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Columbia names first chief digital officer

Journalism School professor Sree Sreenivasan has been named Columbia’s first University-wide chief digital officer, Provost John Coatsworth announced on Wednesday.

Sreenivasan, who was previously the Journalism School's dean of student affairs, has taught digital journalism and social media. In an email to senior administrators, Coatsworth said that his responsibilities will include expanding online distance-learning programs and facilitating Columbia's use of technology as an educational tool.

“The goal is to ensure that we deploy new tools and technologies in interactive and distance learning to ensure the richest and most dynamic learning environment possible for Columbia’s students,” Coatsworth said.

Sreenivasan, who earned a master's degree from the Journalism School and has taught there for 19 years, said his first priority in the new role is to listen to faculty and students, and figure out what kinds of technologies are most needed and where.

“We don’t know exactly what … platforms we’re going to use, but we are definitely trying to be as open-minded as possible, so we can find the best way to work for Columbia,” Sreenivasan said.

Sreenivasan plans to expand the online learning initiatives already offered by the Journalism School, the School of Continuing Education, and many individual professors, while working to identify best practices. He said he wants to move forwarding carefully, being “open-minded enough to try to improve the learning, when possible, without losing sight of what is working so well.”

“I tell people that this is not a race,” he said. “Every institution should go by its own comfort level.”

Rather than try to compete directly with peer institutions, Sreenivasan said, Columbia should figure out what technologies meet the University's unique needs. He does not considering Columbia's resources to be lacking, and he said his position gives him the opportunity to explore these resources and “see what’s working and what can be improved going forward.”

“You don’t have to jump on the latest, greatest, newest thing," he said. "Let’s wait and see what makes sense for us."

Sreenivasan’s cautious strategy reflects his attitude toward technology. On his Twitter profile, he describes himself as a “technology evangelist and skeptic.”

“My own philosophy is to be an early tester and late adopter of technology,” he said, adding that while technology can do a lot, it has limitations.

Sreenivasan has some advice for students hoping to become more digitally engaged: become familiar with the resources available at Columbia, and pay attention to “what it means to be a student in cyberspace while being a student in Columbia.”

“Don’t wait for end of senior year to worry about your digital profile," he said. "Start thinking about it now."

Sreenivasan originally created his Facebook and Twitter accounts due to students’ encouragement, and he looks forward to engaging with and learning from students in his new role. He hopes to continue acting as a resource for students interested in technology and as a “sounding board” for any technology-related ideas.

“I’m really excited and would love to be in touch with students when they’re back on campus,” he said.


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