IT's Impact on Education

Study: Device Quality Impacts Remote Learning

Broadband access and speed aren’t the only technological concerns for students engaged in remote and hybrid learning. The quality of the student device itself also plays a key role, according to a new study.

According to a report released by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), an association for IT leaders in K–12 education, two factors significantly affect the experience students have with remote learning: the age of the device and device specifications.

According to the report: “… [U]pload and download speeds during online classes/meetings can vary significantly by the age, type, and quality of device used. Students that were provided with older and less powerful equipment had an inferior experience than students with newer devices. Students that received newer devices with limited specifications (e.g., memory and processor) also had more challenges than students that were provided with devices with better specifications.”

The effects aren’t just perceptual. Researchers looked at data from students using the same internet service provider and noted that throughput was actually lower in the case of students who had inferior devices even though they were on the same network.

Some of the factors that impact the quality of the learning experience include, according to the report (all bullets quoted verbatim from the report):

  • Type and speed of processor

  • Amount of memory

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU) utilization

  • Number of applications running at one time

  • Quality of WiFi antenna and signal strength received

  • WiFi standard used and access frequency

It’s worth noting that the researchers found that, beyond replacing devices or purchasing upgrades, there are steps IT departments can take to improve device performance, such as safe-listing the sites and services that deliver students’ at-home learning materials and online class sessions so that performance isn’t hindered by a network filtering product.

The report also noted that data analytics are critical for assessing student device performance. According to the report: “School districts need sophisticated information and data systems to adequately manage home connectivity and ensure students are provided ample resources to learn. With access to this type of adequate data analytics, the participating school districts have been able to work with ISPs, application service providers, families, and community resources to address identified obstacles to adequate home internet access. Without actionable data, school districts may make ill-informed judgements, exhausting limited financial resources. In addition, many school districts continue to use basic methods of data collection and analysis, like spreadsheets. Districts that have advanced data and analytics available are better able to make quick, well informed strategic decisions.”

Some other suggestions from the report:

  • Include internet speed data with other student data “to determine the impact on student participation. This requires extending the industry-recognized Ed-Fi Data Standard and providing a standard API, which could be used for a variety of purposes. For example, before assigning an intervention to students, the school district should have data available to determine if the student has appropriate internet access to participate in the intervention”;

  • Work with meeting software providers “ to provide aggregated Quality of Service (QoS) data at the student level to assist in identifying students that are experiencing issues during online instruction.”

The complete report, Home Internet Connectivity Study, is freely available on CoSN’s site.

See also: Landmark Study Calls for Increased Bandwidth for At-Home Learning.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .