You're Only Human

Katherine GraysonWhen tech innovation helps student and teacher form a true one-on-one relationship, we shout Hallelujah!

There's no dispute that each of the 14 winning Campus Technology Innovator institutions deserves a rousing cheer for creatively advancing the causes of teaching, learning, and administration on campus. Why then do I devote this month's column to only two winning project leads-- William & Mary (VA) Chemistry Professor Randy Coleman, and Furman University (SC) History Professor T. Lloyd Benson? Because over all other winners, these two educators best exemplify an instructor's use of technology to bridge the "human" distance between student and teacher that has expanded as college enrollments have skyrocketed in past decades.

We can't deny that, ironically, while teaching and learning technologies are often employed to enhance or augment the delivery of education, they can come to take the place of the instructor at the student's elbow, guiding progress. Whatever happened to professors who wander the aisles during a lecture, surprising dozing students with impromptu questions, to ensure teaching/learning connections aren't lost? What has happened to the after-class time in which educators meet at leisure with students in groups or alone, to move the day's class discussion onto a new plane, and send young minds soaring?

With innovative but straightforward concepts, Coleman and Benson have come up with technology solutions that foist learning and personal attention right back into their students' lives.

In the case of Coleman at The College of William & Mary, the professor employed tablet PCs plus additional technologies to turn a large lecture class into a truly interactive environment. Today, the educator strolls about the lecture hall, personally and electronically interacting and collaborating with his students as the entire class shares the ongoing effort simultaneously. After class, students submit their work digitally and receive back their electronically marked-up assignments, complete with Coleman's personal critiques and musings attached via audio, as though each pupil were his only class attendee. No surprise that results have been astounding, and that his students are just plain nuts about their professor.

At Furman, Benson has foregone the classic history slide show in favor of traipsing through historical sites around the country with his students electronically in tow. Actually, they are back in class, but through the wonders of technology (including GPS, Google Maps, and Camtasia Studio), they are his eyes and ears and, often, his tour directors.

Are these technology efforts to get closer to one's students the sole domain of tech-savvy educators not long past the video-game generation themselves? Hardly. Benson has a grown son closer to that generation than he is, and as for Coleman, one colleague confided, "Students remark about Randy's 'technocool' factor, which he found a hoot, given his age of 60 years, plus or minus..." Evidently, it's never too late to get closer to your students.

--Katherine Grayson, Editor-In-Chief
What have you seen and heard? Send to: kgrayson@1105media.com.

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