Low-bandwidth teaching advice

The potential for students to successfully participate in online and blended learning can be improved by considering technical constraints and learning design. Technical issues such as internet connectivity, packet loss and latency, and the age of hardware and software can act as barriers to successful online teaching. Learning activities which require an immediate response from students can amplify the impact of technical problems. This page highlights some common problems in online learning and teaching and suggests ways to alleviate them.

Use a wired connection

Students should be advised to use a wired internet connection (Ethernet LAN) to improve their internet connectivity and reduce technical issues. However not all students have consistent access to high speed internet so it is important to provide low bandwidth and asynchronous learning materials and activities to mitigate connectivity issues.


Limit synchronicity, lower bandwidth

Some online alternatives to face to face teaching can demand high levels of internet connectivity. For example, webinars are an effective way to replace lectures, but they can be problematic for some students (eg for students with limited connectivity, in different time zones, without access to preferred browsers). Consider alternatives which do not require high levels of immediacy (eg pre-recorded materials with a discussion-board activity). If you need to run live teaching activities offer students lower bandwidth ways to participate (eg for Collaborate - reduce cohort size, limit use of webcam, video and application sharing and ensure students are aware of Dial-in access).


Consider ways to lower the bandwidth of live events like Collaborate webinars.

Understand student engagement

The devices and software students use can also detract from their experience of online learning. Older computers, and some browsers can make tools and materials difficult to use. Staff could consider surveying students to assess their home set up and factor this into the learning design of their teaching. Considerations might include: available hardware, software, network, timezone, access to quiet working space. If staff cannot assess their students in advance of teaching they should look at other ways to track student engagement.


Look at ways to track and assess students’ engagement.

Be clear about contact

Ensure you clearly communicate how students should contact you and what to do in the event of technical issues or other emergencies.

Think mobile

Some students may have to use a mobile device for their learning because they do not have access to a laptop or PC. Most digital teaching tools should be accessible on mobile devices through a web browser. Some tools (Like Blackboard) also have an app which optimises content and activities for mobile devices. However not all Blackboard content can be accessed via the app and teaching staff should review their units to check they are accessible on the Blackboard app.


Check what content is supported by the Blackboard app.

Get organised

A well organised Blackboard space/course will allow students to quickly find what they need. Good design can also make being an online learner easier for all (including those accessing on mobile devices, through a screen reader, or from a low bandwidth connection). The Digital Education Office has developed some quick ways to organise your Blackboard spaces.


Review your Blackboard space using our course design tips.

Provide alternative ways to access key content

Providing students with learning materials in different formats can make online teaching more accessible. Tools like Blackboard Ally are freely available and give students the option to download Blackboard learning materials in a range of formats, including low bandwidth options such as html and audio. If staff wish to they can use Blackboard Ally’s stand-alone file transformer to generate alternative formats of materials to use where Ally is not available (eg China).


Where possible use alternative formats for materials.

Reduce file sizes

Large files can be difficult to upload and download, so consider ways to reduce the size of materials. For example, authoring software often exports content at the highest quality setting. A lot of this data provided is unnecessary or can be ‘compressed’ whilst still retaining a good level of quality of materials.

Microsoft Office

Compressing Images in Word and PowerPoint can make a noticeable difference in file size. Where higher quality images need to be provided, consider providing them separately.



Teaching materials which use videos can become very large files which can make uploading and downloading difficult. The university provides software like Handbrake which reduces file size by compressing the video. Handbrake is available via the Software Centre on University devices or can be downloaded onto personal devices via https://handbrake.fr/.

The Re/Play service also offers adaptive streaming which means that a viewer will receive the video stream with the most suitable bitrate for their available bandwidth, and thus have a “smooth streaming” experience.



Short audio files of up to a few minutes probably don’t need to be compressed as their file size is very small, however you should convert audio to mp3 format for maximum usability. The device and software you have recorded audio with should give you the option to export as mp3 but if you need to convert existing audio content you can use VLC Player. It’s available in the Software Centre on University devices.


Provide audio content in MP3 format where possible.