learning Technologies, we have the advantage to accomplish something substantial."

Moretti looks to the future. "These are fertile times. By building on existing technologies, the CCNMTL will help to develop new educational applications of technology, helping Columbia to assume a position of leadership in the application of digital technologies to education."

A staff of faculty consultants and technologists are available Monday - Friday at the Center, Room 204 Butler Library, from 12:00 - 5:00 p.m. or by appointment. The Center phone number is 854-9058.