Columbia Digital
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Enhancing Education in the 21st Century: Three-Part Strategy Brings Columbia Digital Media to Campus, the Public and the Marketplace

Michael Crow

The technological revolution brought on by the Internet and digital technologies is transforming the way almost all human transactions are conducted, including teaching and learning. The world's universities, aware of both the great opportunities and serious pitfalls inherent in this transformation, have embraced these technologies with surprising speed, none more so than Columbia. Indeed, the University's comprehensive three-part plan to implement and advance the use of new technologies in teaching and learning may well help to define the nature of universities in the 21st century.

Rather than sit by as a passive observer of this revolution while organizations with very different values develop the models for digital education, Columbia has moved with speed and strategic sense to harness digital media for the creation of knowledge and the transfer of that knowledge to a broader public.

"We can no more disregard a growing community of online learners than we can the communities that neighbor our campus," said President George Rupp. "Just as we have to relate constructively to our neighbors, we must also be a pioneer in the development of digital education so that learners around the world will have better access to the resources universities like Columbia offer. Our involvement in defining education in the 21st century is especially crucial in this free Internet space, which has already attracted a number of for-profit educational enterprises that too often do not maintain our high educational standards."

The University's three-part strategy is based on past experimentation in digital media and the University's status as one of the world's few comprehensive knowledge centers and generators. It is through the efforts of Columbia's esteemed faculty that new materials are produced, new perspectives are openly debated, and new ways of viewing the world are born. Digital media offers a new forum to transmit that knowledge and a new challenge -- to harness the medium in ways that respect Columbia's 250-year-old core values of teaching, learning and knowledge generation, and advance them for the benefit of a global audience.

"Columbia's movement into the emerging field of online learning has been widespread and systematic and is perhaps the most comprehensive ever undertaken by an institution of higher learning," said Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow, who was assigned the coordination of Columbia's digital media strategy by Dr. Rupp. "By exploring the integration of digital media into the infrastructure of the University, supporting faculty in developing digital programs that further their own scholarship, extending students' learning with digital media, and building new mechanisms to help alumni and a greater public continue to further their education through Columbia digital media, we are helping to define digital learning today."

The three-part strategy pools the University's resources together through three organizations created to support the University's coordinated entry into digital media:

  • Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) -- a University organization that, in partnership with individual faculty members, enables innovation and development of digital media to enhance the teaching and learning process of campus-based courses for Columbia students;
  • Columbia Digital Knowledge Ventures (Columbia DKV) -- a University organization that works with faculty to build online educational resources meant for distribution beyond campus, licenses content-based intellectual property and incubates selected digital media companies;
  • Fathom -- a consortium of leading educational and cultural institutions founded at Columbia that is the source for quality online learning for an international audience.

While CCNMTL focuses on the delivery of digital media resources on campus and Columbia DKV bridges digital media developments on campus with opportunities for the projection of University content beyond campus, Fathom projects the scholarly content and expertise of the University and other Fathom members to a worldwide audience.

Columbia's road toward digital media experimentation and implementation has brought significant changes to campus over the past five years. To support digital media in higher education, the University has improved its ongoing digital library collections and internal digital library capability, enhanced on-campus networks resulting in one of the fastest, most robust intranets, built more electronic or "smart" classrooms and participated in the further development of Internet 2. After four years of learning and experimenting with digital media in a variety of areas and disciplines, a digital media task force, appointed in 1998 by President George Rupp, gave a series of recommendations to the University, which helped delineate Columbia's three-part digital media strategy.

Those directives pointed to the University's need for an internal organization that could harness the tremendous intellectual capacity at the University to encourage the systematic development and innovation of digital media in teaching and learning. In 1998, the University created the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning

(CCNMTL), an internal, academic-focused faculty service unit designed to apply digital technologies to solve pedagogical problems and to innovate and evolve the core teaching function.

The second step of the strategy is what is now called Columbia Digital Knowledge Ventures (Columbia DKV). Following the history of licensing and promoting the University's research in science and technology in the commercial marketplace, Columbia DKV's primary mission is to work with faculty and CCNMTL to produce stand-alone, innovative digital learning experiences for delivery to both the Columbia community and audiences beyond. Columbia DKV pursues that mission by internally producing, in collaboration with faculty, new kinds of e-learning experiences, incubating Internet businesses and licensing Columbia content to outside organizations for development of knowledge-based resources destined for the digital media marketplace.

The third part, the development of an online learning entity for the marketplace, was spurred by the reality that for-profit institutions, such as software companies and others, were moving rapidly into the content production business, selling knowledge online. Unless Columbia and like-minded institutions acknowledged that, universities would be left behind as other companies became the developers and disseminators of knowledge in the emerging new medium.

Fathom was created to capture a part of the online market and ensure that the core educational values and knowledge of Columbia and other Fathom members, such as the University of Chicago, London School of Economics and Political Science, and the New York Public Library, would be represented in the emerging online marketplace.

While this three-part strategy pushes Columbia to the forefront of digital education, it also serves to preserve the University's core purpose -- to promote teaching, learning and research. Everything the University and its organizations do, including our digital media initiatives, supports our core mission.

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