Special Annual Awards
2008 Campus Technology Innovators: Tablet PCs
PROFESSOR RANDY COLEMAN revolutionized the teaching paradigm, and kept his
Chemistry students interested for the duration of his lectures and beyond.
TECHNOLOGY AREA: TABLET PCS
Innovator: The College of William & Mary
How can a school turn traditional classroom and lecturehall
teaching into a super-interactive experience that
students embrace? Bring on the tablet PCs.
For many students, large lecture courses can be challenging
environments in which to learn. The room is so big! The slides
are so small! And the teacher-- in some classes, it's like he or
she is lecturing from Timbuktu.
Perhaps this is why a recent effort at The College of
William & Mary (VA) to use tablet PCs to improve teaching
and learning in large lecture classes garnered so many kudos.
The project, designed to encourage faculty to seamlessly integrate
tablets into large lectures, labs, and professional work,
was particularly embraced by Randy Coleman, associate professor
of chemistry. Along the way, Coleman revolutionized
the teaching paradigm, and kept students interested for the
duration of his lectures, and often beyond.
Tammy Thrift, senior academic technologist and IT project
manager, says that for Coleman, a 60-something academic
with a passion for teaching, the project's emphasis on the student
was always the largest part of the equation.
"Too often with integration and infrastructure, there is a
focus on technology. But we chose not to overlook the human
element," she says. "Additionally, technology projects tend to
be developed in isolation. Instead, we developed a sustainable,
scalable model with real 'bang for the buck.'"
Coleman's grand experiment began in the spring of 2007.
After teaching large science lectures for what seemed like eons,
the professor was itching to try new technologies, to help students
become more engaged. At the same time, he was one of
a handful of leading educators to sign up for William & Mary's
Technology Integration Program (TIP), which sought faculty willing
to embrace collaboration and experimentation in front of
their students. For his participation in this group, Coleman
received a Lenovo tablet PC. His mission: to
incorporate that tablet into ordinary classroom life.
students cite his innovative
technology use as their
favorite class feature.
With the help of OneNote software from Microsoft, as well as Adobe Acrobat,
Coleman moved the tablet to the core of teaching and learning.
He rejiggered his lectures and rewrote his presentation
slides; he even turned to the campus IT department for InternetVue
wireless display devices from Addlogix, to facilitate untethered use of tablets with projection systems
so that he could be free to walk about the lecture hall
interacting and collaborating with his students, and they with
each other, as the class viewed the work together.
Once the system was in place, students were able to submit
their work electronically, either via e-mail before class, remotely
from home, or via wireless during the class itself. When it came
time for grading, Coleman marked up students' electronically
submitted work, just as he would have with paper and pen. He
also started attaching podcast-like audio, in order to share his
thoughts on sections and the overall assignment-- a feature that
impressed students so dramatically, many of them shared the
audio files with family, friends, and roommates.
Results of this effort were eye-opening. According to Coleman's
grade sheet, the approach led to greatly improved learning
and note-taking, and some of the highest student grades
ever in his course. Student appreciation of their instructor was
enhanced, as well: In the most recent teacher-evaluation exercise,
Coleman received the highest possible instructor ratings
from his students, most of whom cited his innovative technology use as their favorite thing about his classes.
Down the road, the Coleman strategy for teaching large lectures
may be going prime time. A number of other departments
on campus have expressed interest in adopting the
same methodology, which ultimately could lead to institutionalizing
Coleman's approach. On a larger scale, school officials
report that they have adapted the podcast feedback strategy
for peer review of journal articles, a process that will launch in
earnest with the beginning of the coming school year.