We’d like to imagine that in these times of Netflix, Fortnite, and smartphones, that all student have a solid broadband connection at home. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, particularly in rural areas, so that we don’t let those students without speedy connections and laptops with 20″ screens to fall between the cracks.
When running online lessons it’s natural to want to provide the best learning experience for students, but it’s also important to be aware that the following points may restrict some students from accessing your lessons in the same way as others:
- Students may not have dedicated access to a computer, smartphone or tablet during the lesson.
- If your school doesn’t provide a BYOD or one-to-one device scheme with a standard device, your students may be accessible your lessons via a range of significantly different devices, with different software, operating systems, and in put methods.
- Home devices may be shared between multiple siblings and family members.
- If parents are working from home, bandwidth may be dedicated to them, rather than to the student.
- Internet speeds, particularly in rural areas, can limit the student’s ability to interact online.
So, how do we provide the best remote learning experience possible without disadvantaging other students and limiting teacher innovation?
Increase access without limiting teachers
This is always going to be a difficult one to juggle, but it’s important to find a balance between making sure that students can access teaching while allowing teachers to use some of the more engaging aspects of the new technology platforms that are available, such as live video lessons and document collaboration.
To find that balance consider the points below.
1. Use text chat to start lessons and set assignments
It’s important to set a reasonable minimum requirement that teachers should meet when instructing the class. Regardless of the device or broadband speed, it’s almost guaranteed that every student with a device can access text based messages.
- Create a set of standard text chat messages that each teacher can use to start a lessons
These messages should introduce the start of the lesson and provide summary of expected outcomes for the lesson. This will allow students with a slow internet connection, who might not be able to download all of the teaching resources or watch live video, to engage with the lesson independently.
- Set all class work as an assignment within your learning platform before each lesson
This will allow student who cannot engage with the lesson live to
2. Limit video in live class sessions until you know the technological limitations of students in your class
Until you know that students have the necceary technology to use video conferencing, consider turning video cameras off entirely. Alternatively, only have students turn on their cameras at the beginning of the session to greet one another, or ask them to turn off the camera except when they are speaking. If you share a visual during a live class session, share just the document, rather than your entire desktop.
3. Use pre-recorded content instead live class sessions
Creating pre-recorded video classes allows students to download the video prior to the lesson or view it at a time convenient to them.
4. Difference in device, screen size & input methods
Depending on your school’s IT strategy, if you don’t have standised devices, it’s possible that not all students will have the same screen size, and it’s likely that many will be using a smartphone to access school work. Be considerate of this when sharing teaching resources such as large files or documents which would be uncomfortable to read on a small screen.
- Try sharing content via a responsive website (such as Google Sites or Microsoft SharePoint) where the content to be automatically adjusted to account for the screen size of the student’s device.
5. Student work may be significantly affected by their internet speed and type of device
It seems obvious to say, but a student with a faster internet speed is going to have a smoother experience learning from home.
- Give students some slack when setting deadlines for class and homework. The speed at which they work may be significantly limited by their technology.
6. Student may not be aware of their technological limitations
Students may not be aware of their own technological limitations and may be concerned why other students are more engaged in lessons. This became clear to me last week when providing remote support from home. I was uploading training videos via my “okay” broadband connection, and found in the end it was easier to remote into a teacher’s laptop and complete the upload from there. Work that was taking my colleagues a few minutes to carry out was taking me almost an hour.
7. For students with slow internet: Use the video camera sparingly, or not at all
When participating in a live class meeting, entirely avoid using the video camera; just turn on the microphone. Or only turn on your video camera when it’s your turn to speak.
8. Sync files to your computer so you can read them offline
Most learning platforms allow you to download files to your device so you’re not reliant on the speed of your broadband during the lesson.
To sync teaching resources for classes in Microsoft Teams, for example, you can use the Sync option in the Files tab of any class sync the documents to your OneDrive app. Use the Always keep on this device option in OneDrive to download the files to your device prior to the lesson.
Microsoft Teams also allows you to download files to your mobile device:
- With the file open in Teams mobile, select the triple-dot More options button.
- From the menu that appears, select Make available offline
9. Use the Microsoft Stream mobile app to download class videos
If you have limited internet connectivity, the Offline feature in the Stream mobile app can be handy for watching videos:
- First, install the Microsoft Stream mobile app (from the App Store or Google Play) on your device.
- Sign in with your school Microsoft 365 account.
- Click the Stream link your teacher provided, and the video will open in the Stream app.
- Once the video is loaded in the app, pause it and tap the download icon below the video player.
- After the video has downloaded, you can tap the play button immediately for normal-speed playback, or you can find the video later under My Content > Offline.
10. Work offline in OneNote Class Notebook
Here are some ideas for minimizing bandwidth when working in a OneNote Class Notebook:
- Avoid large attachments in Class Notebooks that are distributed to all students. Instead link to a large file stored in your OneDrive or Teams or Stream.
- The Files tab for every team has a Class Materials folder that works well for sharing a read-only document with students.
- Keep each Section of the notebook relatively small, and avoid embedding attachments of large files.
- Audio and video files can become very large. When you leave audio feedback, try to keep it brief.
Let me know of any similar advice you’ve developed in the comments.