Tech Sense: Back To School 2021 By John Bell
Updated: Sep 26, 2021
Back to School 2021
School starts again shortly, are you ready for the new reality? We are not certain where our students are going to be. They may be in the classroom, wearing masks, or a variant of the COVID virus may force them back home in an e-learning environment. Some parents may be choosing to have the kids learn at home to avoid the issues with protecting their families against the ongoing pandemic. Younger children are in a different situation than their older siblings. The current vaccines have not yet been approved for children under the age of 12. This means that this age group is more vulnerable to spreading COVID in the schools and bring it back to their homes and families. This age group will also be my focus for this year’s Back to School column.
The Basic Home Learning Environment
For in home learning your child will need access to a computer, with keyboard, mouse, screen, speakers, a web camera, and a headset with a microphone. They will also need access to the Internet with enough available bandwidth to participate in web meetings. This setup will allow the child to see and be seen in the virtual classroom environment. Headsets allow fewer distractions from noises in the student environment and in the classroom. Inexpensive wired headsets can be found online for less than $15.
The computer can be a laptop or a desktop. Laptops already have most of what is needed built-in and are easy to move to different locations within the house or to take to a babysitters or other locations. Desktops are good for a fixed study area.
Before you decide on a computer purchase, make certain you know the requirements of the school or online learning program your students are going to be using. Most modern programs support web access for all of the learning materials and will work with Windows or ChromeOS. School like ChromeOS because it is easier for them to maintain and support. It seems that the Chrome Browser is the common browser choice for whatever operating system you may be using.
Used, refurbished, and hand-me-down computers should all be fine as long as they are not too old. Windows computers should be able to support 64-bit Windows 10 Home.
The Learning Area
If your student is learning from home, I believe it is best to have an assigned learning area. This should not be in their bedroom but should be in a public area of the house that can be kept quiet during the school day. This might be a playroom, a family room, or even a spare bedroom with the door left open. You want to be able to peek in and see what the child is doing without disturbing them. I believe it is best not to setup the area in their bedroom because it is too difficult to control access to the computer and observe the child especially after school hours. I also believe that there should be a mandatory computer break at the end of the school day and reasonable limits on computer usage at other times.
Protecting your Child
As I mentioned previously, it is good to be able to observe what a child is doing on the computer. This is one means of protecting the child. Computers connected to the Internet can be a dangerous thing for children. Children 12 and under should not be using most social media sites on the web. The CIPA and COPPA laws were created to help with this, but they are poorly enforced. However, the school systems take the responsibilities for protecting your children from the Internet seriously. But when the kids are not in school, the job is left to the parents.
If you are using Windows, make certain you have a working Anti-virus and malware protection program installed and make sure to keep it up to date. Windows has one built-in. No matter what operating system you are using, I also recommend using a DNS system like OpenDNS that can automatically block dangerous websites. OpenDNS can be configured for your home router or each individual computer. Best of all it is free. Go to https://www.opendns.com/setupguide/#familyshield and follow the instructions for setup.
If you are also using the Internet for work and you have a router that supports a guest network (most newer routers do) consider putting your child on the guest network to limit access to the rest of your internal network. Most guest networks automatically isolate the guest users from other devices on the network.
If the Firefox browser works for you, use this instead of Chrome. Firefox does a great job of protecting user privacy. This means your child will be safer online. You can also periodically review your child’s browser history to see what they have been visiting on the web.
Back to school should be a fun and exciting time of year for both parents and students. Unfortunately, the COVID situation has added a lot of stress and we are all making difficult decisions about what is best for our families. Be safe and look out for the safety of those around you. It is not just about protecting ourselves but also protecting our communities and neighborhoods.