Teaching Remote International StudentsDepending where your students are located, you may experience unique challenges. The following suggestions draw on the work of colleagues at Colby College, Franklin and Marshall, Union College and others. We thank them for their collaboration.
Due to internet restrictions in place in China and other locations, members of the Skidmore community working and learning in these places will find a more limited set of resources available to them. Below is 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 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, Content Accessibility and Internet Access Barriers
- Times zones: China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Time; Vietnam is 11 hours ahead; India is 9.5 hours ahead
- A NOTE ABOUT CONTENT: If you have students from China in your course, as best as you can, make sure the content you are sharing is acceptable in China. (Ex: Some films are illegal in China)
- China’s “Great Firewall” blocks access to many sites and online tools commonly used in the United States. For example, Google and G-Suite products (note: this includes Google Docs, Drive, Hangouts and the Chrome browser), Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Onedrive, Vimeo, Wikipedia, the New York Times, the BBC, and many more are blocked. Here you will find a current list on Wikipedia of sites and online tools blocked in mainland China.
- Most “edu” sites are accessible in China as well as learning management systems (LMS), such as Brightspace, Canvas, Moodle and Blackboard. However, they report occasional issues with connectivity or latency issues, often due to local connectivity limitations. For more: Brightspace Learning Environment – Connectivity Issues in Mainland China, April 2020.
- 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. Some faculty choose to place restricted materials (e.g., newspaper articles) as PDF’s in their LMS along with links to recorded classes.
- In response to government restrictions and out of concern for the safety of students in China, some faculty have decided not to teach or post potentially controversial content in their courses. Other faculty, out of concern for academic freedom, resist adjusting their courses and instead note in the course description and syllabus that potentially controversial content will be included.
- A note on Lucy Scribner Library Resources: Library patrons use a single proxy server for access. To date, we have not encountered access issues with the library and its resources, so as long as students can get to the library website, they should be fine. However, we are not absolutely certain that all the resources the library subscribes to are accessible in China.
- If a student believes their access to Skidmore academic resources are being restricted, they should submit a ticket to the IT Help Desk. If they choose to use a VPN to potentially improve access, we can assist with that.
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.
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. Following are some suggestions for navigating this.
- While you may be creating media-rich content for your students, it might be necessary to re- tool this content to adapt to low-bandwidth scenarios. 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 an online quiz through the LMS.
- 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:
- PDF or text documents
- Text messaging or phone calls
Zoom Access and Security: Some Best Practices
Note: Your choice of suggestions below will vary with your individual teaching style.
- Lock your virtual classroom: Give students a few minutes to file in and then click Participants at the bottom of your Zoom window. In the Participants pop-up, click the button that says Lock Meeting. (If they lose connection, they will be readmitted to the Zoom session.)
- Control screen sharing: Screen sharing privileges are set to “Host Only”, so that by default the instructor is the only one who can share content in the class. However, if students need to share their screen, the instructor can allow this by clicking the arrow next to Share Screen and then go to Advanced Sharing Options.
- Enable the waiting room: The waiting room feature is automatically turned on by default. When enabled, you have two ways for participants to be allowed to enter the meeting,
- All Participants will send anyone to the virtual waiting area, where you can admit them individually or all at once.
- Guest Participants Only allows known students to skip the Waiting Room and join, but sends anyone not signed in into the virtual waiting area.
- Learn how to make changes to the Waiting Room
- Lock down the chat: Instructors can restrict in-class chat so students cannot privately message other students. Control chat access in your in-meeting toolbar controls (rather than disabling it altogether) so students can still interact with the instructor as needed.
- Keep your recordings secure: Your class recordings can be set up to automatically move from the Zoom cloud storage directly into a private location on the Ensemble streaming server. (For assistance, contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Important recommendation for instructor and students: Do not post pictures of your virtual class on social media or elsewhere online.
For additional information, please refer to Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Classroom, (March 2020), which is where most of the above suggested practices came from.
Using Zoom to Connect with Students in China
In order for students in China to use Zoom, they must go to https://zoom.com.cn/ to download a special Zoom app. Unfortunatly, due to location, for students it is not as simple as clicking on a meeting link from his or her professor. They will need to take the following steps:
- Install the app from https://zoom.com.cn/
- A few minutes prior to the meeting time, they will need to start the Zoom China app and enter the meeting ID into the app. (The meeting ID is a nine (9) digit number, which is usually at the end of the Zoom meeting Join URL (i.e., https://skidmore.zoom.us/j/123456789).
- Note: Students do occasionally run into connectivity issues playing back Zoom recordings hosted in the Zoom Cloud. We recommend you implement the workflow to have Zoom recordings automatically be saved to your directory in Ensemble. You can then share the link to the recording directly through the Ensemble integration with theSpring. (Contact email@example.com for assistance.)
The Use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
- Use of VPNs 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.
- It is true that many people in China use VPNs, even though this use may not be strictly legal. 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).
- Before opting to use a VPN, it is important to ask, why would a student need VPN access? Most of our online teaching resources do not require that would have no need for VPN access. can often be selectedused at Skidmore for teaching and learninhas had some success with our students gaining access over VPN, although it can be hit or miss. Sometimes it works fine, while others either cannot connect or their speed gets slowed to the point of futility. IT can place these students into a special access group to try and improve their access. If needed, please submit a Help Desk ticket including the name of the student.
- 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, putting themselves, their families, and friends at risk, and because stable access to VPNs for students in China cannot be assumed.
Articles and Publications
- How to Teach China this Fall– China File: A Project of the Center on U.S. – China Relations at Asia Society, August 20, 2020>
- China’s National-Security Law Reaches Into Harvard, Princeton Classrooms– The Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2020
- AAS Statement Regarding Remote Teaching, Online Scholarship, Safety, and Academic Freedom – Association for Asian Studies
- Coronavirus Outrage Spurs China’s Internet Police to Action – New York Times, March 16, 2020
- Brightspace Learning Environment – Connectivity Issues in Mainland China – April, 2020
- Is Zoom Safe for Chinese Students? – Inside HigherEd, June 12, 2020
- Censorship fears and vampire hours: Chinese international students, Zoom, and remote learning – SupChina, June 30, 2020
- Guidance or Faculty: Getting & Staying Connected with Int’l Students – Cornell University, April 2020
- Open letter to US (and other) universities in light of Zoom’s revelations about collaborating with the Chinese Communist Party – James Millward, Georgetown University – June 2020
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