As Columbia pushes to develop new digital tools for its own classrooms, University President Lee Bollinger will play a key role in determining how secondary schools can incorporate new technologies at a national level.
Bollinger is one of four co-chairs of the newly formed Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission, an organization created by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, CC ’85, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Bollinger said he joined the commission at Genachowski’s request.
“I think this is one of the biggest issues now we’re facing,” Bollinger said. “I think we went through a wave of this in the late ’90s … and that kind of got shelved, and now we’re in a new phase.”
The commission’s primary goals, according to its website, are to facilitate research about existing technologies, to determine how technology can impact teaching and learning, and to study the policies and funding needed for schools to incorporate technology successfully.
Bollinger’s co-chairs on the commission are former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, TPG Capital co-founder James Coulter, and Common Sense Media founder James Steyer. The commission, formed in March, is expected to release its findings by the end of 2012.
“It’s about things that I care about—that is, education K through 12,” Bollinger said. “But also, universities have a part of thinking about this, and what is the role of technology and what should it be, and online.”
But while Bollinger will begin looking into the role of technology in the classroom at a national level, the University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning has been active in developing digital tools for Columbia classrooms since 1999. With its main offices tucked away in Butler Library, CCNMTL has not received much public attention, but the group of 34 employees has worked with about 5,000 faculty members on more than 200 new media projects.
CCNMTL associate director Daniel Beeby said that the organization strives to increase the purposeful use of technology in classrooms, depending on what best suits the curriculum, students, and instructors. CCNMTL is responsible both for designing new technologies—such as Mediathread and Video Interactions for Teaching And Learning—and implementing them in classrooms.
“You can throw money at a problem, you can throw technology at a problem, but having folks to back teachers up is a huge aspect of this—to sit down and think about the curriculum, find ways to do it, try something, try it again, see how it goes,” Beeby said.
Paul Stengel, a former English teacher who is now an educational technologist at CCNMTL, is responsible for some of the center’s collaborations with Teachers College professors.
“Many of these projects hook into schools in the immediate area, some have a national vision,” Stengel said. “But we do a lot of work with Harlem schools in the area, and we do a lot of pre-service training.”
Part of that pre-service training is for the Teaching Residents at Teachers College program, which allows TC students to apprentice in high-need New York City classrooms. Through workshops, CCNMTL provides the teaching residents with ways to implement technology at the secondary schools where they teach.
Beeby emphasized that there is no single answer to the question of what digital tools are most needed in classrooms.
“It’s hard to say,” Beeby said. “It’s sort of saying to a doctor, ‘What are your patients mainly suffering from?’ You’re going to find an array of maladies and situations.”
Part of the LEAD Commission’s job will be to figure out what technologies will have the greatest impact in what situations. As of now, though, the commission’s only action has been a brief presentation on the opportunities and challenges of digital textbooks, and Bollinger is uncertain as to what he will have to do next.
“It’s not clear yet,” he said. “I mean, there’s still staff organizing, refining issues, thinking about gathering data, and so on, so I don’t know exactly what.”