Student Computing Environment

Tips and Tricks

Major Points
  • Students do come with a variety of hardware, software, and technology preferences.
  • You can require students to conform to technical requirements.
  • Structure technical requirements such that the Service Desk can do as much of the support as possible.


Identify Your Technical Requirements on Your Course Outline

Your course outline is your contract with your students. It describes what the students should expect of you, and what you should expect of your students. Clarifying your technology requirements in your course outline will articulate all these expectations at the beginning and avoid many challenges later.

Some major things to consider including in your course outline are:

  • Software requirements. What software must they have? By when must it be installed? Where can they obtain it? Who can help them install it?
  • Assignment submission requirements. Articulate in what format assignments must be submitted and what the penalties are for non-compliance.


Have Students Perform Software Installs Outside of Class Time

It is tempting to do group software installs in class, or in lab, to help make sure students have installed the software they need. However, when students come with a variety of computers and software these "install-fests" are likely to result in a number of technical problems. Trying to deal with such problems in class can consume significant time and frustrate both you and your students.

Some suggestions for software installs for students:

  • Have students install the software outside of class time. On your course outline, require students to install the software, and give a suggested "due" date.
  • Advise students to seek help from the Service Desk if they have troubles installing software. The Service Desk can trouble-shoot a wide variety of problems which may prevent software from installing.
    • PLEASE NOTE: because of the wide variety of software used on campus, the Service Desk may only be able to help with the install and not be able to help the student use and test the software.
  • It can help make sure students have installed and tested the software before they really need it if you create a small-value question on an early assignment which requires them to install and perform some trivial task in the software.
  • If thinking about penalties for not having installed software, consider leaving the penalty as the non-completion of the course activity the software is being used for, and not penalizing the non-installation of the software.


Identify Where Students Can Get Assistance on Your Course Outline

The Service Desk exists to help students with technical problems. You can reduce the amount of time you spend on resolving technical issues by identifying to students on your course outline that technical assistance should first be sought from the Service Desk.


Plan Student Presentations to Use A Single Presentation Laptop

When students are performing sets of presentations, switching amongst laptops can cost time. With the variety of computers being used, this can become a large problem.

Tips for making sets of student presentations go smoothly:

  • Use one laptop for all presentations. This could be your laptop or a student's volunteered laptop.
  • On your course outline, identify one or two presentation formats (PowerPoint and PDF are the most common) which students can use, and make sure the presentation laptop supports these formats.
  • Have students either load their presentations on the presentation laptop before the presentation class begins or have them submit their presentations electronically before the presentation date. This avoids problems and time delays caused by copying files across laptops between presentations.


Make Sure Your Emails Will Reach Students

Students usually come with a preference for their own email software and their own non-Acadia email address. Their Acadia-provided email address guarantees that the messages you send them will reach a mailbox, but doesn't guarantee that they will read it. A variety of factors influence whether or not they see the message you sent or if they see it as it was intended. Among these are:

  • They may hope to use only their preferred email address and not their Acadia email address.
  • The email software they choose may display messages differently than yours.
  • The email software they use may perform its own junk and spam filtering.
  • They may forward their Acadia email automatically to their preferred email service.
  • Their preferred email service may perform its own junk and email filtering.

Some tips to ensure your messages make it to your students, as intended:

  • On your course outline, identify that you expect your students to check their Acadia-provided email.
  • Use plain text in your emails. Avoid tables, images, fancy fonts, and any other features which embellish the text. Many email software programs don't allow or, for sake of security, block, anything except plain text. Also, embellishments, especially images, are common indicators of SPAM email.
  • Always supply both a subject and text in the body of your email. Blank subjects and bodies tend to be indicators of SPAM email. The text of the email should also read as a genuine message; for example, if the body of the email only contained "Read this", software would tend to think the message was SPAM.
  • Avoid attachments. These are common in SPAM, and some email services may block your attachments. If you wish to distribute a file to your class, your best bet is to upload it to ACORN, and then write your class a plain text email telling them you've posted the file to ACORN.
  • Attachments which are either large (more than 1MB) or are installation/setup programs will rarely get delivered by email services. In such cases use ACORN.


Avoid Machine-Specific Information When Describing Software Usage

Students now bring a variety of computers which have some noticeable differences, the most significant being:

  • Different keyboards, which may or may not have certain keys. For example, many PC laptops do not have F11 or F12 keys, and MacBooks do not have a PrintScreen key (and many other special purpose PC keys).
  • Different operating systems. If a student brings a Mac, they will use OS X wherever possible. This impacts where menus are located, and key combinations are different (e.g. CTRL+C is copy on Windows, but Apple+C is copy on a Mac)
  • Different screen sizes.

This greatly impacts producing instructions for students on using or performing tasks in software packages. To help overcome this, here are some tips when preparing materials for students:

  • Describe the use of software by the software's menus and operations, not by physical interactions with the machine (keys, dials, mouse and key combinations).
  • Avoid intricate layouts of documents where possible, particularly with office and web software.

Coincidentally, these are also pertinent tips if considering producing documents for students with disabilities.


When a Student's Machine Breaks

Sometimes a student's laptop may break down and, depending on where they purchased the machine, it may not be readily fixable. When this happens, it is important to note that it is still possible for them to complete many course requirements.

Students can rent a laptop from the Service Desk for $10/day, plus an extra $20 for the first day.

For mid-term and final examinations laptops can, at faculty request, be signed out to students for the duration of the examination for free.