[email protected] Provides a Learning Space for Digital Collaboration

February 10, 2014

The newest digital workspace on the Morningside campus, called [email protected], isn’t much to look at. Designed to accommodate as many as 40 people, it is filled with movable tables and chairs that can be configured for groups of different sizes. There are whiteboards, a large screen, wireless microphones, a digital projector and a video camera. No computers—visitors must bring their own.

What it lacks in charm is more than made up for by what it is filled with: ideas. Called a collaboratory, the studio is one of many initiatives at the University using digital technology and making it easier than ever for faculty, students and staff to have access to the necessary tools—and the expertise to use them.

“We’re mixing teaching and scholarship and trying to blur the boundaries,” said Mark Phillipson, the interim director of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Teaching Center, which frequently uses the space. “It’s a way for Columbia groups, particularly those savvy in the digital world, to work together.”

And those who are not quite so savvy. The studio hosts meetings galore, from informal gatherings introducing tech novices to 21st century teaching tools to open labs hours in which anyone who wants to work on a project can drop by and consult with experts. There are workshops on such topics as teaching with video, collaborative learning and leveraging digital tools. Beginners can learn Python, a widely used programming language. The space is available to anyone in the Columbia community for an educational project.

It is also where students meet for the digital lab sessions of their classes. For example, Phillipson, who is also an adjunct professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, is teaching a course called “Multimedia Blake.” “We look at how he combines illustrations and poetry, and use digital tools to annotate it all.”

On a recent winter afternoon, a half dozen students and scholars gathered in the studio for a “researchathon.” They tapped away at their laptop computers to prepare an open-access bibliography of the works of Aimé Césaire, a poet, author and political activist from Martinique, which will be available online. Others in France and Martinique were work-ing alongside them, albeit virtually, recruited via social networking.

The researchathon was a joint venture of the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, the Institute of African Studies, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, La Maison Française and Small Axe, a project of the Department of Anthropology.

In an era when vast troves of research materials are available at the click of a mouse and students can write a paper without leaving their rooms, the studio is a way to bring people into the library, says Barbara Rockenbach, director of the History and Humanities Libraries and the Digital Humanities Center. “We want people to think about the library as a place of creativity.”

Or, as the Studio’s website says, “Bring your own technology and friends. We’ll provide the space.”