Ideas for Helping Students with Technology Limitations
One of the toughest parts of transitioning to remote instruction is trying to help students maintain access to all of your course content and assessments.
With most students back home right now, many don’t have reliable Internet access. Or maybe they are competing with parents and siblings for bandwidth. No matter the reason, if you’ve had students contact you about technology limitations, here’s a few ideas that might be helpful for you and your students.
Compress Your Content
I, myself, live out in the country with questionable Internet service so I can tell you from experience that I have had to wait as long as 25 minutes for a large PDF file to download. If you are posting large content files, you can bet your students are having similar wait times.
The good news is that it’s relatively easy to compress your file sizes. In most instances, it’s just a matter of adding a few quick extra steps to your processes.
Your first thought may be that you’ll lose the quality of your instructional materials, but in reality, if you have monster-size files, it’s likely because you have a lot of images or graphics that are much larger than they need to be, especially now that we’re formatting all content for the web.
The trouble with posting instructions is that everyone uses different software versions on different devices. The key thing to remember is to Google a phrase like “compress PowerPoint file” or “optimize PDF.” The words “compress” and “optimize” will help you find the instructions you’re seeking.
But, to show you how easy some of these modifications are, here’s a one-minute video about compressing PowerPoint files:
And here’s a blog post from How-to Geek with lots of great tips for compressing PowerPoint files, just to get you started. I Googled “optimize PDF” and found lots of other similar results.
Make Videos Downloadable
Even if you’re not recording live sessions with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, you may want to consider using it to make lecture videos. One of the settings within Collaborate allows you to make your recordings downloadable for students. This could be incredibly helpful if you have students who don’t have a strong enough Internet connection to stream videos.
At the same time, you may want to consider making shorter (10 minutes or fewer) videos so that your files aren’t huge. That would be beneficial for two reasons: 1) it would help reduce download times, and 2) it would allow you to “chunk” your content into more digestible pieces to help students learn.
But here’s one distinction: just because I’m talking about making your videos downloadable doesn’t mean I’m telling you to load a bunch if MP4 files into your Blackboard course. Your Blackboard courses have limited storage space, and that would eat it all up. The nice thing about Collaborate is that it’s a cloud-based tool, so none of those video files count toward your Blackboard course size.
Make Some Adjustments to Your Tests
If you know you have some students with Internet connection issues, you may want to consider adjusting some of the test options on your next exam. These changes will not only ease student anxiety, but they will also prevent you from having to deal with the hassle of clearing individual test attempts and such.
The first thing to do is to make sure you have NOT selected the force completion option on your exam. If you have this selected and a student loses their Internet connection, Blackboard automatically submits the student’s unfinished exam. Talk about stress for students!
The next thing I’m going to say is counter to one of the tips in a recent blog post with strategies to deter cheating during exams. I just want to acknowledge the contradictory info and say first that you have to do what is right for you and your course.
But, at any rate, the other thing you can do to accommodate students with bad Internet connections is give more time to complete exams. If you give more time, a student who gets booted out can still log back in and complete the test without getting special help from you. It can also be helpful if you have your test questions display one at a time and students are having trouble getting each test page to load quickly.
Suggest That Students Use a Mobile Hotspot
This may not be an option for everyone or all situations, but if you have students contact you about limited Internet access, you may want to ask if they (or a family member) have a smartphone plan that allows them to create a mobile hot spot for computers and other devices. It might be worth testing out to see if it improves the Internet connection or reliability.
Ask Some Troubleshooting Questions
I know you’re not IT, and I’m not expecting you to offer technical support. But chances are, in many situations you may be the first person your students contact when they are experiencing technical difficulties. Imagine how you might be able to reduce their anxiety and stress level if you could solve their problems with just a few simple questions!
Have you heard that clique that 90 percent of technology problems are solved just by restarting your machine? Well, there’s a reason why that’s a clique. I’ll share with you a few of the first questions I ask when a faculty member calls about an issue:
- What web browser are you using? Can you try logging in from another browser?
- What device are you using? Do you have access to another device?
- Can you refresh the page?
- Have you tried logging out and then logging back in?
- Can you restart your machine?
And if none of those things solves the problem, you can refer them to the IT Helpdesk and feel good that they have now tried all the initial things that the helpdesk is most likely to ask them to try to do.
That wraps up my post, but this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of ideas to address technology limitations. If you are doing something else, I would love to hear about it!