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About Digital Bridges at CCNMTL

CCNMTL's Digital Bridges initiative works in partnership with Columbia faculty and librarians to bring students into active engagement with digital collections. Digital Bridges learning environments promote hands-on use of materials from Columbia University Libraries, other academic collections, broadcast media, scientific data repositories, museums, and private collections.

Digitized academic resources - documents, images, videos, maps, data sets, and more - are now available at an unprecedented level, from Columbia University's libraries as well as a myriad of sources online. This presents important new opportunities to create learning environments in which students interrogate curated source material with interactive technologies.

By supporting educational projects that draw from and contribute to curated, managed, and persistent multimedia collections, Digital Bridges helps raise the stakes for learning in a digital world. Such projects connect students directly to authoritative material, leveraging technology to explore new forms of editing, annotating, and collaboration within scholarly contexts -- in short, making a real difference with newly accessible information.

Rationale: Why now?

Despite the unprecedented proliferation of authoritative, well-produced, curated information online, this abundance is all too often unengaged by students in the process of study. It can sit on the sidelines, disconnected from the manipulations of digital objects that are now flourishing on the web: personal organization, personal and social tagging, annotation, clipping and other forms of editing, selected visualization.

Though electronic communication is these students' native environment -- often the primary means by which they inform themselves about current events, conduct social relationships, route financial inquiries and transactions, and pursue increasingly immersive forms of entertainment -- they are often unable to locate, evaluate, and actively work with pertinent information within the context of academic study.

Today's students enjoy, on one hand, an abundance of information--an abundance enabled by a historic convergence of technology, information architecture, and innovative efforts to disseminate the products of human inquiry in newly available ways. On the other hand, they learn in a networked environment prone to distraction, hype, and even hostility to curated or edited information, in which an increasingly dynamic 'participation' can be framed as oppositional to authoritative material.

This paradoxical situation has led to the necessity of initiatives like Digital Bridges, which supports models of learning environments in which students interrogate curated source material with interactive technologies.

Criteria: The ingredients of a Digital Bridges project

Despite their differing approaches and subject areas, Digital Bridges projects typically satisfy most if not all of the following criteria:

  • Class study is organized around a communally accessible core set of assets
  • Assignments drive students to apply thematics of the class to this core set of digital assets
  • Student activity imprints itself on this core set through engagements such as recontextualization, annotation, selection, and contribution
  • Strong student work is itself worthy of collection, promoted to a knowledge base for future students and/or the public
  • The project has a persistent identity and is engaged by students across semesters (and perhaps also institutions)
  • The project engages with the open web, through a public-facing representation of its activities and sharable resources whenever possible
  • The project generates assets of value to the academic community, ones that may be repurposed for other scholarly activity


The following is a list of hypothetical benefits of projects that meet such criteria. Evaluating Digital Bridges projects within the context of CCNMTL's Design Research methodology will help us to measure such outcomes in the years ahead:

  • Significant and ongoing work in an environment fed by curated materials raises awareness among students of provenance, rights, and access in a digital environment -- in short, improves their literacy.
  • Assets from heterogeneous collections, corralled into a study environment defined by subject and not limited to the contours of any one digital library or collection, lend themselves more readily to faculty-defined assignments and interdisciplinary discovery.
  • Classroom activities built around communal engagement of defined collections raises the quality and amount of peer interactions centered around the subject matter being studied.
  • A 'contribution channel', whereby vetted or exemplary student annotation or analysis can be promoted into a curated collection, spurs students to work harder and more carefully on work possibly destined to be seen by other classes and/or the public.
  • Assets managed in consultation and coordination with advances in digital library organization, practice, and preservation techniques will allow CCNMTL to more efficiently leverage and repurpose pertinent content across projects.
  • Incorporation of library collections into CCNMTL learning environments will allow our library partners to better understand user needs and priorities--spurring development of, for example, use-base metadata and recontextualizable video collections.