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A High-End Learning Portal
by Kendra Mayfield

3:00 a.m. Apr. 10, 2000 PDT


Sorting through the wealth of education courses and materials on the Internet to find reliable information may seem like an unfathomable task.

A new knowledge venture is uniting some of the most prestigious universities and cultural institutions worldwide to address one of the greatest challenges in distance learning: finding a reputable online education.


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Rather than creating just another distance-learning site, Fathom CEO Ann Kirschner wants to develop a new category of knowledge on the Internet: "E2C" or "Education to Consumer" e-commerce.

Fathom will offer its own college courses as well as those from other colleges and universities. It will go beyond traditional course offerings, however, by integrating content from museum exhibitions, lectures, reference books, interviews, and documents -- from Frank Lloyd Wright interviews to a multimedia-infused presentation of the Magna Carta.

Columbia University initiated the for-profit partnership with the London School of Economics, Cambridge University Press, the New York Public Library, the British Library, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Fathom's timing may be right for universities that are watching their faculty being lured away by Internet companies and view the venture as a way to provide online opportunities at home.

"It was important for Columbia to have this identity on the Web," said Columbia University President George Rupp. "We felt it was important for us to be positioned on the Internet as a provider of high-end knowledge."

In forming the online venture, "we were playing both offense and defense," Rupp said. "We wanted to give our faculty the opportunity to communicate with larger numbers of people."

Viewers will be able to access information that has never been available outside the participating institutions. While much of the site will be available for free, some content, such as courses and books, will be accessible for a fee.

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