Trouble logging in to your online classes? Struggling to see or hear your teacher and classmates? Weak internet connection warning popping up? You’re not alone… Read on for some top tips and tricks to ensure that you waste as little time as possible dealing with these irritating issues.
If there’s one pointer with regards to improving internet connectivity and your general online learning experience, it is undoubtedly the relatively small investment in an ethernet cable for huge rewards in return. Using wifi is comfortable and having class whilst on the sofa is amazing, but (and I’ll try not to get too technical here) wifi seriously affects the stability of your connection. Your internet provider may offer super high speeds, but the reality is far slower, when things such as wifi signals and walls come into the equation. Rather than being a constant speed, when connected to wifi we are much more likely to see huge fluctuations in speed. This can be due to distance from the wifi router, obstacles in between (this can include people simply moving through the house), bandwidth use by other household members and many other causes. Whilst not all of these problems can be solved through an ethernet cable, what the cable does do is create a much more stable connection to the internet, thus lowering the probability of connectivity issues to your online class.
Get as close as possible to the wifi router
Wifi works by emitting radio signals from your router, so if it’s impossible for you to get hold of an ethernet cable, at the very least you should consider being as close to the router as possible. Avoid walls and obstructions as much as feasibly possible. Placing the router high up in the room instead of in a cabinet behind the TV or under the table can also improve the connection because of the way that the router emits the radio signals.
Headphones to avoid echo
Using headphones allows you to clearly hear your teacher and fellow students. It also allows you to block out any background noise that you may have in your own surroundings. Headphones are also essential for preventing the uncomfortable echo caused when a video is played and the microphone sends back the recording from your device’s speakers. Another way of preventing this echo if you can’t get hold of headphones is by muting your microphone when the audio or video is playing.
Use a microphone
Have you ever noticed yourself shouting at the computer screen when in class? Perhaps you’ve noticed someone else in class that’s always louder than the rest? It’s actually very common to raise your voice when communicating online and it can lead to more than just annoyed neighbours if you do it for prolonged periods. Plugging in a microphone gives you the assurance that you are being heard by the rest of the class because of the close proximity of the device to your mouth. If you’re spending a lot of time in online classes and videoconferences, using a microphone means that you can avoid straining your voice by shouting when communicating online.
Firewalls, VPNs and antivirus
If you use a corporate computer, it may well be configured with a firewall and VPN. Whilst this undoubtedly serves to keep you safer online, the flipside is that it can cause a wide range of connectivity issues, as it seeks to block what it incorrectly deems “dangerous traffic» the attempt to connect to your camera and audio coming from your online class. Temporarily disabling your firewall or VPN can work wonders for the stability of your online class experience. Antivirus and antimalware software sometimes cause issues too, sp safelisting the website of the platform you use can sometimes deal with these issues. Temporarily disabling firewalls and VPNs can also have a positive effect on your connectivity to the class. But whilst this may allow you to connect to your class more effectively, it also leaves your computer open to unwanted connections, so always remember to reactivate any disabled software as soon as you have finished class.
Whatever your opinion on Google or the Chrome browser, the reality is that it is the go-to browser for web development. What that essentially means is that the vast majority of websites and applications available online are designed and optimised for Chrome. Although many are also designed to work with other web browsers such as Firefox or Opera (depends on the website or platform), having Chrome installed in case things don’t work in your browser of choice is a good bet for making sure that you don’t miss out on class.
Understand how the platform deals with your internet traffic
Having video in your classes uses a lot of data. This is because your computer needs to upload your moving image constantly and download the video that other class members are uploading. How this is managed depends upon the settings and format of the “backend” of the platform. One way is that all participants (peers) upload the data to a central server and download the videos of all users at once. These same people also upload to the central server, putting less strain on each individual connection as this strain is borne by the central server. The other way is that all peers upload their own data to each participant and download the corresponding data from each individual peer, such that the data being sent and received by each node (technical talk for computer) is exponentially larger (see image). So what this clearly means is that your online class is going to put a large strain on your internet connection. Sharing your internet connection with others at home who enjoy watching online videos and online gaming is going to create a problem for each person trying to use the internet, with latency issues likely to cause a lag for all users. So bear that in mind when it comes to planning ahead for your class.
Some platforms “intelligently” detect when your internet connection is flagging and as a result automatically reduce video quality, all the way to completely disabling your video, quite rightly placing most importance on the voice communication remaining stable. Other platforms offer the ability to manage your video quality directly, whilst all platforms offer the ability to disable video, a key function if your internet connection is consistently unable to maintain a stable video stream.