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Grad Students Help Place Course Syllabi Online

By Lauren Marshall

Linda Catalano

It wasn't until two years ago when the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) opened, that faculty were able to get a course syllabus published online, a web site developed or a bulletin board built for free.

Today, faculty in several departments can find that same technological support within their departments; this time, from people with in-depth content knowledge--their own students.

Last summer, 17 hand-picked graduate students attended CCNMTL's first technology "boot camp," providing them with web development skills and pedagogical strategies.

These graduate students signed up for six weeks of training, enticed by a year's use of a new Apple laptop and a modest stipend. They emerged as departmental associate education technologists (DAETs), armed with a working knowledge of HTML, JavaScript and multimedia applications. Their mission: to extend the purposeful use of technology in education within their individual departments.

"As we reached out to various departments at the University, we realized it would be helpful to recruit graduate students who could become instructors," said Frank Moretti, executive director for the CCNMTL. "These students have served as liaisons between the faculty and the Center's staff and are providing additional support for the use of new media in teaching and learning."

One of these crusaders Linda Catalano, a doctoral candidate in sociology, recruited Priscilla Ferguson, director of graduate studies and one of 25 faculty members in the sociology department.

Before Catalano's assistance, Ferguson had used email lists to communicate with students in both her literature humanities class and her sociology classes. But this year with Catalano's help, Ferguson used more innovative technologies in her courses.

The CUAnalizer, a Web-based application that is bringing interactive learning to Columbia courses.

"It was really important we had someone who knew what the department was about," said Ferguson, indicating the valuable relationship a DAET brings to faculty members.

With course material from Ferguson and her own knowledge in sociology, Catalano developed several robust multi-media course web sites, including detailed online course syllabi, including photos, questions and notes that correlated with the week's readings.

Catalano also built bulletin boards for Ferguson's undergraduate courses in Literature Humanities and Sociology of Everyday Life, enhancing interclass communication. The bulletin board provided students who are not active in class with a new and often more comfortable medium for intellectual exchange; many students also benefited from the insights of others posted online in response to assigned topics.

"The point is to use the content purposefully, to think through how and why you would want to use it," said Catalano.

For Catalano the administrative benefits of online course material are immediate. Students can shop online for courses prior to registration and photocopying lost course syllabi becomes a thing of the past. Web sites also help faculty to develop a one-stop-shop for quality content and research links for curious students. The web sites also allow professors to see what their colleagues are doing.

While using technology in the classroom requires a new perspective on teaching, it is no substitute for reading and thinking, said Ferguson.

While most faculty develop digital course material for enhanced in-class coursework, others are using it as an interactive learning tool for students. Such is the case with Catalano's second convert, Sudhir Venkatesh, assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies. In his graduate level course, sociology of black America, Venkatesh's students are developing a Web site as the semester's final research project on different representations of black American life.

"These technologies provide some types of interaction that students wouldn't have had before," said Venkatesh. "And from a sociological standpoint, the medium forces them actually to become social scientists."

To help Venkatesh's students get up to speed with the technology, CCNMTL technologists held workshops on the Center-developed technologies to be used, including the CUAnalyzer, an application that allows a user to capture multimedia objects from the web and use them to create a new multi-media document. Catalano also provided ongoing support both inside and outside the classroom.

"An academic community is intended to cultivate knowledge. Here I am a student, but I also have something to contribute," said Catalano.

CCNMTL plans on extending the DAET program next year with the hope of engaging graduate students from other schools of the University.

To date 600 faculty members over have used the CCNMTL for a variety of course needs. There are many Columbia courses that include web content, and there are more than 300 bulletin boards in use within the classroom context per semester.

Published: Dec 19, 2000
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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