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Distance learning: how to help students with limited internet

Timothy MugabiJuly 21, 2020

Student working on a computer to complete an assignment

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, distance learning has jumped to the top of every school’s agenda. However, as fortunate as we are to have fantastic technology solutions to the problems we’re currently facing, not all students have the internet access necessary to take advantage of them.

Whether it’s due to socioeconomic factors or living in a rural area with fewer connectivity options, some students struggle to get online. Naturally, schools have no intention of leaving those students behind, so many are scrambling to find solutions that will level the playing field. With that spirit in mind, here are 10 tips for helping students with limited internet gain access to distance learning.

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10 ways to help students with limited internet access

1. Ensure that assignments are easy to understand

It’s important for the assignments set by your teachers to be as easy to understand as possible, to compensate for the fact they aren’t in the room with the students. When using remote learning tools, a teacher doesn’t just have comprehension of the material to contend with; they must also deal with simply being understood by their students. This is particularly true if they’re trying to relay information via live video or audio, which can be especially problematic for students with limited connectivity. Advising your teachers to keep this in mind when creating lesson plans will go a long way towards preventing problems later on.

2. Think of these students first when planning lessons

When creating lesson plans for distance learning classes, teachers should prioritize students who have limited internet. This helps eliminate the frustration of creating an elaborate lesson plan, only to learn that it poses problems for students with little-to-no internet access. One way to achieve this is with a checklist specifying certain standards that a lesson plan should meet to remain accessible to all students. This could include:

  • Items related to a lesson requiring audio or video resources
  • Research
  • Discussion elements, etc.

3. Provide training and support for parents and teachers

Inform parents of:

  • Precisely how distance learning is going to be implemented
  • What’s expected of them
  • What provisions are in place for those with limited connectivity

Some parents aren’t as comfortable with technology as others. Some aren’t accustomed to being as involved in their children’s education, so they’re going to need support. This should include:

  • Information about what software they’ll need
  • How to install it
  • How to use it
  • How to troubleshoot any issues

This is especially true for parents of younger students, and it could make all the difference between students being involved with remote learning or missing out.

You should also provide support for members of your faculty who aren’t as well versed with online tools as others. Even some of your most capable teachers might struggle with implementing online lessons; the required changes may be beyond their comfort zone.

To help both groups, provide comprehensive troubleshooting guides and FAQs. Ideally, you should have members of your IT support team on-call to help out your staff and students, especially when first starting out.

4. Look into using phones

Though students may have poor Wi-Fi, there’s a chance they’ll be able to get online with a smartphone. Better still, some students — particularly older ones — will have their own phone. And if they don’t, their parents certainly will.

Teachers can take advantage of messaging apps like WhatsApp as a distance learning tool, and create groups for their classes in which they can:

  • Set assignments
  • Share resources
  • Check on students’ progress

These groups also serve another important purpose: maintaining a sense of community. Group chats become stripped-down versions of virtual classrooms, in which students can discuss work, chat, and preserve a bit of normalcy.

5. Make a hotspot map

Compile a list of places in your district where students can access the internet, such as public buildings (e.g., libraries) and other Wi-Fi hotspots. These aren’t to be used for long periods of time, such as an entire lesson or to stream class material, but rather for obtaining instructions from their teacher or downloading resources. However, it’s crucial to caution students not to depend on any one of them, as hotspots can be unreliable and unsecure.

6. Create resource packs for students

Develop distance learning resource packs containing all the materials a student will need for a certain period of time. Though these can be physical — such as a box of books, worksheets, stationary, etc. — creating a digital version is a far more elegant, long-term solution. This means that resources can simply be downloaded by students, or put on a USB drive for those with limited connectivity. Fortunately, USB drives of up to 64 GB are pretty cheap nowadays, and they’re only going to get cheaper with time. Better yet, they’re highly portable, so it’s easy to get them to students. You can even mail them to their homes if needed. Also, when a student needs updated resources, these drives can be recollected, replenished, and subsequently redistributed to students.

7. Ask students to write book reports

Book reports are an ideal distance learning assignment as they don’t really require an internet connection and demand less input from teachers compared to other assignments. All that’s required is that a student get a copy of the assigned book, write a report (perhaps answering specific questions set by the teacher), and submit it.

A teacher’s role here can be reduced to:

  • Defining the assignment
  • Checking in to see if it’s underway
  • Grading it once it’s completed

Depending on the circumstances, teachers could also carry out discussions in chat groups, summarizing the key points to aid their students’ progress.

8. Assign creative projects

Artistic projects are a good assignment choice for distance learning, as students don’t necessarily need continuous internet access to complete them. Students can keep their teachers posted on their progress with photos, chats, or other online spaces that can be accessed irregularly by students.

9. Assign longer, student-centered projects

Teachers can also assign longer projects that revolve around the students and their lives. This reduces the amount of back-and-forth between the teacher and students, thereby alleviating some of the problems that students with limited internet access face. Plus, since the project is about them, the students will need to do less online research.

Examples of this type of project include:

  • Family tree projects
  • Journaling
  • Writing autobiographies, or anything that requires them to consider their future, like writing about their dreams and ambitions

10. Communicate

The best thing teachers can do for students with poor internet connectivity — as well as all students, for that matter — is to communicate with them. Whether that’s through the limited access to the internet they do have, a text, or a phone call, just touching base goes a long way. Remember, students with limited internet access may come from low-income families or live far away from school — in other words, these are often the students who fall through the cracks without the structure of regular schooling. Regular communication helps students deal with the challenges of isolation and reminds them that you’re thinking of them and that they’re still part of the class.

Photo credit : Google for Education

Intrinsic motivation: 
The key to tiered intervention

When students care about their behavior, a good tiered intervention program becomes great.


Distance Learning

Intrinsic motivation: 
The key to tiered intervention

When students care about their behavior, a good tiered intervention program becomes great.