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Tech Sense by John Bell September 2022: Back to School!



Back to School 2022

School is about to start again, and for the first time in a long time we are expecting a more normal school year with students and teachers both in the classrooms together. So this month we will review what our students need for school.

The Basics

From previous years we should all have a basic computer. A laptop if your student needs to carry the computer to school or a desktop if the computer is setup in a study area in the home. We do not recommend a computer in a child’s bedroom but prefer for safety reasons to keep computers in visible locations so that others can see what the child is doing.

Today the computers are most likely to be either Windows or Chomebooks. Apple tends to be an expensive brand for school use and is less likely to be encountered. All students typically need a basic office suite that includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, and presentation software. Often schools will make these tools available for a small price or even for free. Open-source tools like LibreOffice are available for free.

If your student is using a laptop that is carried into school you may also want to make sure an antivirus solution is installed, even if you have an Apple or Chromebook. Schools tend to be likely places to be attacked by malware. Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is also suggested so your network communications go where intended and isn’t picked off by others.

In any location, a headset or a set of earphones with a microphone is recommended for communications and active learning online without disturbing those around you.

Home Printers

Having access to a home printer can be very valuable for the student. It allows them to print their assignments to turn them in, which many teachers still prefer. Many home printers also have built-in scanning and copying capabilities. There are several common types of printers available. Laser printers can be purchased for under $150. These typically just print in black and white and are single purpose without additional features like scanning and copying. Laser printers typically offer higher print quality, are faster, and less expensive to run and operate.

Inkjet printers typically print in color and usually include a scanning feature that allows documents to be scanned to the computer or copied and printed directly. Inkjet printers are less expensive to purchase but more expensive to operate than laser printers. While inkjets may be found for under $100 the cost of ink is what drives the inkjets printing costs. Many companies sell the printers at a loss because they expect to make their profit in ink sales. Some companies have also been caught building failures into their inkjet printers to shorten their useful life span (shame on you Epson).

It used to be possible to find good inkjet printers for well under $100 but prices gone up significantly in the past couple of years driven by COVID demand for home printers and now a shortage of parts. In general, prefer printers with separate color tanks or cartridge for each color. Black, cyan, yellow, and magenta are the standard colors at a minimum. Avoid the two cartridge printers with one color and one black cartridge, these are the most expensive to operate. Some companies are now making printers with refillable ink tanks. These printers can be easily refilled with ink bottles that are less expensive than typical ink cartridges.

Many current printers come with networking capabilities built-in allowing one printer to be shared across the entire household.

Cameras, Headsets, and Microphones

Most laptop computers come with a camera, a microphone, and speakers built-in but desktops often do not include these items. If you have a headset then you do not need the microphone or speakers, but if you have the microphone and speakers, you still want the headset so others aren’t disturbed by the noise. I prefer a very inexpensive lightweight headset that I use for phone calls and zoom meetings and purchased from Amazon for under $15.

Desktop computers also tend to lack a camera for use to make calls on Skype and Zoom. It is easy to add a USB camera to these computers. A decent web camera can be purchased for under $25. Look for one with a built-in microphone and at least 1280 x 720 pixels or larger. Typically installing the camera is simply a matter of plugging it into a USB port.

For the College Crowd

Most college students find a laptop as the right device to bring with them to the dorm. But these laptops are frequently too bulky to fit on the tiny little desks. A good alternative is to purchase a small tablet for taking notes. Good Android tablets are available from both Samsung and Lenovo for under $150 and can be used to take notes and access the web and email while in class. Small keyboard options are also available, but I find the screen keyboard options are fine for note taking.

That’s it for this year’s back to school column. Have a great school year.

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