ALBION, Mich. — Computer giant
Hewlett-Packard (HP) recently announced that Albion College was
selected to receive a 2008 HP Technology for Teaching grant. The
$77,000 award includes classroom equipment, software, and a cash grant
for support expenses. A supplementary software award from Microsoft
pushes the total grant value above $80,000.
"This grant puts Albion at the forefront of using technology in our educational pedagogy and will allow us to explore new avenues for student learning," enthused chemistry professor Andrew French, who will teach the first HP-enhanced class this coming fall. "Having the tablet PCs is going to facilitate student engagement in the course content at a level that's simply not available without this technology."
The grant provides Albion with 20 HP tablet PCs, a type of laptop which converts into an electronic blackboard. Special software allows students and professor to share and edit each others' drawings, store their work and even record and replay step-by-step board work with audio.
Physics professor Aaron Miller, the chief investigator for the grant, noted that technology-aided teaching is not new to Albion. Miller developed a set of "clickers" that physics students use to answer questions and provide feedback in class, and several Albion classrooms already have a projectable electronic blackboard.
"Our experience with technology, the fact that this is an interdisciplinary grant and our plans to use it to teach some very difficult material, all that was interesting to HP," Miller explained, noting that nearly 500 college and universities applied for just 44 awards. "The College is also going to match the grant by purchasing more hardware. HP knows they'll see a lot for their investment and I think that was significant in our receiving this grant."
French will incorporate the tablet PC technology into organic chemistry instruction, a course that for decades has had one of the highest attrition rates on campus. He is convinced of the technology's potential to help more students grasp the difficult course material.
"There is an acute need for chemists today; I want to turn every one of my students into a professional chemist," French asserted with a smile. "But even for those who don't want to be chemists, the ability to think critically, assimilate information and apply it, solve problems in groups – those are skill sets that we scientists teach.
"And we also have smart, motivated students who do these things, but just don't 'get' chemistry the way we've had to teach it," French concluded. "This software will help more students understand chemistry, and that leads to a lot more of them reaching other goals."