Hacks for Students with Slow Internet
Schools have adapted for lockdowns by taking education online, but students with unreliable internet connections are struggling with the adjustment. When the first lockdown happened one long, weary year ago, traditional education establishments from primary schools to universities began a natural (if somewhat chaotic) pivot to distance learning.
Covid and remote learning
As a safety measure, this move has undeniably helped to protect students, staff, and their families from contracting COVID-19. However, as a learning method, it has compounded the struggles of children and young adults from a variety of demographics. These groups include very young and differently-abled students, those with psychological disorders, and those from abusive and unstable homes. While the difficulties of these students are best addressed by specialists, another group faces a major problem that can be reduced by any teacher or caregiver: technological inequality at home.
Much of daily class participation is now taking place on internet-based video apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meetings, and students with weak connectivity are being left behind. The reasons for this vary.
One is simple bandwidth strain in multi-children households where more members are online at the same time and there’s not enough bandwidth to support the apps being used. Another is the location of students’ homes, or wherever they do the bulk of their remote learning. In rural parts of the US, for example, only slower satellite internet is available. This is because broadband providers aren’t motivated to make unprofitable tech investments in less populated areas.
In contrast, countries like South Korea and Sweden have tasked their governments with building broadband infrastructure rather than relying on private companies. A third issue, and one seen internationally, is the prohibitive cost of updated computers and high-speed internet packages in economically disadvantaged households. Fortunately, regardless of the reason for unreliable internet access, there are plenty of ways schools, teachers, and parents can include all students in lockdown learning.
Resources Available through Governments and School Administrations
Some government departments, school administrations, and related organisations are offering the loan (or grant) of laptops and related resources to students who need them. In April of 2020, the BBC announced that the UK Department for Education would provide laptops or tablets, 4G routers, and free online lessons for qualifying students. Teachers, caregivers, and older students can take the initiative to find out whether similar opportunities are available where they live.
For teachers, the first step is to be aware of the potential for internet connectivity limitations and plan lessons — as well as communication methods — accordingly. Wacom lists strategies teachers can use to make their instruction more friendly for those with restricted broadband service. One of these strategies is keeping video lessons short, engaging, and consistently formatted for easier cognitive digestion and decreased chances of network interruptions.
In another, teachers are encouraged to use informative visuals that supplement important points in a discussed topic; this way if the audio distorts or freezes, students can still follow along. For the same reason, teachers can have students respond or ask questions using chat features rather than speaking out loud. Alternatively, teachers can create webinar-style presentations that preclude the need for student responses at all. Wacom also advises teachers to inform their students in advance what to do if a poor connection keeps them from accessing/ completing a lesson. To this end, it’s best to make lessons available in an alternate format that requires less bandwidth so all students can access them easily.
Problem Solving for Parents, Caregivers, and Older Students
For parents, caregivers, and older students the first step may be to raise connectivity concerns with teachers, who can then adapt their lessons accordingly. As noted above, it’s also important to proactively research or brainstorm ways to address accessibility issues. This includes finding out whether local schools, libraries, nonprofits or even relatives can provide laptops or access to faster internet.
For the self-reliant, Wacom offers several ways to boost the internet signal at home, as does Speedify. Speedify offers a limited free trial of their VPN app, which claims to optimise internet speeds and connectivity while protecting users from hackers and data tracking. Other free and inexpensive internet-boosting apps can be found here.
There are likely other ways to overcome the simple obstacle of slow internet, which is why schools, teachers, parents, and older students need to be resourceful and creative. The fewer interruptions there are in distance learning, the sooner students can catch up and prepare for the next stage of their education.
Be proactive: become a volunteer
Check out the volunteering opportunities in your area. Sign up to 1Hour and start volunteering today. All you need is a reliable internet connection and a laptop! Or find local opportunities help out an hour at a time in person. Reach out to potential students and share your knowledge with them.