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In 1986, the Trustees of Teachers College established the Institute for Learning Technologies with the mission of using digital technologies as an agent of change in education. During the first years, under the directorship of Dr. Robbie McClintock, then professor in the program in Computing, Communication, Technology and Education, ILT developed initial ideas about the potential for networked multimedia as a transformative force in educational practice. In 1990-1991, ILT was a partner in the Dalton Technology Project–a four-year, multimillion-dollar effort to integrate networked multimedia resources throughout the curriculum of this leading New York City independent school. This led to a series of efforts in New York City public schools, beginning with the Harlem Environmental Access Project, a two-year (1994-1996) collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund and five inner-city schools, supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIAPP). Shortly thereafter, ILT developed the Living Schoolbook Project, a three-year (1996-1999) collaboration with the Syracuse School of Education, involving seven New York City public schools and an equal number of counterpart schools in Syracuse and its environs, funded by NYNEX (now Verizon) and the New York State Science and Technology Foundation. In 1996-1997, ILT developed the Reinventing Libraries Project, a pilot program to redefine the role that school libraries can play in sustaining the curriculum with advanced media resources, funded by the IBM Corporation. In 1996, ILT received funding for the Eiffel Project, a five-year (1996-2001), $7.8 million U.S. Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (TIGC) that ILT managed in partnership with the Center for Collaborative Education on behalf of the New York City Board of Education. This project used advanced media to support small schools reform in over 80 New York City schools and community organizations. From 1998-2003, ILT also worked with the North Hudson Electronic Education Empowerment Project (NHEEEP) to create a state-wide consortium centered in upper New York State, and from 2000-2002 worked with the Abyssinian Development Corporation and a wide range of educational and cultural partners to a develop a network of technology centers in Harlem in order to provide the community with access to the cultural and economics opportunities that networked technologies make possible.

ILT has also designed and developed a series of large-scale digital publishing projects–Digital Dante; the New Deal Network (in collaboration with the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute); Seneca Village (in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society); and The Study Place. Beginning in 1996, ILT also began to conduct evaluations of new media and technology projects at Columbia University. Under the leadership of Dr. Susan Lowes, Associate Director of ILT and Director of Research and Evaluation, ILTís evaluation work has grown to include a wide range of projects at both the K-12 and university levels, in-school and after-school, with a focus on curriculum projects in which universities work with K-12 educators to develop and test curricular interventions that use new technologies effectively in teaching and learning.

In 2003, Dr. John Black, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications and Education, became co-director of ILT, and in 2005 he became full director. Since then, ILT has embarked on a number of research projects that explore the learning, understanding, and motivational effectiveness of providing visualizations, animations, and physical embodiments to teach math, science, and literacy. This work has been using a variety of technologies, including Lego robotics with NXT controllers, Pico boards, Scratch and Mindstorms software, and Flash-based animations.