Tips from the Road: Getting Access to Class for the Online Learner
By Aj Dionne
Student, American Military University
Online schooling gives us a lot more freedom than a traditional college or university would. We all take advantage of the time aspects of that freedom, but most people still do their school work from home, or a coffee shop. What happens when it is time to take a family road trip, or if you travel for business? As a long haul truck driver, and a full-time student at AMU, I want to offer some tips to help you out.
In the increasingly digitally connected world, Wi-Fi is almost everywhere now. Most budget hotels offer free Wi-Fi. Some of the more expensive chains offer internet for a nominal fee. Wi-Fi can be found at coffee shops, bars, and fast food restaurants. All of the major truck stop chains have wireless internet that can be purchased by the hour, day, month, or year. RV parks also tend to offer Wi-Fi service. Airports commonly have wireless service as well.
Another item to think about is signal strength. Places like truck stops and RV parks often have the routers in the main building. Depending on your distance from that building, you may not be able to hold the signal or find it at all. Your internet speed can also be affected by this distance. My solution to this problem was to purchase a Wi-Fi signal booster. They are available for around $40. It works on the same principle as a cellular booster.
I also keep a mobile hot-spot through my cellular provider as my back up, but doing all of your school work through this device can get expensive. As most people know, watching videos or uploading large files such as videos will burn up your data allowance faster. I use it when I have to upload a paper and I cannot get to a Wi-Fi location.
Some things to keep in mind when using public access Wi-Fi spots. You will want to have strong antivirus and firewall protection. Some of the brands that have served me well in the past are McAfee, Norton, and Webroot. AVG is a good free option. The most important thing is to keep your antivirus software up to date. With paid services there is often a yearly cost. Most antivirus software will update in the background once you get online. It’s also a good best practice to scan your computer once a week. Encountering one of these virtual intruders is about as common as running into a real pickpocket. The chances vary with location. I have never been hacked, but I always play it safe.
Privacy and environment control are issues when doing schoolwork on the road. When in a truck stop I tend to find a quiet corner somewhere. For noise control, I bought a good pair of head phones to help block out distractions.
Reading and Tech
Your choice of equipment can also make a difference. I load my textbooks onto a tablet for easier access. If I have to read a few chapters of history, I do not need to carry around my laptop and all its accessories. I can just carry the tablet! My computer bag contains the normal things for my laptop, as well as my tablet and a spiral notebook. I always want to be able to write something down for later reference.
I try to do as much schoolwork offline as I can. I will often do my research in the truck stop and then return to my truck to write my papers. This is an especially good tip, especially if you’re on the road for a family road trip. Do your research at restaurants and then write the paper when you are away from internet access.
One last tip. Monitor your power usage. If you are running off the battery in your laptop, plugging things into the USB ports, like your phone, will deplete your battery more quickly. Also the more programs you run will affect how long your battery will last. When in a restaurant, if you want to work, ask the hostess if there are any tables available with power access. Most vehicles these days have a power invertor built in. This will be evident by an 110V plug inside the car. If you have an older car, you can buy a small 125 Watt power invertor that will recharge your computer. This invertor plugs into the 12V plug in your car. Take any advantage you can to charge your technology for school every chance you get; even when you are not working on them.
Keeping these tips in mind will allow you take full advantage of attending an online university. Being able to access your classes anywhere and anytime you want is one of the greatest benefits of attending college online. The internet freed us from the campus. Now let the wireless revolution free you from the desk. Conduct your classes wherever you want to be.
About the Author
Aj is a long haul truck driver, and a full-time student in the Emergency and Disaster Management program at American Military University. He has been using laptops on the road for the past 12 years.