WiFi woes in the personal technology classroom

This week MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry moved into matrix mathematics, attempting to use Desmos new matrix calculator. This calculator is not an Android app and thus does not run offline. The students, and the instructor, once again had difficulty logging on and loading pages.  The signal is from an external antenna, and the signal strength registers as quite strong. The problems may be related to load on the antenna rather than the actual signal strength, although some students had signal strength issues.

The above student is intentionally holding up her tablet, she loses signal if she puts the pad on the desk. The cement wall is a sufficient barrier to the line of sight signal. Although I am using a phone released in April 2017, a Motorola Moto G5 Plus running Android 7.0 Nougat, I repeatedly lost my wireless connection, each time my phone having to re-request an IP address.

An attempt to load Schoology in the browser failed. Although I worked for 15 minutes to get to the page I needed to access, eventually the period ran out in the class. Ultimately that is the difficulty: there is connectivity but changing pages can take minutes, as in many minutes. This simply does not work in the classroom. There is only 55 short minutes to get things done. Waiting for a page load is problematic. I would note that campus IT has worked long and hard to improve things for the class, but with the end of the term in sight and the problems continuing, even their best efforts have not been able to make the use of personal technology over WiFi outside of a wired classroom a realistically useful option on this campus at this time.

The odd aspect is that I only need to move over to the south faculty building or the vicinity of the LRC to see a marked improvement in response time and connectivity.

Too, the students are mostly working with basic smartphones. Their units tend to be slow, and their screens small, which add to the challenges of the mathematics in the course.

Where they can, they team up. This permits one to view the text in OpenStax or homework problems in Schoology, the other to work on solutions using Desmos.

Desmos matrix calculator

Although the student evaluations are yet to be done in the course, at this juncture I would not expect there to be a recommendation to attempt this again until or unless the WiFi capabilities significantly improve. While restarting the antenna has helped some, restarting the antenna is a not a sustainable solution towards broader adoption of WiFi in the non-computer laboratory classrooms. For now the personal technology classroom remains tantalizing just out of technical reach.

The external antenna that the class depends upon is perhaps 30 meters from the classroom. Oddly enough, the although the classroom is line of sight through windows to the antenna, signal strength drops in the classroom as one recedes from the windows.

This student has two screens on which to work, which was a real benefit. He has the homework open on his smartphone, and is working problems on the tablet.

The styluses were purchased by the instructor, the students use them fairly extensively and they have proved useful to editing on the small screen smartphones.


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