Teachers College truly marshaled its digital expertise during 2020. The College moved its entire teaching and learning enterprise online in just 11 days; built on past work by empowering faculty to not merely survive but thrive in the virtual medium; and acted as a major go-to resource for schools and teachers in New York City and across the nation.
That success has raised the obvious question: How to take all this great work to the next level in order to best serve not only the College, its faculty and its students, but also schools, communities and the general public?
The answer, unveiled this week, is a new hub, the Teachers College Digital Futures Institute (DFI), that calls attention to the significance of technological advances for the future of education, broadly conceived.
DFI will unite key players from across the College, including the former Office of Digital Learning, the former Academic Technology Services and EdLab, a former unit of the Gottesman Libraries that served as a convener for cross-disciplinary projects.
“The technology landscape has grown in innovative ways over the past few decades, but in different corners of TC,” says Lalitha Vasudevan, Professor of Technology & Education, who has been named DFI Managing Director, as well as Vice Dean for Digital Innovation. “It’s exciting to conceptualize bringing pieces together with both an internal and external mandate.”
Working on behalf of TC and the broader public good, DFI will pursue a dual mandate of service and scholarship, seeking, on the one hand, to improve the digital environment within TC while also making an impact in teaching, research and public engagement. It will have four functional units, focused, respectively on media, the creation of innovative technology spaces, instructional design and the use of new learning technologies.
This past summer, during a pre-launch phase, Vasudevan and her team began some smaller initiatives — for example, rethinking the College’s Smith Learning Theater for use as a video recording and broadcast center, both for TC audiences and the public.
The technology landscape has grown in innovative ways over the past few decades, but in different corners of TC. It’s exciting to conceptualize bringing pieces together with both an internal and external mandate.
— Lalitha Vasudevan, Professor of Technology & Education, who has been named Managing Director of the Digital Futures Institute and Vice Dean for Digital Innovation
Charles Lang, who leads the college’s Learning Analytics M.S. Program and who was named as the Senior Executive Director for DFI, brings a passion for problem solving to the role: “I am excited to support TC to investigate the post-COVID educational landscape, both the new challenges and opportunities that have arisen in the wake of emergency online instruction.”
In collaboration with the College’s Office of Continuing Professional Studies, the DFI team also launched “Teaching and Leading in Times of Uncertainty,” a series of five webinars, delivered by TC faculty members, on topics such as play and the maker movement. More than 1,300 people have attended the webinars. The series was designed as an initial response to the challenges facing education practitioners who were thrust into online teaching, many for the first time.
This spring, DFI will focus on fully converting the Smith Learning Theater into a broadcast studio, which will be ready for use by the summer, and creating different kinds of course offerings that can be recorded in that space. The team will also focus on expanding DFI as a venue for testing new online learning tools and platforms. Alongside these development and research efforts, DFI has launched a public scholarship initiative that will harness the talents of the DFI team to support the translation and dissemination of faculty research for broader audiences.
I am excited to support TC to investigate the post-COVID educational landscape — both the new challenges and opportunities that have arisen in the wake of emergency online instruction.
— Visiting Assistant Professor Charles Lang, who has been named Senior Executive Director, Digital Futures Institute
Longer term, DFI hopes to enhance the College’s system for managing digital assets and making them centrally available, and to support the development of a more coordinated way for the College to support K–12 education.
“In my own scholarship, I’m an ethnographer, and I bring that perspective to DFI,” Vasudevan says. “A big question on people’s minds is, ‘How will digital technologies have an impact [on various aspects of my life, learning, community] in the future?’ And I’m thrilled that through partnerships within and beyond the college, innovative design and practice, and grounded research, we’re going to be able to provide answers and resources to support continued efforts for broad social impact.”