Columbia Digital
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Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning Supports Digital Innovation in Classroom-Based Teaching and Learning

Frank Moretti

Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) is a faculty service organization that encourages and supports innovation in teaching and learning in the classroom using digital technologies. In an era increasingly defined by new technologies, the Center brings the best practices in new media teaching and learning to the fore.

"We are living in the middle of one of three great transformations of Western civilization, a move to digital technologies that is changing the way almost all human transactions take place -- from the economic, to the political, to the educational," said Dr. Frank Moretti, executive director of CCNMTL and research professor at Teachers College. The first transformation in communication technology was the alphabet and the second, the printing press, which dominated Western culture from the 15th to the 20th century. "The challenge the Center faces in this time of dramatic change is to preside over the reinvention of the educational process through new media in a way that is consistent with the values of the University and its ancient and cherished goals," stated Moretti.

In support of this mission the Center employs a staff of more than 30 who collaborate with Columbia faculty and instructors on a variety of digital media projects. Since its founding in 1999, the Center has worked with more than 900 faculty (of which 374 are full professors) to build course websites, introduce electronic bulletin boards as a means of extending and enhancing classroom discourse, and develop specialized teaching and learning environments that enhance course materials and methods of teaching.

Advanced projects include the creation of

  • Multimedia study environments rich with primary resources
  • Digital archives
  • Digital tools that support study and research
  • Simulations that enhance the learning experience.

A significant number of the faculty who have worked with the Center once, return again to work on more in-depth projects as they experiment further with new media. All CCNMTL services are provided without charge to Columbia faculty and instructors.

"While we are a University-based service enterprise that is helping faculty develop applications using new media for their classrooms that are purposeful and can add to the efficacy of what they do in the classroom, we are also doing this at a time when there is no real best practice yet in a field that is less than a decade old. In this context we see ourselves as co-inventors with faculty of what will be effectively new forms of educational practice," said Moretti.

To date, the CCNMTL Project team has partnered with Columbia faculty to develop and enhance specialized teaching and learning environments such as the following:

  • Multimedia Study Environments (MMSEs) are self-contained, media-rich study environments that add context to readings and promote direct access to relevant online sources. Based around a primary text, MMSEs include a glossary of concepts and terms, profiles of related figures, videotaped commentary of Columbia faculty focused on the issues of the selected content, film and music clips, and historical photographs and artwork. For example, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois is an MMSE developed collaboratively by Manning Marable, Casey Blake, Alan Brinkley, Robert O'Meally and CCNMTL.
  • Simulations provide students with a space where they can learn interactively by using tools, collecting data and conducting experiments online. Barnard Professor Peter Bower's Brownfield Action is a simulation in which environmental science students must solve a groundwater pollution problem by interacting with data available in a virtual town. The data and context for simulations were provided by Dr. Bower, and structure and interface were created by a CCNMTL project manager.
  • Digital Archives catalogue and contain multimedia resources in support of learning in a particular discipline. The Sonic Glossary, one of the early digital archives, was developed with Professor Ian Bent. It contains musical terms that provide the foundation of music theory and explains them through text, music clips, images and historical background.
  • E-Seminars are developed to further advance self-contained online learning environments through the development of new approaches to such environments and for use in the classroom. As a part of a research and development project, CCNMTL's advances are shared with Columbia Digital Knowledge Ventures, a University organization that brings Columbia content to a wider audience. One example of a CCNMTL-developed e-seminar is The Modern Voice and the Shakespearean Sonnet in which Professor Kristin Linklater teaches, in a laboratory setting, how to regain the power of the Elizabethan voice.
  • Tools for Study, Research and Analysis are created in collaboration with faculty to support study and research, and to enhance the teaching and learning process. Third Space is one such customized tool that allows users to identify, annotate and share video clips over the Internet. Third Space is used extensively in the School of Social Work to support fieldwork and classroom studies.
  • Field/Laboratory Solutions are online projects that transition from class work to fieldwork to professional practice. For example, the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), the Center for International Earth Sciences Information Network (CIESIN) and CCNMTL collaborated on the development of eBiome, a digital mapping tool that students use to gather, store and manipulate ecological data that they can then share with students conducting ecological research in other biomes to inform their own research.

CCNMTL acts as a hub for technology initiatives that relate to the classroom. Because of the pace at which digital media in practice is evolving and new inventions are being implemented, the Center is working to provide benchmarks for good practice by sharing ideas and discussing approaches to learning technologies with other new media colleagues at the University. Together with Academic Information Systems (AcIS), which attends to the technological infrastructure of the University, Teachers College's Institute for Learning Technologies (ILT), the Media Center for Art History and others, CCNMTL exchanges ideas and builds working alliances. For instance, CourseWorks -- the University's new course management system that allows faculty and students to post content, deliver and receive files, and manage group projects easily -- is a collaboration between AcIS and CCNMTL.

To provide a forum for such interdepartmental new media discussions, in 2000 CCNMTL founded the newest University Seminar entitled New Media Teaching and Learning. This year's topic will be "New Media, General Education and Global Stability." The Center also hosts a variety of workshops each year on the use of technology in teaching, convening faculty to discuss the value of new media in education, building course websites, using new class management systems, and other topics. (See for details on workshops.)

Through its widespread efforts, CCNMTL is helping to bring quality content to the Internet and is also influencing the way the new medium is utilized. "The Web is often perceived as a 'push' medium, a place where people 'post' text or 'surf' for information," said Dr. Moretti. "Yet what is most interesting about the Web as a medium is that it allows users to become engaged with information on a deeper level through both content enrichment and study tools. At CCNMTL, we are creating speed bumps on the Web, like Multimedia Study Environments, where users can slow down and on their own engage in learning at a deeper level."

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