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William and Mary isn't using quill pens

  • No chalk dust/no quill pens
    No chalk dust/no quill pens  Randy Coleman demonstrates notebook technique in a class. His work using tablet-style notebooks to enhance learning earned him a Campus Technology Innovator award. More importantly, it also resulted in the highest-ever class average in his organic chemistry course.  Photo by Pablo Yanez
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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 Department 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 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 uses the technology to organize his automatically saved lecture notes and post them online. Students also can annotate slides in class and write, using different colors, to show how chemical reactions occur. The process also reduces the College’s carbon footprint, as students turn in papers electronically.

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