How to Provide an Environment Conducive for Your New Home Schooler
Many of us are now dealing with the reality that we have children who will be attending school online. This will likely put a strain on parents to provide adequate wireless coverage, internet bandwidth and a practical computing platform for their children. It can be overwhelming to identify and understand the logistics of remote learning at home. I will explore the technical options and opportunities available to parents. This will enable parent to provide their students with a productive and resilient learning environment.
Internet speed requirements
Most students will leverage online classrooms and conferencing technologies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts while attending school. These video conferencing technologies can really impact the overall performance of your internet when more than one person is utilizing them. Understanding internet service speeds is important to make a good decision when choosing a plan.
Most consumer internet is available with high download speeds and lower upload speeds. It is often marketed as 100Mbps down and 5Mbps up. Understanding how much bandwidth you need can be confusing. I have found that a good rule of thumb for estimating the necessary bandwidth is to take the number of concurrent users utilizing Zoom or whatever virtual meeting software and multiply by 2.5. The number 2.5 represents the necessary speed needed to attend a meeting leveraging 1080P HD web cameras. So, if two students are attending a video call then they would consume on average about 5Mbps (2 x 2.5) both download and upload speed concurrently. Most consumer broadband plans would accommodate that need.
The only type of internet service that will not support two or more users is DSL where service numbers look more like 40Mbps download and 1.5Mbps upload. Most cable or fiber internet providers offer even better speeds than what my examples have shown. If you have a plan that doesn’t mathematically fit our equation, then you should upgrade the service or find a provider that can support the speeds you need. Keep in mind that it is always better to have more bandwidth than just enough to facilitate your requirement.
Your internet provider will often provide this device for you when you subscribe to their service. The device is often a multipurpose all-in-one and acts as the modem and the wireless/wired router for your home. While these devices are convenient and have a small physical footprint, they often leave a lot to be desired with regards to wireless performance and features.
Additionally, your provider is likely leasing this device to you which is something I do not recommend participating in. The cost to lease this underwhelming device is often 10-20 dollars a month. A cost that you will pay for in perpetuity. By the time the provider replaces that device you will have payed for 2 or 3 of them outright. An alternative is to purchase your own wireless router and modem separately. I do not recommend purchasing a device that does both functions.
A great resource to find what device is best for you is to look at purchasing guides for modems and routers. Most of the devices found in the linked guides will service 90% of home users. They will support the highest speeds provided by your ISP and will also provide exceptional wireless coverage to a small or mid-sized house or apartment.
Providing coverage for a large multi-storied house is somewhat of a different story. In that scenario I would look for network solutions that can provide mesh coverage. A product like Aruba’s Instant On series is meant for large houses or small businesses . It has advanced features not found in most consumer network devices.
Regardless of what class of wireless router fits your use-case or budget, make sure to purchase a device that supports at a minimum the WIFI 5 standard or 802.11ac wave 2. Ideally, I would recommend finding a router that supports the all new standard of WIFI 6 or 802.11ax. Purchasing either technology will ensure great coverage in your house. In addition, the long-term support for mobile devices and wireless computers for your student.
Many students are being provided a computer by their school district while for some the burden is shifted to the parents. Depending on the grade level of your student and the type of schoolwork being assigned to them, choosing a computer is a little more straight forward.
For most students, any contemporary laptop or desktop will do. If the computer has an up to date operating system like Windows 10 or Apple OSX 10.8.5 or higher, your student will have what they need. Most laptops have integrated webcams and adding one to a desktop is very easy to do.
For those in the market for a new computer, I do have a few recommendations. Focus on the specs of each computer linked not necessarily on the brand and model number. I prefer HP but you may prefer Dell or any other brand.
- Low-end HP Pavilion 15z-ef100 found here
- Mid-range HP Pavilion 15z upgraded found here
- High-end HP OMEN 15t-dh100 found here
For Apple Mac
If purchasing new is not feasible or possible, there are great opportunities to purchase refurbished computers also. I support this decision when computer expectations exceed available budget. This is especially the case when more than one child needs a computer. I would recommend purchasing refurbished business grade computers. They are affordable and are built to a higher standard than consumer grade equipment.
A few accessories may be necessary for your home schooler to get the most out of online classes.
A few things that may come up will be:
- Headset – for your own sanity and so your child can listen and respond to questions
- Keyboard/mouse set – typing on laptops can be hard for a child with smaller hands because they often inadvertently hit the track pad with their palm or wrist.
- Webcam – not all computers have them integrated. These are becoming hard to find and shortages have happened recently.
- Printer/Scanner – not all assignments are digital and sometimes the teacher will ask you to print a page or two and then scan them to turn them in.
- USB Wireless network adapter for a desktop. Choose one that matches the spec that your router supports– found here
We are all dealing with a very strange and tumultuous time given the pandemic and other national events. As parents, it is important that we support our kids by making their online learning experience as normal and pleasant as possible. We have enough to deal with in the world. Home IT problems should not be added to the list of our burdens. I hope this guide will help someone who feels lost negotiating the decisions for supporting their kids who are transitioning to online learning at home.
Contact Zunesis for more information on remote access solutions.