Not so long ago it seems, a single laptop or desktop computer with an attached printer in each home was more than enough to meet the needs of an entire family. A little juggling of schedules was adequate to overcome any conflicts that might arise among family members. In recent years, though, technology has become more central in completing homework and facilitating parents working from home, while at the same time, our homes and entertainment experiences have become far more internet dependent as well. Very recently, the remote working and learning requirements brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic have brought to the forefront the importance of being deliberate and thoughtful in planning our at-home technology environments. Ensuring that all family members have the appropriate spaces, technology, and capacity to complete their daily activities has been both essential and at times challenging.
To help address some of these challenges, here are a few simple guidelines for families to consider with respect to their home technology environments. While not an exhaustive list, the items listed below are some of the most important, and attention to them will provide the most benefit for all.
This is the single most important consideration. As more and more devices in the home share a single internet connection, the strain increases on available bandwidth as determined by the contract with your Internet provider (Verizon, Comcast, etc.). In particular, the increase in streamed video for remote classes and meetings places a high demand on bandwidth. To conserve bandwidth, consider turning off video when possible for meetings and classes and rely exclusively on audio. Turn off devices that are not necessary but may be consuming internet bandwidth, like streaming audio services. While not using a high amount of bandwidth, every little bit helps. Use an online application to test the speed of your internet connection. If you continue to experience poor performance on your device, it may be worthwhile talking to your provider about options to upgrade your service.
Most households use wireless services to connect the many devices in the home to the internet. Frequently, though, your internet router does not provide good coverage throughout the entire house, and there may be many spots with weak or even no signal where it would be beneficial to use connected devices. A network extender can assist with this problem. These can be readily purchased through technology retailers, but their configuration and location are important to maximizing their usefulness. Poorly placed or configured extenders can actually worsen network performance, so be sure to get technical assistance from the retailer or your internet provider first. Also, be sure to enable access security features on your wireless network. You don’t want to be the internet provider for your neighbors.
Although more and more documents are exchanged and submitted electronically, printed copies of materials still play an important role in our lives. While having a multi-function device that can print, scan, and copy may seem like a luxury, it can be of great value in facilitating work and school activities. Most are now capable of wireless connection and can be placed anywhere with sufficient wireless signal. Consider placing it in a location that is accessible to all but where the noise will not disturb others in the household.
Identify locations where your devices can be conveniently charged when not in use and, preferably, can be plugged in during extended use or overnight.
A couch or bed may seem like a comfortable short-term location for completing some work, but it is not ideal for long stretches of sustained work or studying. Identify specific spaces where each family member can work which has good lighting; available power; sufficient space for textbooks, notebooks, and other resources; and comfortable ergonomics.
In a fully remote environment, everyone frequently needs to be working simultaneously. Each user will likely need his own device in order to complete work and assignments in a timely way, meet necessary deadlines, and participate in scheduled activities like classes, meetings, or webinars. Consequently, it is often simply impractical for family members to share computers.