Optimize Your At-Home Technology for Remote Learning
by iFoster | September 16, 2020

Back-to-school season is upon us, and while it looks very different for most, there are steps we can take to still feel prepared in the new normal. We’re walking you through the steps necessary to optimize your at-home technology for remote learning as one piece in a three-part series. Follow these steps to make sure you have the right equipment and it’s set up properly for your student to have an effective, safe, comfortable and focused learning environment.

What is a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is basically a tablet with a keyboard, and it functions best when it’s connected to the Internet. There is no built-in software, like Microsoft Office, on a Chromebook. Similar to your smartphone, you download apps from the Google Play Store to your Chromebook to complete tasks like typing documents and creating presentations.

iFoster and the California State Chancellor’s Office tested the Chromebooks we selected with the standard Canvas-Zoom digital learning platform that all Community Colleges and most High schools use to ensure that it works.

What apps should I download to my Chromebook?

We suggest downloading the following free apps from the Google Play Store:

  • Zoom
    • The majority of schools are using Canvas as their learning platform with Zoom.
  • Google Docs
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • Microsoft 360
    • You should have a student login.

Is my Internet connection effective to stream classes?

It’s important to understand the type of Internet connection you have, so let’s discuss the differences first:

  • High-Speed vs. Throttled Data: You need high speed data to stream video – including Zoom classes, YouTube videos, movies, etc.

You may have 5G, 10G, 20G, 30G or even 50G of high-speed data. It’s important to note that you do not have unlimited high-speed data. An unlimited data plan means that after you use up your high-speed data allocation for the month, you’ll switch to throttled data – resulting in a drop in Internet speed.

Let’s understand your Internet access options and what that means for speed and ability to stream classes

Option #1: Internet in the house via a cable and a modem will provide you with the strongest Internet access. When you go through another device, like a WIFI router, Internet speed will always degrade. It will degrade faster the further you are from the router, or the more walls and doors between you and the router.

  • Best Solution for Online Classes: Plug your device directly into your modem and don’t use WIFI.
  • Good Solution for Online Classes: Sit as close to your WIFI router as possible.

Option #2: Internet via hotspot or a smartphone with hotspot was not designed to provide high-speed data capable of streaming classes.

  • Best Solution for Online Classes: Stream classes on your smartphone and take notes on Google Docs on your Chromebook. If you use your smartphone as a hotspot to stream onto your Chromebook, you’ll eat up all of your high-speed data.
  • Good Solution for Online Classes: See the Best and Good solutions under “How do I stream classes” below.

How do I stream classes?

There are multiple components to ensuring you have the ability to stream classes. It’s not just about your technology or your apps – it’s also about your Internet connection.

To stream classes:

  • Download the Zoom app to your device
    • The majority of schools are using Canvas as their learning platform with Zoom.
    • Zoom works best using high-speed data and will automatically shut down certain features if you’re not streaming using high-speed.

Things to know about streaming classes:

  • A single, 1-hour, interactive Zoom class (where you are using your video camera, taking notes, chatting) can eat up nearly 600 MB of high-speed data.
  • A single, 1-hour, non-interactive Zoom class (your video camera is off, you aren’t chatting or making notes) uses ~270 MB of data.

Because of the difference between interactive and non-interactive Zoom classes, these best practices will help you maximize your connection while still remaining engaged.

  • Best Solution for Streaming Classes: For lectures you just need to listen to, don’t stream them live. Download them and watch them on your device.
  • Good Solution for Streaming Classes: Limit the amount of interactivity. Turn off your camera if you don’t need it, don’t use the chat feature unless it’s necessary, and don’t use Zoom to take notes.
  • Good Solution for Streaming Classes: Don’t use a hotspot to stream classes unless you absolutely need to. Hotspots have a cap on the amount of high-speed data they use, and many will stop working once that cap is reached.

How do I create, edit, and share word documents and presentations?

There are many tools available for creating, editing and sharing documents and presentations. These are two popular options.

  • Option #1: Microsoft 360 offers Word, PowerPoint and Excel. You should have a student login to help you access it to create, edit and save documents. If you don’t have a student login, please contact your teacher/professor, Guardian Scholar of Foster Care Liaison to get your login.
  • Option #2: Google Docs offers both online and offline use, similar to Microsoft 360. You can work easily with other people, editing the same documents at the same time online. Some formatting and fonts are different between Microsoft 360 and Google Docs.

A note about offline use: For both Microsoft 360 and Google Docs, if you make edits or changes while offline, your online version will only update the next time you connect to the Internet.

Common technology errors experienced during distance learning

My device or video is too slow.

  • You may have used your high-speed data allotment and your connection has been slowed by the carrier until next month.
  • Your Internet connection is weak. Move closer to the WIFI source.
  • You have too many apps running at the same time.
  • You are using bandwidth intensive options within an app (like the video function in Zoom).

My device is running out of memory. Chromebooks typically use flash memory vs. a hard drive, which makes them smaller, lighter and have a longer battery life. This also means less can be stored on them.

  • Use cloud storage or removable storage to save files, images, etc. to conserve the flash drive for apps.
  • Delete apps you no longer use.

Explore the iFoster Portal for more resources that will help with all things back-to-school. Reach out to us at with any questions!

Explore the other two posts in this three-part series on successful at-home learning.

We’re here to help.