If I had asked you this time last year what you would be doing to prep your kids for school in 2020, you probably would have mentioned this like paper supplies, backpacks, binders, pens and clothes. Nobody had any idea how drastically different things would be less than a year later. Today, schools around the world are closing their doors during the COVID-19 crisis. Students from kindergarten through graduate school are now being asked to learn online. It's big a change for everyone, and your shopping list likely looks a bit different now than it did previously. Having the right technology in place can help with the transition.
Make sure you have the right devices
While the old family desktop may work in a pinch, you may want to consider setting up your student with their own, newer system. This is especially true if you are lacking a computer running a newer version of Windows as there may not only be comparability problems, but security risks as well.
One popular thought among parents is to get their child an iPad to use for school. While tablet devices can work great for video conferencing, they can be a nightmare for typing up essays or term papers. As a result, we typically recommend a laptop/desktop instead. Chromebooks are a popular, albeit somewhat limited, option due to the fact that they are very inexpensive compared to modern laptops. A good laptop on the other hand, when well cared for, can easily take a student through multiple years without breaking a sweat. Be sure to consider these factors when looking for a system if you need one.
Office software is not just for the office.
Your student may have been using the Microsoft Office suite of software at school. If you don't have Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint at home, you should check if your school is providing licenses or free software. Many universities and colleges do but some K-12s are now doing so as well. If not, buying a subscription to the online Microsoft 365 package allows you to pay monthly or yearly, at an affordable price.
Another option is to use Google's Gsuite set of tools. Some schools have already been utilizing Gsuite as a way of allowing students to collaborate on projects. Teachers may accept links to Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. Gsuite is completely online so your student can access their work from any device with a web browser. It is also free for personal/student use which is a lifesaver for those on a tight budget.
Teleconferencing and the new Virtual Classroom
Many schools that are moving exclusively online are doing so using popular web conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype, Teams or 8x8. These platforms utilize microphones and web cams to allow students and teachers to connect. Many desktop systems do not come with either by default so you may need to look at picking up those items. While most webcams will get the job done, we do recommend using a headset instead of any built-in microphones. This will help limit distractions as well as make sure your student can hear and be heard without adding a bunch of background noise to the meeting.
While we're talking about it, here are a few other best practices:
- Join calls from a low-traffic setting with simple, non-distracting backgrounds.
- Ask others at home to avoid downloading, streaming, or backing up while the student is live online.
- If possible, connect to your router with a network cable, if that is not possible, try to be as close to your router as possible. This will help ensure a good quality connection.
E-learning is great, but there are some security concerns that come along with it. As mentioned above, many schools are using popular platforms like Zoom and Skype to conduct online classes. Cyber-criminals have taken notice and there are a number of fake websites that have been set up to look like official sources. In addition, they are emailing fake links to bogus "school meetings" designed to steal credentials. When downloading any conferencing software or joining a meeting, make sure you're going through the official sources.
In the same vein, remind any students learning from home that they need to keep their username and passwords for both their web meeting accounts and school accounts private. This is a lesson that never gets old but it bears repeating.
This is also a good time to review your Wi-Fi setup:
- Make sure your router's admin login is not the default one it came with from the factory
- Hide your Wi-Fi network from public view
- Ensure your Wi-Fi network has a strong password that isn't easy to guess
- Ensure your router is on the latest firmware
A strong focus on learning
There's one more thing parents and guardians might consider. At most schools, the computers prevent students from going to certain sites or downloading files, but you may not have the same blocking and filtering set up on your home devices. You can set up a similar system using services like OpenDNS and some settings tweaks on their devices.
If you have to share a computer, you can set up a student-specific user profile to:
- Prevent your student from getting distracted during learning
- Limit exposure to malware and other threats
- Avoid them accessing any of your work files
If you're shopping for a new computer for your student, look for one that comes with Windows 10 Pro. There are additional settings and configuration options with Pro that are not available in the Home edition which allow you to further limit what can be done on the system on a per-person basis.
Setting up for a new kind of school year is different but it doesn't have to be hard. If you or someone you know needs some help with making sure they're ready to tackle the "new normal" school year, give us a shout.