By Cassandra Hendry

A statistics course can sometimes seem dull; most people imagine sheets of loose-leaf paper, pencils and handheld calculators. It’s a commonly dropped class and professors struggle to find ways to keep their students engaged.

That is, until Lise Paquet, a psychology professor at Carleton, turned her third-year statistics course on its head. Suddenly, her withdrawal rate went down and her students’ grades drastically improved, all with the help of an ingenious technology called virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

“I’ve been teaching that course a long time. And since we’ve had VDI, it’s the first year that at the end of the year, I’ve gotten hugs from students,” she says. “They come to me and feel they’re connected, that we’re part of something together.”

VDI technology is simple. It allows Paquet and her students to access software that would normally only be available on campus computers anywhere and at anytime.

If students want to do homework using software like SPSS, they don’t have to trek all the way to campus to do so.

The technology is also fully integrated into Paquet’s classroom teaching. Instead of having a theory-based class followed by a tutorial, sometimes a week later, she can go through problem sets right away.

“The students became a lot more engaged in the course itself. They became active participants,” Paquet says. “They could see immediately the relevance of what they were doing with the statistics software so they were quite happy about it.”

Thanks to that immediate feedback students get from the technology while their professor is still in the room with them, Paquet says she’s noticed a clear trend of skyrocketing grades.

Before VDI, her class average was C-. This past year, it’s climbed all the way to an A-.

Tamir Streiner, who was one of Paquet’s students the year she began using the software, swears that VDI was “transformed the dynamics of the class.”

One of the most important parts for him was that he didn’t have to wait for the tutorial to implement the material learned, and instead could get guidance directly from his professor.

“I cannot overstate how useful the VDI system was to both in-class and outside of class learning,” Streiner says.

With extremely positive results and more engaged students, Paquet is just happy that she’s able to personally connect with each student in her often large class.

“I think that VDI provides this ability to have individualized learning despite huge class size. And I think that’s just fantastic.”

VDI is currently available in three Carleton classrooms – 446 and 447 Tory Building and 101 Azreili Theatre.

*Note: VDI technology is now enabled in 70 classrooms on campus (approximately 50 per cent).