This school year we did streaming video school for our son’s classes. Here are some things we learned along the way and suggestions for others who are on deputation or furlough and need to travel while still doing school.
This information is for those who are doing video school through some type of streaming program. If you use DVDs for your program then you only need a video player and monitor to watch the videos. This could be a computer, portable video player or a TV and DVD player.
In a nutshell, we simply depended on finding WiFi wherever we needed to do school. Because of the expense of mobile broadband and the fact that we felt we would be in plenty of places with Internet available, we choose to skip the mobile broadband options. When we did not have an Internet connection at the places we were staying we packed up our gear and headed to a local library. Fortunately, every library that we visited for this purpose had a sufficient Internet connection for us to do the classes we needed. And who doesn’t like spending half the day in a library?
There were a few times when having mobile broadband would have been nice, but in each of those cases where getting to a convenient Internet connection was difficult, we also did not have cell phone reception. Mobile broadband would not have helped at all.
General Class Requirements
You need to know if some of your classes are required to be watched live or if they can be watched at any time. Some streaming programs allows you to download a copy of a lesson for viewing offline. Though it was theoretically possible to do this with our video program the downloads never worked and we never even had a great need to worry about it.
I had a friend taking online correspondence classes for his master’s degree. He was required to attend a certain number of live-streaming sessions each week. Even though he was not traveling, his at-home Internet connection was not reliable. He often had to go to a restaurant with his computer to catch a required class. Make sure the program you choose will not be compromised because of traveling.
Usually you need a broadband connection for video streaming. A quick and easy way to test if your connection is fast enough is to watch some videos from a variety of video streaming websites like YouTube, Vimeo or GodTube. If those work well then your Internet connection is probably sufficient.
The program we used required only a 1 Mbps connection. That is pretty slow on a broadband scale. If you have a DSL or cable Internet connection then you probably have all the bandwidth you need. However, a satellite connection may still not be fast enough.
Mobile Broadband – Do Your Research
The wonders of current cell phone technology promises that you can be connected to the Internet from anywhere you can make a phone call. This is by using a data connection through your cell phone provider. Of course this will cost you in addition to your current cellular plan. And you may have to sign a new 2-year contract to purchase the needed equipment.
Before you invest much money into a mobile broadband solution there are a few important things you need to consider.
Will you have a good cell connection wherever you need to travel? This is not so much a question of whether one service has better coverage in general than another. It is more a question of whether there is coverage in the locations where you will be traveling. Any service provider you choose will have some dead areas. You need to be flexible as a homeschooler and choose a video school program that will allow you to miss days occasionally. Of course you will make up those days later if the program allows it.
Secondly, you need to choose a mobile broadband provider that allows you enough monthly bandwidth to watch the videos you need. Many providers say they have unlimited data plans but will throttle back your connection speed after 2.5 GB of data transfer. Some cut your connection completely after 5 GB or charge you an unconscionable rate for going over. Can you watch all the classes you need to while traveling on this bandwidth limitation? If your video school does not say what the average size of a class is in MB (megabytes), then ask them to give you a good guess. You need to know this information so that you can make an intelligent decision about your mobile data plan.
If you do go over your bandwidth cap (the amount of data you can download each month) will you be charged extra for the amount you use? Or will your connection speed just slow down significantly? If it does slow down you probably won’t have enough throughput (the speed of the connection) to watch streaming videos.
How to Connect – Tethering and Mobile Hotspots
While using mobile broadband there are a couple of different ways to connect. Both will require a data plan through your cell phone provider. They will also require some type of hardware. This can be a phone or a special device with which to make the connection.
You could use your cell phone and tether the wireless data connection to your computer. This uses a USB cable to share the data connection to your computer. Whether your phone can do this or not depends on two things: the phone itself and the cell provider. Sometimes a phone is capable of tethering but the cell provider does not allow it, or they will charge an extra monthly fee for the privilege. You will have to check with your provider to see if it is possible.
The other way to make the connection to your computer is by creating a mobile hotspot. Some phones provide the capability to share its Internet connection via WiFi to a limited number of devices. This is called a mobile hotspot. Depending on your phone and carrier you may need another piece of hardware to do this. If your phone is not able to provide the hotspot your cell provider will sell a device to do this for you.
This is a number that will change each year, but the current information is that mobile broadband speeds are between 2 and 7 Mbps. These are numbers I have seen as average numbers. While 4G from Verizon is technically capable of speeds over 10 Mbps, it is rare that you would get close to that number. Remember when the cell provider tells you a speed “up to” a certain number, you should expect to get about half that speed. For comparison my cable Internet connection is 20 Mbps download speed (upload and download are different with the upload being a fraction of the download speed). You can test your own connection speed at SpeedTest.net to see how your home connection compares to average mobile broadband speeds.
If you really do get speeds consistently over 1 Mbps then you should be fine for some video streaming programs. Again, you need to check with your video school to see what their requirements are.
Currently you can figure you will pay at least $60 a month for the privilege of using a sub-par Internet connection. Again, as a comparison, my 20 Mbps download speed at home costs me $20 per month. If I had mobile broadband I would pay at least three times that amount for about 1/4 of the speed.
This is the biggest reason I have not opted for a mobile broadband connection. The cost per month is not justifiable to me for a sub-par connection. I will gladly spend time in a library or coffee shop looking for a WiFi connection before allowing myself to be frustrated with spending the kind of money the cellular providers are asking.
Bottom line is that it is possible to do streaming video school while traveling. Depending on your situation, you can probably get by just fine without resorting to mobile broadband. You can find many free sources of WiFi. Hotels, restaurants and libraries are obvious choices. Often we have done school at the church office where we are ministering.
[Thanks to katielips for allowing me to use the photo.]