WIRED FOR SUCCESS: How innovative technologies are shaping Ottawa’s post-secondary institutions

If it’s been a while since you were in college or university, your image of what that looks like might be outdated. Today students and profs alike are on Twitter, courses can be taught online, and instead of soft scribbling in notebooks, you’re more likely to hear the tap-tapping of fingers on laptops. From eTextbooks to virtual campuses, we look at the city’s post-secondary institutions and the super-cool ways they’re using technology.

The University of Ottawa

•  Since September 2011, some professors have been using Top Hat Monocle, a web-based classroom response system that allows professors to ask questions of large classes that students can answer using their mobile devices. Responses are displayed at the front of the lecture hall, which helps profs gauge students’ comprehension, as well as jump-start discussion.

•  In the fall of 2012, the school opened a new fully equipped multimedia conference room. In this lab, professors can test new technologies such as Echo360, a system that allows them to record and edit course content, then publish it so that students can play back lectures and access materials.

•  Professors can take advantage of Techno-Talks, a series of presentations that focus on how technology is used at the university for teaching purposes. For instance, one talk was a show-and-tell session of professors’ favourite teaching and research apps.

Carleton University

•  Students in archaeology and language studies have access to a virtual campus (think The Sims or Second Life) that is modelled after the real campus. Here, they can create customizable avatars, practise their skills in a less intimidating environment (great for shy kids), and learn hands-on techniques that they might not get the chance to use in person.

•  No more sneaking out of class because the parking meter is running out. Along with Algonquin, Carleton uses the system (developed by Carleton computer science professor Dwight Deugo), which allows users to pay for parking by text message.

•  In 2009, the university unveiled its new Emergency Notification System. In the event of a major incident or campus emergency, an onscreen message will be delivered to the Carleton-owned desktop computers, a mass email will be sent out, and students who are registered will receive a text.

Algonquin College

•  Algonquin made a commitment to become a “Digital College” by the fall of 2014, which means it will dramatically expand its offerings so that more programs are available online. This way students can attend classes in person or take part in a digital college class when they can’t — making it easier for students who have jobs to stay in school.

•  Students in Mobile Learning Programs (meaning they’re required to have a laptop and incorporate mobile devices into their in-class work) get free access to more than $3,000 worth of software from Adobe, Microsoft, Lynda, and more. In 2013, there will be almost 130 mobile classrooms at Algonquin, upgraded with wireless connections, network drops, and smart technologies.

•  Are the days of hauling around cumbersome textbooks a thing of the past? Algonquin’s latest push has been for eTextbooks, which — besides saving students’ backs — are half the price and offer more detailed and interactive content than paper editions. Some 40 programs currently use eTextbooks, and the college aims to roll this out across the board within two or three years.