Latency- what it is and why it matters
Did you ever watch the old Star Trek and hear Captain Kirk say, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Then there was a poor pixilated image of who ever was being transported to the ship from whatever planet they happened to be on.
Have you ever thought about what happens when you connect remotely to a student? Your computer opens a port which sends audio files and video files which have a ton of data. That data gets taken apart and sent through the air (wifi) under the sea (those gigantic cables which connect North America to Europe for internet purposes) through satellites (orbiting the earth and beaming things from one country to another)
When I think about all of the things that have to go right for a connection to happen, my mind is totally blown.
There is a lag between devices when signals get sent. Simply put, it takes time for a signal to travel around the world. Often it gets broken up when it leaves your device and reassembled when it enters the device of who you are communicating with. This lag is latency.
Visual files are bigger and slower than audio files, which is why you will sometimes be able to hear your students even when their video freezes.
Some work arounds that have helped me:
- Internet Midi and electronic keyboards- Midi files are pretty small, which is why programs like Time Warp Technologies' Internet Midi can work even if Skype disconnects. You can check them out here.
- Turning off video- sometimes the video is so bad it's distracting it's easier to have an audio lesson. These can be really effective and turn students into good listeners
- Having great graphics for screen sharing. I have multiple versions of scale exercises in screen friendly sizes which I share. Since there is no movement, graphics can be a weapon against latency.
That the internet is working as well as it does and that we are able to connect with the ease that we are is a miracle of modern technology that I am thankful for daily. Especially this last year, even when it isn't working perfectly.
It’s OK to get frustrated with it sometimes. I do. Then I do what everyone who has had an internet connection or computer fail happen:
I turn everything off and restart-