I must start off this post by admitting I don’t actually know very much about wireless networks, so please forgive me if I use the terminology incorrectly. From my perspective as an instructor, my goal is to have all of my students (between 19 and 29 students, depending on the class) access the campus wireless network at the same time. Oh yes, it would also be nice if they could remain connected for the entire class period. And an added bonus would be if they could all access the Internet at strategic points during class when we have learning opportunities that require seeking more information. Now is that too much to ask? J
Those of us who integrate technology into our teaching, and invite students to bring and use wireless devices in our courses, know from experience that expectations for uninterrupted connectivity can be a tall order. In my classes, sometimes we hit the mark, and some days not a single one of us can connect to the wireless network. Usually these are the days when I have planned a learning activity that hinges on all of us having this connection. As a result, I have begun to adapt my expectations for the wireless network and plan creatively for workarounds, so our learning with technology can continue. This post offers some tips I’ve gained from personal experience.
1. Cut back on the number of students needing to access the wireless network at the same time. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups, sharing one device. Stagger activities so some students are discussing while others are searching online. As a last resort, display a digital resource on a projector, so students can see even if they cannot access it themselves.
2. Ask students to download needed apps prior to class. This will take planning on your part, and on the part of the students, but in the end it’s worth it. An added plus is that some students will explore the apps prior to class, which can enhance discussion about the app’s value and usefulness.
3. Assuming students will be using a tablet or laptop for book access, ask them to turn off the wireless access to their cell phones during class. Because most students own a smartphone, the actual number of devices trying to connect to the wireless network is double the number of students in the class. Cutting down on the devices making this connection can speed up access for all.
While these three options are not foolproof, they are a good place to begin. A long-term solution will likely require communication with the IT folks on your campus. It’s important that those who specialize in creating technology environments hear directly from those on the front line when network issues occur. They can’t fix things unless they know a problem exists. Faculty who are new to using technology in their teaching tend to blame themselves when things don’t work, often thinking “I must be doing something wrong.” Don’t doubt yourself. Speak up, ask questions, learn more.