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Working with Remote International Students


This post draws on similar guides posted by other colleges and universities, in particular Colby College and Franklin and Marshall College.

Due to internet restrictions in place in China and other locations, members of the Hamilton community working and learning in these places will find a more limited set of resources available to them. Here are some information and options for you to consider in working with international students remotely. As always, the best approach is to stay in close contact with a student who may be experiencing these restrictions. Your students may find that they have no problem accessing your course content, but, if they cannot, please ask for their guidance; they may have a service or delivery technique which has worked for them in the past.

 

Practical concerns

Time zones:

  • China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Time;
  • Vietnam is 11 hours ahead;
  • India is 9.5 hours ahead.

Internet access barriers – China

China’s “Great Firewall” blocks access to many sites and online tools commonly used in the US: Google and G-Suite products, Netflix, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, OneDrive, Wikipedia, the New York Times, the BBC, and more are blocked.

Information on certain topics, articles containing specific words, and even images may also be censored. Certain political, social, and religious topics may be extremely difficult for students to research through standard means in China.

VPN usage in China is regulated. VPN technology is not illegal; however, only VPNs that have been authorized by the government are fully legal, and those are largely intended for corporate use. Selling unauthorized VPNs in China is illegal. The most commonly used VPNs in China are not “Chinese” – they are based in other countries, and, in fact, their websites and mobile apps tend to be blocked within China.

Most discussions of VPN legality in China emphasize that users of VPNs are unlikely to be arrested, but there are accounts of unauthorized VPN users being fined. VPN users may face additional consequences if they are engaging in speech considered unacceptable (ie, on subjects that would be subject to censorship).

It is true that many people in China use VPNs, even though this use may not be strictly legal. A number of Hamilton faculty and students have told us that they have used VPNs at home.

However...

VPN services can be interrupted or blocked. Increased restrictions and instability on the most popular VPNs in China were reported in February.

Students returning to China go into a two week quarantine period where they may not have access to the technology and connectivity that they usually do. One of our students reported being quarantined in a hotel that had very poor Wi-Fi.

It is crucial that we do not require students to use a VPN to access their coursework. This is both because their VPN use might be considered illegal, and because stable access to VPNs for students in China cannot be assumed.

If a student insists that they would rather use Google products and they are fine with a VPN, and you would also prefer to use tools like Google Meet and YouTube, go ahead and do so. However, strongly encourage the student to have a backup plan.

Other common international internet access barriers

Geoblocking: Not all streaming services are available in all countries, nor is all online media and content available in all regions. Where legal, these blocks can sometimes be circumvented with a VPN, but Netflix, Hulu, and the BBC iPlayer block VPN users.

Strict regulation and internet censorship may also affect other countries where students may be residing. We can definitely anticipate issues for Chinese students, but it is very possible that other students will experience challenges in accessing resources or conducting research.

Students in many countries – including the US – may face difficulties due to unreliable internet connectivity, insufficient bandwidth, or data caps.

Internet connectivity barriers (US and international)

When teaching remotely, some students or faculty may not be equipped with a fast enough internet connection to support technologies like web conferencing or video streaming.

While you may be creating media-rich content for your students, it might be necessary to retool this content to adapt to low-bandwidth scenarios (ITS can help). For example, you may have video recorded an hour-long lecture which shows you, your PowerPoint slides, and has integrated quizzing along the way. An alternative could be to: Share just an audio recording of your lecture; compress your PowerPoint slides and send over email; and utilize a low-tech quiz using email, a Word doc, or possibly a Moodle quiz.

Asynchronous technologies are a better choice for low bandwidth and inconsistent connection situations. Simple text, images, and even some small audio files are best when a user has a very slow internet connection. Tools are the most compatible for these users:

  • Email
  • PDF or text documents
  • Google Docs
  • Text messaging or phone calls (GroupMe is popular among students)

Content used with permission from Colby College and Franklin and Marshall College.

 

 

 

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Last updated: August 21, 2020

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