Accessing Online School With Limited Internet Access

Distance Learning

Since we are all trying to work online during the COVID-19 school closures, I'm seeing a lot of questions about how students with limited internet access can get to what they need. Here are a few options to help with that before you give up. These will not cover every use case, but they will help some. This will help if your internet access is limited, or if it's intermittent (e.g., you can only get it if you drive to a school parking lot and download everything there).

This is not comprehensive, but it's a decent place to start.

Use a Different Browser or Browser Settings to Reduce Data Usage

Opera Turbo ScreenshotThis will help whether your connection is slow or you have a data cap. I used Opera as my primary browser for years, and both their desktop and Android versions have data usage optimizers. They have a tool called Opera Turbo that will reduce your data.

This works by using Opera's servers essentially as a VPN. There are security concerns with this of course (I talk about that in my tech guide for students on the VPN page), but the benefit is that they get the page you reqested, optimize it and shrink down the graphics and videos etc., and then pass it to you at a much smaller size.

Even if you don't have a smart phone, you can use Opera Mini for basic phones. It also has the data saving features.

If you don't want to use a different browser, Google Chrome has a "lite mode" that does essentially the same thing. Your iPhone/iPad also has a Low Data Mode that you can turn on that will stop apps from downloading things in the background.

Useful Links for reducing data usage:

Use an AdBlock Extension

Blokada ScreenshotIf you use Opera, it already has an ad blocking too. However, every other major browser has an adblock extension that you can use. It will reduce some web pages by over 80% - a huge amount of the data that your phone or computer downloads is linked to advertising, and not to what you are trying to access for school. The adblocker will make some pages harder to use and you might have to turn it off on a case by case basis (e.g., for news articles assigned by your teacher), but it will make the whole internet faster and slow down your data usage.

I've used AdBlockPlus and I use Blokada on my phone (an Android), which has the added benefit of blocking most ads in all of the apps that I use as well.

Useful links for adblocking:

Saving Pages for Offline Viewing

This will work for a limited number of cases if you have internet access intermittently. Most websites today are only useful because they're connected to a background database. For example, Canvas needs access to its database to do anything useful and allow you to turn in websites. However, if you're just looking to save copies of directions, or articles, or other static/non-video resources, you can use your browser's save function or an extension to handle it for you.

Extensions

This is the most convenient option. Some browsers have something like Pocket built in now, but if yours doesn't you can install it easily. Essentially, anything you save using the plugin will be stored on your device for offline viewing later. I personally have used Pocket, but there are many choices (some are listed below).

An added benefit of several of these tools is that they strip the page of all the unnecessary stuff; adds, navigation, menus, etc., all gone. All you have left is the content you needed in the first place.

Print as a PDF

This is not the most reliable option but it works in many cases. On most computers, you can print a page as a PDF and then save it somewhere on your computer. Check the PDF that was generated before you rely on it, though, as many websites use architectures that break this feature (e.g., you may end up with just a box with part of the article on one page, not the whole article you needed).

Manual Saving

Chrome, Firefox, and most others act the same way; if you go to the menu and select Save Page As... (or right click on the page and click Save as... on Chrome), you will be asked where on your computer you want to save the page. Make sure you have "web page, complete" selected.

Option two is a good, old-fashioned screenshot. Current versions of Firefox allow you to just press Ctrl + Shift + S and then choose what you want saved as an image.

Useful links for saving pages for offline viewing:

Call Your Provider for Access Upgrades

During the COVID-19 related school closures, a large number of internet providers (both traditional and mobile) are offering free upgrades, eliminated data caps, or discounted access, especially for students. Take a look at your local options and see who has the best options for you. Our school district has put together this page with some options here on the Kenai Peninsula.

That's it for now.

If you have any questions about any of this or have other options you'd like included, feel free to drop me a line.