The University Record, November 20, 2000

U joins e-learning, knowledge venture

By Mary Jo Frank
Office of the Vice President for Communications

The University has joined Fathom.com, an online learning and knowledge venture. The consortium of leading universities and cultural institutions will provide a range of free content, including lectures, seminars, videos and research. Fathom.com institutions also will provide e-commerce opportunities, including online courses, books and CD-ROMs.

In announcing the U-M’s affiliation with Fathom.com, President Lee C. Bollinger said: “For some time now, I have felt that we should be prepared to participate in the emerging phenomenon of Internet education ventures. Of course, several of our schools and colleges are already doing this. We have not done so, however, as a University.

“Increasingly, institutions around the country and indeed, the globe, are forming partnerships in the e-education arena. My sense has been that we would benefit by joining with those institutions we admire and respect.”

Other universities and cultural institutions in the Fathom.com consortium include Columbia University, London School of Economics and Political Science, Cambridge University Press, the British Library, the New York Public Library, the University of Chicago, American Film Institute, RAND, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum (United Kingdom) and the Natural History Museum (United Kingdom).

“Fathom’s primary goal is to open the enormous intellectual resources of these institutions to Internet users,” Bollinger said. “Fathom’s members will provide authenticated intellectual content for a rich, interactive Web site with multimedia information, including lectures, seminars, publications, databases and performances.”

The content is organized in a unique thematic structure and driven by powerful software, enabling Internet users to explore various areas of knowledge, he noted. The site can be previewed at www.preview.fathom.com.

“This is a terrific opportunity for faculty and the campus more widely to explore new online ventures and to partner with other world-class institutions,” said James L. Hilton, professor of psychology and special assistant to the provost for media rights. “The medium will allow us to reach people beyond our campus community with the University’s wonderful resources—digital library collections, scholarly works, and holdings in our museums and galleries.”

Examples of U-M resources that Internet users likely will be able to access through Fathom.com include an archive of nearly three million pages of literary and historical encoded texts ranging from Blake to Shakespeare; a digital library dealing with American social history containing 5,000 volumes with imprints from 1850 to 1877; and more than 30,000 digital images, including great works of art, archaeological artifacts, handwritten diaries, and rare photographs from the collections of great American museums and the Museum of Art, Bentley Historical Library and Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Also available will be online exhibits from the Special Collections Library, such as “The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968,” prepared in conjunction with a September visit by Czech President Václav Havel to campus.

Faculty participation with Fathom.com is optional, Bollinger said. Also, participating in Fathom.com does not exclude the U-M’s participation in other online ventures. “Indeed, one of the features that makes Fathom attractive is that it allows partner institutions to continue to explore and develop other Web-based initiatives,” he noted.