W&M professor receives national award for technology innovation

  • Randy ColemanAssociate professor of chemistry named 2008 Campus Technology Innovator.

    Randy Coleman

Randy Coleman, an associate professor of chemistry at the College of William and Mary, has been named a 2008 Campus Technology Innovator by Campus Technology Magazine.

Coleman, who is featured in the August issue of the magazine, was one of 14 innovators chosen out of about 340 applicants from across the country. He was recognized for his use of a tablet-style computer to improve teaching and learning in his fall 2007 courses. By using a Lenova Tablet PC with a webcam and the programs OneNote and Skype, Coleman saw remarkable results in both his large-lecture and smaller classes, including the highest class average ever for his organic chemistry course and the highest-level rating he’s ever received as an instructor.

“I want to let the nation know that the second-oldest university is not using quill pens,” he said. “We are using tablet PCs, and it’s my favorite sidekick.”

Coleman’s use of the tablet PC was a result of his involvement with the office of information technology’s Technology Integration Program (TIP). The program seeks faculty members who are willing to take their teaching “to the next level through meaningful collaboration and experimentation,” said Tammy Thrift, senior academic technologist.

Coleman was one of a dozen faculty members from across the College who were chosen to participate in the TIP Tablet PC focus group. Through weekly meetings and the support of IT staff and engineers, TIP faculty members integrated the tablets into their lectures, labs and professional work, said Thrift.

“While others achieved significant results with their pilot of the tablet, Randy served as an inspiration to all involved,” she said.
Coleman previously had written on brown chalkboards during his lectures. That meant that he spent much of his time with his back to the class, and the thick, dusty chalk made it hard for students to see clearly, he said. With the use of the tablet PC -- which can be turned flat and written on with an electronic pen -- Coleman was able to spend much more time facing his students.

“I noticed a difference right away,” said Coleman. Students were maintaining eye contact with him and he could see when students were confused and needed further explanation.

“It was almost like having a conversation,” he said. “There was that kind of connection.”

Coleman also used the new technology to organize his automatically-saved lecture notes and post them online, allow students to annotate slides in class, write using different colors to show how chemical reactions occur, and reduce the College’s carbon footprint by having his freshmen seminar turn in papers electronically.

“The kids love it,” he said. “It’s changed my way of thinking about lectures.”

Coleman was also able to embed audio comments on papers so that students would feel almost as if he were sitting with them, going over their papers. Those audio comments were so popular that many students played them for their roommates and sent them to friends and parents.

Coleman said that he participated in the TIP group because he is “willing to stand in front of class and try new things,” he said. As a result of that willingness, Coleman’s students said they “felt honored” to be in his class and significantly improved their learning. Despite the new technology, it was the same information that Coleman has been presenting to students for 30 years.

“It’s truly the sense of engagement they felt that I believe made the difference,” he said.

For more on the Campus Technology Innovator Awards, visit http://campustechnology.com/. For more information on information technology at the College of William and Mary, visit http://www.wm.edu/it/index.php.