Contact: Bob Nelson For immediate release

(212) 854-6580 February 1, 1999

Columbia Faculty Experiment With the Web,

Discover New Ways to Teach Using Computers


Ian Bent was convinced that musical terminology ų „polyphonyš and „twelve-tone scalesš and such terms ų would come alive for undergraduates in Columbia College‚s Music Humanities, a required core course, if they could hear examples in close conjunc tion with visual images, words, and the spoken voice. Why couldn‚t students learn about these concepts on the web?

Dr. Bent, the Anne Parsons Bender Professor of Music, knew a lot about music, but very little about the web.

Enter Maurice Matiz of Academic Information Systems and a platoon of student interns, among them Kjell Carlsson, who worked closed with Professor Bent at AcIS and was partly funded by the Faculty Cluster on Instructional Technology. Professor Bent eventually assembled a cluster of music sites: the Sonic Glossary (, the Online Reserves, the Virtual Tapes and Professor Bent‚s own integrated online syllabus.

„Kjell has really been my mentor over the last five or six months,š Professor Bent said. „He teaches me how to access the web and how to find information.š

Added Mr. Carlsson: „It‚s really remarkable how quickly Professor Bent has become proficient in these things.š

Faculty at Columbia University are experimenting with educational technology, often with help from student interns. Virtual visitors to the Amiens Cathedral Project ( by Stephen Murray, professor o f art history and archeology, have access to dramatic

photographs and films of the cathedral in northern France, as well as medieval music, texts, drawings and a three-dimensional plan. Undergraduates enduring the rigors of organic chemistry can find solace ų and movies of chemical reactions ų at a site ( developed by Nicholas Turro, the William P. Schweitzer Professor of Chemistry, professor in the Henry Krumb School of Mines and co-chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry .

Like Professor Bent, however, faculty rarely find the skills and time needed to explore teaching technology. Leonard Fine, director of undergraduate studies in chemistry, had sought to bring innovative software to undergraduates through the depart ment‚s Edison Project for Communicating Chemistry. Inspired by the project, Professor Turro in June 1997 devised the Faculty Cluster for Information Technology ( ), a program that reports on new uses of educational technology a nd brings guest lecturers on the subject to campus. A year later, with Professors Turro and Fine as co-investigators, the program won a $200,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to be used for undergraduate science education. It is also funded by the Office of the Provost.

The program, directed by Norman Chonacky, a physicist and visiting professor in the Chemistry Department, hires web-savvy undergraduates ų known as Student Technology Assistants ų and farms them out to faculty who want to develop web adjuncts to th eir courses. About three dozen professors, from the humanities and social sciences as well as pure and applied sciences, are participating. Professor Chonacky organizes frequent talks and workshops that offer faculty opportunities to learn more about ed ucational uses of information technology and to discuss how their work with it is going.

Says Professor Turro, who has taught organic chemistry for most of his 35 years at Columbia: „Most of the students appear to appreciate the use of technology,for a variety of reasons. That attitude certainly helps remove the stigma from őorgo‚ of being a killer course.š

Results from educational innovation at Columbia and elsewhere show that students do not „findš knowledge, but „constructš it. Active, collaborative learning among students is more effective than rote methods and is easy to promote with computers, advocates say. Students trying to understand a molecule, a human

cell or a cathedral nave will find interactive simulations and three-dimensional, multimedia renderings a richer resource than a textbook diagram.

Both faculty and students cite the convenience of the web, which makes

information in several media instantly accessible. Highly motivated students can gain access to current research in their discipline, a first step to participating in such research. Many faculty have entered the strange new world of teaching technolo gy simply by posting syllabi and other news to a class website. Faculty who teach large classes find that students pose questions over the Internet, take a more active part in coursework and don‚t focus as much on transcribing lectures.

„If all the site does is get those six to eight students in the front row with their tape recorders to calm down, it will be worth it,š said Debby Mowshowitz, director of undergraduate education in biological sciences, who instituted a class site l ast year with a colleague, Larry Chasin, professor of biological sciences.

At Barnard College, Robert McCaughey, professor of history, has created BEATL (, the Barnard Electronic Archive and Teaching Laboratory. BEATL was launched in the summer of 1997 with support from a three-year, $315,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and also receives assistance from the Office of the Provost at Barnard. BEATL holds faculty workshops in the use of online technologies and promotes technologically innovative courses in American Stud ies.

Engineering faculty Christopher Durning, professor of chemical engineering, and Angelo Rossi, an adjunct professor from IBM‚s T.J. Watson Research Center in White Plains, N.Y., give students an interactive, visual introduction to the unique structu re of huge molecules known as polymers, which include super-strong synthetic fibers, enzymes, proteins and DNA.

„Three-dimensional models of macromolecules give students a clear grasp of the relationship between the molecule‚s structure and its function, and show how new molecules might be designed to do specific tasks,š Professor Durning said. „For enginee rs, the possibilities are endless.š

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