As summer comes to a close, parents everywhere are preparing to send their kids back to school according to the guidelines set by their local school districts. While many of us parents thought that remote learning would be temporary — and were waiting to hear what local school boards would decide for the 2020-21 school year — it’s clear that many of us are in for another full year of remote or hybrid learning. My sons, who attend a public school in Cambridge, MA, will be doing distance learning along with the rest of the 4th-12th graders. I recognize this is not the case for everyone. The friends I have with kids going back in person, while sounding relieved, also recognize how fragile and temporary that arrangement might be.
So how can you, as a parent, be more prepared for school to begin in just a few weeks with remote learning in the mix for the long haul? One crucial element is your technology preparedness— to make sure that your child can do their best work when they are home.
An important note: it’s also necessary to recognize that not everyone has the resources to provide the below items, and there are always ways to modify these suggestions based on what is available to you.
1. Networking: Make sure that your network is shored up and that you have strong enough connectivity to handle multiple video meetings happening simultaneously, throughout the day. Ensure that you have both a strong and reliable network connection, and use a wired connection whenever possible, which likely means getting some ethernet adapters for everyone’s different devices. Unlike our wireless remote work stations, if the kids are on video conferences all day, build their work stations around a wired connection. By doing so, both your work day and the kids’ school day won’t be interrupted by spotty internet connectivity or poor audio quality, and video conferences won’t cut out.
To optimize wifi, consider reviewing recommendations from PCMag or Lifehacker to learn how to boost your signal. Another way to guarantee strong connectivity is by using a VPN (virtual private network) connection. VPNs allow remote users to still gain access to their company network and, in turn, access files and resources that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise open. In addition, VPNs add another layer of security ensuring your files, documents, and IP stays secure. If you do not have these connectivity options in your home, find the best spots for your local public city wifi or connect at the local library. Many school districts are also offering free wifi hotspots to families who need them, so make sure to check with your school about assistance programs.
2. Equipment: Fuze has offered many recommendations on the right headset to use for your adult remote work setup. For kids, they need a comfortable headset that is compatible with their school device, that allows them to participate in class actively, and for older kids, looks cool. We’ve found some suggestions here as a starting point. For over the ear and for ear buds, I like these from Skullcandy. If your kid is a gamer, try out your gaming headset as well. They are made for engagement and, if compatible with your school’s device and video conferencing tool, might be a great choice that you already have in the home. The bottom line is that any headset is better than using computer audio. The last thing you want is your kid being the one constantly muted due to background noise.
Similar to connectivity, I also recommend choosing wired when choosing a school headset which loses cool points with older kids but guarantees clear audio. Incompatible headsets are one of the top issues we deal with when deploying Fuze to companies. This issue can ruin a communications experience so make sure you test out headsets ahead of the school year starting to find what works for your students when home.
3. Dedicated Space: Since it appears that we are going to be invested in distance learning for an extended period of time, it’s necessary that we try and make our home spaces as comfortable as possible for the kids. If your situation allows, create a dedicated space for each child that is outfitted with a comfortable chair (with good back support and a proper seat cushion), as well as the equipment they need (laptop, headset, wired connection etc). If you do not have a dedicated space you can use as a “classroom,” you can turn a spot at the kitchen table into a workspace with a comfortable seat or cushion! In my house, the kids and I (and our puppy) are all in the kitchen together. For the kids, we bought two gaming chairs that move back to the Xbox after school hours, and I am upgrading the end chairs at our dining table to swivel chairs that can do double duty. Since our crew tends to move around throughout the day, I’ll also be placing laptop trays around our softer seating areas for individual work when not on meetings.
Every parent I have spoken to, whether their kids are starting back to school in person or remote, feels like they need to prepare for remote learning and apply the lessons learned from the spring experiment. While we as parents continue to work, all of us are trying to do right by our children and I hope a few of the suggestions above are helpful. They are born from our experiences at Fuze creating great work-from-home spaces for our customers and can be applied for better remote learning experiences as we head into fall.
Good luck to all my fellow parents out there— whatever your school situation looks like— and please reach out if you’re looking for support.