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Considerations When Working With Remote International Students

This article borrows from the work of many members of the DePauw community, as well as from similar guidance posted by other schools, including Colby College and Franklin and Marshall.

Because of network restrictions in place in China and other locations, members of the DePauw community who work and learn while residing in those places may find a more-limited set of resources available to them. We offer this guidance as you consider options when remotely working with international students. In all cases, it is essential to maintain close, frequent contact with students who may experience restrictions. Some of your remote students may experience no challenges when accessing course content; these students may prove to be a valuable ally in helping to share valuable delivery-techniques and network services. Students who have challenges may find solutions through their peers who have successes.

You may find additional pedagogical guidance from DePauw's English for Academic Purposes:

Time Zones

India is 9.5 hours ahead of Eastern Time. China is 12 hours ahead. Consider the time-zones that your class may reside in, and your strategies for synchronous work. Poll your students to determine location if necessary.

DePauw Network Resources

DePauw offers a VPN at remote.depauw.edu, and a virtual campus desktop computer at desktops.depauw.edu as ways to help address some network access challenges. More information on using these resources is located in DePauw’s Knowledgebase article on International Student and Off-Campus Access. Note that the virtual campus desktop computer may take as long as two minutes to “boot up,” but once started, provides reasonable throughput.

Internet Barriers (especially 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.

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.

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. Several DePauw students have told us that they have used VPNs at home.

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. 

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.

How to Access Zoom in China

Some students (and others) may have difficulty connecting to the Zoom US site (https://Zoom.us) while in China. As a solution, Zoom provides an alternate Zoom desktop and web clients for persons in China.  Details are available at How to Access and Use Zoom in China.

Other International Network 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.

Other Considerations

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 retool this content to adapt to low-bandwidth scenarios (FITS 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. In these cases, consider using low-bandwidth tools like emails, text documents, Moodle forums and Google Docs.

Last updated: 28-Aug-2020