As remote learning becomes a go-to method of instruction in colleges and institutions of higher education across the world for the foreseeable future, connectivity has become a key topic of discussion.
Much of the focus on connectivity for education has been on the number of students without Internet access at home, but higher ed students also face other challenges with data.
Here are a few of them:
For some families, the cost of Internet is not an issue. For others, especially those that might be facing economic hardship, there is not enough to cover essentials like food and medicine, let alone dedicate to continuous Internet service, essential as it may be to their college education.
According to a blog post by AllConnect.com, “The average starting price for internet is around $35, but most Americans are paying an average of $60/mo. for broadband.” Given the widespread unemployment many people are facing, Internet connectivity at home may be beyond the reach of many families.
There are also families that can afford Internet services but not necessarily the kind of broadband service that’s required for high quality video streaming, synchronous learning, etc.
Colleges looking to provide Internet access for dozens of students at a time are having success with Kajeet’s SmartBus WiFi, which they are making available in centralized locations throughout the community or in parking lots on campus. With SmartBus WiFi, up to 65 students at a time can be connected to filtered, Education Broadband™ that has all the capabilities they need for remote learning.
Colleges can often provide Internet services to students at home through the use of technologies like the Kajeet SmartSpot®, but in some parts of the country that lack broadband infrastructure, even the use of hotspots is not possible.
That’s the case in some parts of California, as explained on EdSource.org: “Rural schools [in California] are finding mobile WiFi devices don’t work at all for students in some of the most remote parts of the state that lack broadband infrastructure.”
WiFi is preferable, but in worst case scenarios, institutions of higher education facing acute lack of Internet access can supply printed packets to students or prepare USB ports where they can download materials to their devices.
Accessibility is not the only issue that matters when it comes to data usage in educational contexts. Usage patterns are important to keep in mind, especially when they also converge with other conflicts students might have, such as work or childcare responsibilities.
Kajeet’s Education Broadband™ can be pooled, this means that unused data each month does not expire but rather can get rolled over to another month or redistributed to other users in the network. Higher ed institutions providing data services to students can stretch their budgets by allocate data based on need and course load rather than providing expensive unlimited data services to all students requiring in-home connectivity.
Administrators of the Sentinel platform, part of Kajeet’s Education Broadband™ service, can also see the top websites student visit, as well as get a sense of what peak periods for usage are during the day. This information can help institutions better plan for their connectivity support by course, segment of student population, department, semester, or for the entire year.
Colleges can also provide in-home connectivity to students on an as-needed basis, and with the check-in and check-out feature built into the Sentinel platform, can monitor data usage and stop allocating data to hotspot devices when a student's enrollment period ends.
In general, Sentinel's analytics and reporting capabilities can give colleges much-needed insight into their connectivity expenditure and help with planning for student connectivity support in the future.
Higher ed students need dedicated devices and Internet access to succeed if courses are held predominantly online, but not every student has access to these tools, or has the tools available with the right capabilities for virtual learning.
For this reason, higher ed administrators should have a good sense of what challenges with Internet their students might be facing that could interfere with their ability to complete work on time or make learning virtually more challenging overall.
Are you a college instructor or administrator working with students without adequate in-home connectivity? How are you managing student data usage during remote learning? Share your tips in the comments below!