Center for New Media Teaching and Learning
Supporting faculty's use of technology
long ago, George Flynn, Higgins Professor of Chemistry, was
finishing his lectures with a hoarse throat and powdered palms. His
students would retreat home with sketches hastily reconstructed
from Flynn's renditions on the chalkboard, and a bit of fatigue
from deciphering professorial handwriting.
has changed in 30 months. Now the professor comes to class armed
with a Zip disk and a wireless headset microphone. His diagrams, as
well as chemical models, graphs and pictures of famous scientists,
are unveiled through a PowerPoint presentation via an LCD
projector. He calls it "the chalk-less lecture project." (www.columbia.edu/itc/chemistry/chem-c2407/)
clarity of the presentations is stunning," says Flynn. "You can
make things stand out in a lecture that you never could with chalk.
Now we're so techno, I'm no longer satisfied if it isn't
Flynn started to give students printouts of his lecture notes
so that they could concentrate on listening rather than
note-taking. But students told him he was going too far and making
it too easy for them. "You have to make us take notes," they told
Other professors also have turned to technology to sculpt a new
classroom experience, but as a group the faculty trails behind
students in the use of new media.
"When I show this [chalk-less lecture project] to other
faculty, they turn green and say, 'How much time did this take?'"
Flynn says. "But the students are more blasé about it and say,
'We've seen this before.'"
a task force was formed in 1997 to determine how Columbia should
move ahead in the new media world, the first of its recommendations
was to "provide appropriate assistance and support for the
faculty's use of new media technologies.."
response, the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (www.ccnmtl.columbia.edu)
opened in the spring of 1999, funded by the provost's office and a
$10 million gift from an anonymous donor.
wanted to evolve the campus into one that is much more conversant
with technology," says Provost Jonathan Cole '64. Part of the
strategy, he says, was to open a center "where faculty can go with
an idea and get help."
Flynn started his transformation from traditional to tech-savvy
on his own, but now gets help from the CCNMTL. In a year and a half
the center has grown from a staff of two to a staff of 20
full-timers and 35 part-timers, and has worked with more than 400
"This is an inevitable revolution in pedagogy and curriculum,"
says Frank Moretti, who holds five Columbia degrees and is
executive director of the CCNMTL. "For Columbia to have its own
stamp, rather than any blackboard.com, we're doing a broad range of
Those include helping professors start Web pages for courses,
showing faculty how they can use technology in the classroom, and
developing special projects that use new media to open up a world
not possible or practical in the realm of chalkboards and books
"It's been a huge success," Cole says of the CCNMTL. "It's
going to transform the teaching materials of the
in the process, those materials may be licensed to other
universities or otherwise brought to the marketplace, thus earning
money for Columbia to put back into its digital media efforts (see
story on Columbia Media Enterprises, next issue).
CCNMTL already has attracted attention from outside the University.
Tom Reeves, a professor of instructional technology at the
University of Georgia (www.it.coe.uga.edu/~treeves),
visited the center last spring. "Most universities have something
along the lines of a faculty development center that teaches how to
give better lectures or how to give more effective tests," Reeves
says, "but this is really on the cutting edge. Columbia is trying
to change the pedagogy and the teaching methods that are
introducing technology to, say, an English professor, the center
succeeds by talking softly and not carrying on about anything
slick. Moretti is a teacher himself (on the faculty of Teachers
College) who grasps the intricacies of both pedagogy and
technology, and strives to integrate the two.
task is not to make courses showy, but "to make great courses
greater," as Cole says. The consultants are called "educational
technologists," and include students from the communication,
computing and technology in education department at Teachers
"Oftentimes the people comfortable with the technology are not
well-grounded in academia," says Manning Marable, professor of
history and director of the Institute for Research in
African-American Studies. "People at the center understand what
teachers are trying to do."
CCNMTL operates from offices in Lewisohn and Butler Library,
including a staffed computer lab in Butler designed specifically to
host faculty working on course development.
the CCNMTL's multimedia template, students not only read text but
can click to get background information or view images (such as
The Scream by Edvard Munch), hear music and see video as they
"It's a moment of invention and a moment for cutting teeth for
many faculty," Moretti says. "We're interested in building a
culture of use. It's one thing to have a tool box, another thing to
have a project in mind to use the tools and execute the
first order of business when faculty members come to the center is
to sit down with one of the consultants and ascertain where they
are and what they would like to accomplish. They discuss teaching
styles and the faculty members' research. They go in depth because
it is their aim to develop an on-going, career-long relationship
between the faculty members and the center.
relationship starts with the basics: the center will put the
instructor's course syllabus on the Web, and may add to it with
links and reference material. By
attending workshops, faculty can learn how to use digital
resources in teaching and communicating with students, starting
with basic applications like e-mail and electronic bulletin boards
and moving up to more complex projects (http://www.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/index.html).
Rather than being just about technology, the workshops are all
about using the technology in the context of teaching. For example,
one workshop is on how to use e-mail in social work and shows how
to get students to discuss case studies online.
Brinkley, chair of the history department, developed a course Web
page with bibliographies, a visual archive of what he shows in
class, and a link to relevant sites. "For me, the Web has enhanced
but not transformed how I teach," Brinkley says. "With the creation
of this Web site [and the smart classrooms], I began to use film
and images and other things in my course." He says that the CCNMTL
has made it easier to use more multimedia in the classroom, and he
thinks more teachers soon will be using audiovisual
the work that the center does with faculty must be related to their
teaching. Technical support is not meant to assist research, which
could quickly sap the center's resources. The center's staff
focuses on how technology can be used to further students'
understanding of material or their interaction with one another and
the professors. "We're not just the tech folks, we really explain
the educational use of this stuff," says Cory Brandt, a former
associate director of the CCNMTL.
Professors may propose projects, or simply explain to a
consultant what it is they envision for the course. Marable, who
had been using W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk in
class, worked with the center to transform the book into an
in-depth presentation on the Web, where hundreds of icons explain
concepts, give definitions and biographical background, and show
video of scholars explaining the context of concepts in the
brings the book to life and gives students a sense of excitement
and engagement, which is key to what the center does," Marable
says. "There's no way I could do it in a lecture alone. It pushes
education to a different level."
one project is useful to several departments, since the book is
also assigned for courses in American history, comparative
literature, ethnic studies and American studies.
some cases, where the technology doesn't exist to make happen what
a professor envisions, the center works to create it. An example of
that is the introductory
environmental science class taught at Barnard. To simulate
diagnosing a contaminated factory site, the center spent months
developing a CD-ROM that is
now used in conjunction with the Web.
a Chinese language class, interactive online quizzes were
developed, as well as simultaneous audio to accompany a text so the
student can hear the language while reading it on the screen.
Material created by the center not only can be used by students
outside class, but also by professors to prepare for class or to
demonstrate in class (no, the students
don't have to gather around a laptop).
center's goal is not to make everything electronic. It targets what
naturally benefits from interactivity, multimedia or quick access.
One example is the "multimedia template" (www.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/index.html).
This is a way to present essays or other text in an enriched online
environment, so that students not only read the text, but can click
to get background, see images discussed, hear music or see relevant
video as they come up in the text.
favorite example of Moretti's is the essay Postmodernism, or,
The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, by Frederic Jameson (URL
is password protected). Among the myriad references in the opening
paragraph alone are millenarianism, existentialism and Leninism;
Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Jean-Luc Godard and the Rolling
Stones. Instead of glazing over or wondering what Jameson is
talking about, students reading the essay in the template can click
on highlighted items and, in a box on the screen, get the
definition of coupure, a brief biography of Wallace Stevens
or a picture of Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup can.
help professor Peter Awn's Literature Humanities students, an
King Lear site was built that includes the searchable
text, historical background, instructor's notes, discussion points
for the bulletin board and video excerpts of several performances
that can be compared side by side.
"It's not that you read the play this way, you study the play
this way," Brandt says. "That's important - this is not a reading
environment, it's a study environment. You'd probably still read
the play in a book."
far, over 400 faculty members have worked with the CCNMTL, and
they're not just the new guard. "Lots of people said, 'Only the
young will do this,' but 25 percent of the faculty the center has
worked with are tenured professors," Moretti says.
Using the Internet and other new media helps some students more
than others, Cole noted. People have different learning styles, so
some really take to a hands-on or visual approach, while others
absorb material just fine by listening to a lecture. "Teaching and
learning should lead the way, and technology should enhance that,"
says professor Nicholas Turro of the chemistry
monitor that mission, a full-time evaluator has joined the CCNMTL
staff to track the end products and determine whether they are just
flashy or really effective in helping students learn better, more
fully or faster.