The ability to connect reliably to the internet is something we often take for granted, on campus. For remote students or instructors, though, a stable connection cannot always be assured. Here are some recommendations and sample syllabus statements that may help you formulate your course policy in cases where students do not have a reliable connection.
There are steps the instructor can take to reduce the bandwidth needed, and help students with low connectivity still access materials and activities.
Have students phone in for audio. Use the videoconference app only for the video element.
Have participants turn off their video when they are not speaking. This reduces the volume of data that has to be sent and received.
Do not attempt to play or share media through the videoconference. Receiving an audio or video stream in addition to all the other data a videoconference call is sending, is an extremely heavy processing demand.
Break up videos into short pieces, no more than 15 minutes each. Video playback is less demanding than a full download, but it is still a high-demand process. The longer the video runs, the greater the chance of failure, especially from old devices which may simply overheat. Whether you are recording lectures or clips of longer movies, try to keep each individual video small. This also helps students focus and absorb the material better.
Always caption your videos. Kaltura/MiVideo has an auto-caption feature that you can request for each of your videos. Auto-captions also provide a text transcript, which students who cannot play the video will at the very least be able to read. Auto-captions will often need some correcting, but Kaltura provides a very simple-to-use tool for editing captions.
Load up a few thumb-drives with your videos, ready to send out by snail-mail. The US Postal service is still here. It is a viable way to share materials, if you have a student who simply does not have a strong enough connection to access your videos (or other materials) online.
This is an accessibility issue, and one that overlaps with inclusive teaching. Make sure you have alternatives in mind for high-bandwidth activities such as video-conference discussions. It will also help if you have a clear statement in your course policies about what students should do if they lose connection during an activity. Here are some sample statements that you can mix and match, and edit, for your own class.
Note that many of these call for the instructor to have some idea of alternative work that students who are unable to participate synchronously can do. Some possibilities include short response papers, a problem set that can be done independently, or a miniature research report on one of the synchronous session’s muddiest points which can be shared with the class asynchronously. Try to find options that can keep the student in dialogue with the rest of the class, such as asynchronous discussion or peer review opportunities.
If you have limited internet access, contact your instructor as soon as possible by email or phone to discuss your situation and make arrangements.
If you are in a different time zone, and will have difficulty signing on during the synchronous class sessions, you will be able to view a recording of those sessions and do alternative work to make up your participation points. You will still be expected to participate in asynchronous discussions and group work. Contact your instructor as soon as possible to discuss your situation and make arrangements.
If you are remote and your living space does not provide sufficient privacy to attend a synchronous videoconference session without interruptions, contact your instructor as soon as possible to discuss your situation. It may be possible for you to attend with your video and audio off, and do alternative work to make up your participation points.
Even if you normally have a good internet connection, you may experience brief loss of connection or a period of unstable connection. If this happens, connect to audio by phone instead, and email the instructor as soon as possible to let them know what happened and that you were still present and listening.
If you would like to discuss how to use any of these options for your own courses, you can contact LSATSLearningTeachingConsultants@umich.edu to talk with an instructional consultant.