As a student entering their fourth year at Carleton, I have witnessed and been exposed to different teaching styles and platforms that enable students to actively participate in class.

In my experience, the academic technologies an instructor chooses to use (or not use) in their classroom can have a big impact on the way the class is taught and how we, as students, learn.

In this article, I’ll share with you some of the academic technologies that I have had experience working with in the past, what they do, and how they can benefit other students.

Computers in Classrooms

Less than ten years ago, it would have been strange to think that classroom environments could consist of anything other than students writing handwritten notes while the teacher wrote on the blackboard. Presently, we can start to see a shift where students are using their laptops or tablets more and more to take notes, access information, and engage in the material.

In a majority of my courses, I have come to find that most students bring laptops to class and only a few jot their notes by hand.  The professor teaches from either their own device (often a laptop) or a desktop provided to them in the classroom. Using a personal device, such as a laptop in the classroom, has many benefits, such as:

  • Easy access to cuLearn – here students can look at the syllabus, lecture slides posted by the instructor, discussion forums, etc. if necessary while in class
  • Notetaking – many students find that typing their notes ensures that they gather all of the information/content provided by the instructor during lecture
  • Access to program-specific software

In other cases I have had professors who are against the use of technology in classrooms and have taught using “traditional” methods (chalkboards and handouts for example). Under these circumstances, students were instructed to take notes by hand and not use any personal devices in class.

Here are some of my thoughts on the ‘no tech in the classroom’ policy:

  1. Technology is not the problem.  While it can be easily understood that using a laptop in class can pose as a distraction to students, it is still possible for students to get distracted without technology. Speaking from my own experience, I found I was more likely to draw in my notebook or write notes to friends.  Also, people were more likely to chat because they did not want to write.
  2. People do not want to be told how to learn.  Students are more likely to pay attention in class if they decide how they will record their lecture notes. Everyone has their own learning style and their own preference concerning how they retain information. Let students have the option.

What’s great about using computers and laptops for educational purposes is that they are both extremely versatile. Computers and laptops can be used by both students and instructors, across numerous programs, to complete various tasks that meet their needs for the classroom.

Clickers in the Classroom

Clickers are small, wireless, handheld devices that are used to obtain real-time student responses in the classroom. When connected to clicker-specific, presentation software (such as Turning Point), students are able to submit responses electronically through pressing the appropriate button(s) on their devices. Clickers have approximately twelve buttons, with a number and a letter on each (this may vary depending on the model/design or the brand) and are very easy to use.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that clicker use in the classroom has become an increasingly popular teaching method for instructors. By requiring students to purchase a clicker for a specific course, professors are creating an opportunity to:

  • Further engage their students
  • Create an interactive component within their weekly lectures
  • Gauge their students’ level of understanding on the material that was presented
  • Obtain feedback from students throughout the course through the use of clicker polls
  • Make quizzes “fun”, and less time consuming – all of which really matter to the students

In one of my second year courses at Carleton, my professor held a multiple choice quiz at the end of each lecture. By having to submit our answers individually through the use of our clickers, quizzes became less time consuming as opposed to having to distribute, fill out, and hand in a scantron sheet at the end of every lecture. Students were able to  get feedback from the instructor and obtain their grades without delay as the scores were calculated immediately after answers were submitted.

I have found with clickers that students are more likely to have a higher rate of success in the course. When my class had weekly clicker quizzes, my peers and I felt that the quizzes encouraged us to attend each weekly lecture and to participate, and, as a result, our understanding of the material was strengthened.

While clickers provide instructors with the chance to create an interactive learning environment for students, there are some factors to consider as well, such as:

  • Technology can be faulty – It is important for the instructor and the students to stay patient when faced with a problem and even more important for the instructor to know what they need to do or who to contact at a time where there is a technical difficulty.
  • “I forgot my clicker” – It is common for students to attend the lecture with the intention of completing a quiz, only to later realize that they do not have the clicker with them. This is something the instructor must keep in mind and reiterate to the class. It is up to the professor to decide if they will provide another alternative for students who forget their clickers.

If you’re an instructor at Carleton and looking for ways to further engage your students, clickers are a great way to go. They’re easy to set-up and use, and can make your job as an instructor easier too!  Check out the EDC website for more information.


At Carleton, students are able to take courses in both classroom and remote/online environments via CUOL. Both classroom and remote environments have teachers and students, tests and assignments, and the means to contact the instructor as needed. Remote environments are great as they allow for the university to expand their curriculum offerings through online courses and pre-recorded video lectures.

CUOL is a great alternative to regular courses offered on campus for students that are distance students, want more flexibility in their schedule, or prefer to study in a location of their choice, such as in an office space or at home.

Speaking as a full-time undergraduate student at Carleton, I value having some flexibility in my schedule. I have taken three online courses throughout my time spent at Carleton and overall, I can say that I have enjoyed them. I liked having one less class on campus each week, which gave me more time to tend to other responsibilities and commitments throughout the semester (as long as I made sure I was allocating time for the online course as well). I felt that taking an online class forced me to become more independent and taught me the importance of prioritizing various ongoing tasks.

It is very important for students to stay motivated and organized throughout the duration of an online course, as each individual student is in charge of when they “attend” each lecture and complete each weekly-assigned reading in time for the midterm and/or exam.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) provides students with the option to access course-specific software directly from their laptops, which are often used in class with guidance from the instructor.

I was enrolled in a statistics class that required me to use a data-inputting software for my lab assignments. In previous years when I had taken other statistics courses,whenever I needed to complete an assignment, I had to go to campus to use a desktop computer in one of the computer labs available.  This became tedious if I had to make changes, or if I had no other reason to be on campus.

By having access to VDI, I was able to work on lab assignments using the same software on my own laptop, and I could save my work on my laptop and make changes as needed.  This saved me time and allowed me to be more productive.

In class, it was extremely helpful to have the software open as the instructor was using the program and going through specific steps for certain processes. Not only did this deepen my understanding of how to use the program, but it also provided students with the opportunity to ask questions and seek help as they were using the software at the same time.

Big Blue Button

Big Blue Button is a learning tool that allows for instructors and teaching assistants to host live online tutorials, office hours, or have discussion periods with students via their course on cuLearn.

When the Big Blue Button feature is enabled for a course, students can access the tool by logging in to their cuLearn account and clicking on the specific course. On the course’s main page, there will be a link provided for students to begin the video/online conference.

Personally, I have not used this feature myself, however I have had two courses where the option was presented to students. In one case, I was enrolled in an online course over the summer term. The instructor enabled the Big Blue Button tool as a means to hold office hours for distance students registered in the course. In another scenario, I had a professor hold an office hour using this feature as well, during the fall examination period. We had a take-home exam due on the very last day of exams, however the instructor knew that students would be busy with their other studies and may not be readily available to attend her scheduled office hours if they needed assistance or had questions. In both of these cases, Big Blue Button works similarly to Skype or any other video conference software.

Big Blue Button meets students halfway by allowing students to have an “office hour” at their convenience, from anywhere.

Learn More

If you are an instructor at Carleton and would like to start incorporating academic technologies into your lesson plans (if you have not already), I would highly recommend it.

No matter which device or program you use, academic technologies are convenient, easy to use, and enable students to openly communicate with each other and you.

To learn more about academic technology use in the classroom, take a look at the Educational Development Centre’s website for technology guides, teaching tips and tools, and more.


By Madison Pearce, a fourth year Communications student at Carleton and currently doing a co-op placement with Web Services in ITS.