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Remote Learning for Students without Internet

Our experiences with remote teaching and learning over the past year and a half have shown that not all students are on an even playing field when it comes to accessing technology. While online courses present a great opportunity for innovation in the classroom, this model has also proven to create a barrier for some students.

Many universities have found that students lack adequate connectivity for successful online learning. Michigan State University, for instance, found that only 47% of its rural students and 77% of its suburban students have high-speed internet access at home. Similarly, two-thirds of the world’s school-aged children lack internet connections in their homes.

These unconnected students are disadvantaged when faced with online-only education options, and they can quickly fall behind on assignments and learning.

For higher-ed and school-age educators looking to provide remote learning for students without internet, we share online teaching suggestions from eLearning Industry, Classcraft, and Children’s Health Council.

Encourage Students to Take Advantage of Available Resources

When looking to provide remote learning support to unconnected students, try to identify unconventional internet connections that may already be at students’ disposal. Recommend that students research options, or provide a list of options that you have found. Options may include:

  • Individual hotspot loans Some community centres, libraries, and schools offer a limited amount of hotspots for loan to individuals with unreliable internet.
  • Open hotspots near students’ homes Some communities and libraries offer free wi-fi as well as quiet spaces for online courses.
  • Mobile phones While this option can be limiting due to the expense of data and the usability of some educational apps, students who have no access to wifi may be able to take advantage of mobile options.

Remember that not having internet access can be stigmatizing, so do not wait until students tell you that they have limited internet. Make a point to share resources with your entire class, so students have the ability to pursue options on their own without having to single themselves out.

Communicate Expectations Early and Clearly

When equalizing the experiences of connected and unconnected students, it may be prudent to rethink class communication frequency, style, and platforms.

Plan and Communicate Course Structure

For students who have intermittent internet access, checking for frequent or ad hoc class updates and postings may be difficult. Consider offering online education activities on a regular schedule that is communicated at the beginning of the term.

Structured courses with clear schedules allow students to plan for internet usage while meeting course expectations for participation and assessment. This structured approach is especially helpful for students who may be using community options or phones with limited data plans.

Give assessments with clear instructions and expectations

Complex assessments can often lead to students asking numerous questions about what the educator expects from the output they produce and submit.

When designing online assessments, consider the student perspective. Will students want to know how much detail is expected to be shown in their solution? Will students request information on how they should format and structure their answers? Use this perspective to simplify or clarify instructions for assessments before assigning them. This approach will reduce back-and-forth and ad hoc communications that may be more challenging for students without easy internet options.

Additionally, micro-assessments may provide an option for simplifying assessments. Micro-assessments are useful because they require less explanation and instruction than a complex exam. Also, students spend less time on each of these assignments, thereby reducing the time needed for individual blocks of internet usage. These smaller blocks of time relieve pressure on students who may have to schedule community internet usage or take advantage of expensive mobile data plans.

Reduce Dependence on Internet-First Communications

Remote learning is frequently approached with an internet-first mindset. Be aware, though, that there are other options that can supplement or supplant internet-only choices. Internet communication can be supplemented with telephone conversations, platforms like Google Drive that can be used offline, physical course packets given to students upon request, and video transcripts for video content.

If you are specifically considering the needs of students on mobile phones, think about using texting-based communications that do not require data. Similarly, use grading apps, like Crowdmark, that allows the option to connect briefly to the internet to upload paper-based assessments.

Final Thoughts

Lack of appropriate internet options in the home can severely impact a students’ ability to learn online. Because of the potential stigma, students may not disclose that they are experiencing this accessibility issue. Accordingly, it is important to consider this potential barrier to learning when designing student learning outcomes and authentic assessments.

Though the above suggestions are no replacement for getting high-speed internet in every home, exploring these practices can go a long way to increasing accessibility in the online classroom.

Looking for more online education ideas? Learn more about: