With the University of Toronto planning a mix of in-person and remote classes this fall, many students will be accessing at least part of their studies online.
That could include everything from live sessions to pre-recorded lectures and assignments, depending on the instructor and the time zones where students reside.
As is the case with all technologies, occasional hiccups will require troubleshooting — particularly for students connecting from outside the Greater Toronto Area. Fortunately, there are many people at U of T working to ensure students have the best possible remote learning experience. There are also plenty of online resources.
Here are six tips to navigate some common challenges associated with remote classroom learning:
1. Know your Wi-Fi
The most common obstacle students experience with remote classes is the lack of a solid Wi-Fi connection. Poor connections may be due to the quality of the network in your area, but it can also be related to the specific equipment that you use. For the most reliable results, try connecting directly to your modem or router with an ethernet cable.
If you want to test your connection speed, check the website of your local Internet provider or try this U of T test.
2. Keep your computer and web browser up to date
It’s always a good idea to keep your computer’s software up to date to ensure your machine is protected from threats and runs without glitches. Similarly, most remote learning tools have minimum operating system and browser requirements to ensure the best quality of experience.
If you have an older computer, or if cost is a barrier to attaining the right equipment, contact your college or divisional registrar about possible bursaries or other solutions.
3. Work offline, then submit
One of the biggest aggravations faced by students who are studying remotely is having an assignment suddenly disappear before you can post it. While this may seem like a glitch with Quercus, it usually has to do with a lost network connection.
Hence, it’s strongly recommended that you type – and save – your work on your computer and then copy and paste it onto the website when you are ready to submit it. This ensures that you will always have a copy of your work in case something goes wrong.
4. Plan ahead for time zones
Be aware of course requirements that may require real-time, scheduled activities – particularly if you are accessing you studies from a different time zone than Toronto’s (Eastern).
Check your course syllabus or ACORN for information on the delivery mode of your courses. If a course includes live sessions that are incompatible with your time zone – i.e. a class that occurs in the middle of the night – ask the instructor or TA if they can make arrangements for you. That could include recording lectures so you can download and watch them at your convenience. Your instructor may also be able to time shift assignments or tests, but you must contact and inform them about this early in the semester.
5. Plan ahead for online exams
If you are taking courses that have online exams, especially e-proctored ones, it is important that you tell your instructor or TA at the start of the course that you are located outside of the GTA and may face issues with your computer, network or the time zone. That way they will have time to work on a suitable accommodation.
6. Use a VPN to access blocked U of T content
There may be places in the world where you are unable to access Quercus or other tools for a variety of reasons. So, U of T has expanded access to its General Purpose VPN for students, which should allow you to access what you need for your studies.
However, VPN use may be legally regulated in some areas. If that’s the case, students should connect through a legal VPN service. U of T is looking to create a list of known and legal VPN services by location.
It’s also important to understand that using a VPN to access video content, including pre-recorded or live courses, could impair the quality of the stream. Some U of T students outside Canada have reported improved video quality via VPN by taking a series of steps in the following order: turn on the VPN: launch web browser; visit the page with the video link; and, finally, shut off the VPN while keeping the browser open.
Tell your instructors or TAs that you are accessing the course from a remote location so that they can help come up with suitable alternatives.
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