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6 tips to get your student’s technology ready for remote learning

This year’s “Back to School” season is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. As the global pandemic continues to bear down on our nation, many schools are again turning to remote learning as a way to slow the spread of the virus while keeping families, teachers and workers safe.

This spring, when school districts first closed their physical doors and moved lessons online, we all quickly found out that remote learning was tough. It posed challenges to students, parents and teachers alike, and it was especially hard on families who lacked broadband internet or suitable technology to access online learning.

As school districts now scramble to get laptops and internet access to students as part of a fully online or hybrid learning system, we’d like to share some tech tips to make remote learning a little easier this fall as students begin the new school year.

Set up a dedicated work space & reduce distractions

Many agree that setting up a dedicated space for remote learning is ideal, as it provides your online learner a consistent spot for establishing a routine for at-home instruction. You may not have the luxury of a dedicated desk in a separate room, so the kitchen table can work just fine, as long as you can limit distractions. Ensure the location has a strong internet connection and plenty of light, especially for video calls.

Wirecutter provides some great tips for setting up a dedicated work space, with desk, chair and other gear recommendations (like noise canceling headphones, if you can afford them), as well as other age-appropriate tips and some watch-outs to be aware of (“Having a computer, tablet, or mobile device in the bedroom can tempt your kid to stay up past their bedtime”). 

Buy an inexpensive printer, if you can

Sometimes analog technology is the best technology. You may have set up a quiet, dedicated space and got your child’s device ready to go, but your young learner is still having some trouble focusing. WIRED suggests picking up an inexpensive printer for a child who may be easily distracted or has to share a device with a sibling or parent. Just print out the materials and allow your child to take a break from their screen.

Check parental controls

Whether or not you own the device your child is using for remote learning, it’s a good idea to check its parental controls, especially if this is their first time independently using a computer with minimal supervision. The Washington Post suggests that if you own the device, you should look into Google Family Link, Apple’s Screen Time or Microsoft’s family controls to limit what your child can do when you’re not around, like accessing certain sites or purchasing games. If the device is owned by your child’s school, the district probably has enabled strict controls, but it’s always good to double-check. 

Check out the Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls from Common Sense Media for more information.

Don’t forget cybersecurity & privacy settings

Children are not immune to the threats posed by hackers and scammers looking to profit from the pandemic. The Washington Post suggests that parents set up password managers like LastPass, install anti-virus software, turn on two-factor authentication for your children’s account, if possible, and remind them to never share passwords or post personal information online.

Reboot, restart and troubleshoot

If you’ve ever called an IT helpdesk, you know the first question is always, “Have you rebooted your computer?” Your student’s device is no different. Take a proactive approach and urge your child to save all their work, close each application and shut down their computer at the end of the school day to ensure they have a clean reboot every morning to minimize memory leaks or other issues.

The same goes for your home WiFi connection. Rebooting your modem or router can solve many connection issues. If you’re still having trouble, start with this article on fixing common WiFi problems, or if all else fails, call your internet provider.

Options if you have limited or no internet access

Last spring, millions of families were quickly thrust into a new remote learning reality that left behind many low-income families, especially those who had limited or no access to broadband internet or adequate technologies, leading to a widening achievement and learning gap. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 15% of families with school-aged children lack high speed internet, (the gap is even more pronounced for Black, Latinx and lower income students) and a full quarter of all teens don’t have access to a home computer. The recent viral post of two schoolchildren using the free WiFi outside a Taco Bell illustrates that the digital divide is all too real, and many schools are still struggling to ensure millions of low-income children and students of color have access to the tools they need to learn online during the pandemic.

Consumer Reports has compiled a good resource if you or someone you know is struggling to access adequate broadband internet. It includes programs offered by local schools, libraries, governments and businesses to help bridge the gap.