Back to School Tech for Better Hybrid Learning

Support your children’s learning with these technology finds.

This fall, most kids will not be returning to the physical classroom full time.  But, with the right technology in place, students can still connect with teachers and peers to learn and stay in touch.

Getting your children wired for learning effectively at home doesn’t have to break the bank.

“We know that staying connected to teachers and classmates virtually is going to be a challenge this school year,” says Megan Lareau, Senior Manager of Solution Strategy for Staples Connect. “Having the right technology is key and will keep your child on track.”

The good news is that you may already have some of the tech you need to set up your home-learning space. Use this list to determine how you can build on what you have and make smart choices about what to buy. 

  • Computer. Start with a desktop computer or a laptop. Laptops provide the benefit of letting your child easily work from anywhere and move around throughout the day. Many schools rely on Chromebooks, a laptop that provides access to online learning through Google apps. They come in many sizes, so if you want to get a larger keyboard or screen for your child, you can go beyond the basic model. If your child likes to work at a desk and doesn’t need something portable, you can get a powerful desktop computer for a reasonable price. You’ll then need to buy a monitor and keyboard. For younger students, a tablet or iPad may be easier to use than a laptop and sufficient for school demands. Don’t forget a tablet stylus, which can help your child learn handwriting.
  • Webcam. If your child’s computer doesn’t have one built in, you’ll need to pick up a webcam, so they can join video classes. Lens size and autofocus are two features to consider. If your child will mostly be stationary during calls, autofocus may not matter. But, if they’ll be moving around, showing objects up close and doing things that will require the camera to change focus quickly, you may want a camera with autofocus. Also, consider the webcam’s lens size, which impacts how much light a video image gets and the size of its field of view. Small may be just fine if your child, and not their background, needs to be seen. Lastly, if your camera will also be your microphone, stereo microphones will provide better sound.
  • Headphones. It’s safe to assume that all kids will be on Zoom or another type of video conference for much of their school day. So, headphones are an important part of a productive school setup. Make sure your children have comfortable earbuds or headphones they like to wear. There are all kinds of headsets, including some with memory foam for comfort, so have your child try on and test headphones to find something they can comfortably wear for a long time. Other details to think about are noise cancelling features and Bluetooth. If you choose corded headphones, consider what devices they’ll be plugging into. Your child may want to connect via a variety of devices, depending on the class or assignment.  
  • Router. With multiple people learning and working from home, you’ll want to provide a secure and easy connection in all parts of your house. Look for a Wi-Fi router that will support all your devices. You may require multiple routers to get the job done.

Beyond the essentials, there are a few other tech accessories that can improve your student’s home learning experience:

  • Blue light glasses. Because your child will be spending a good part of their day staring at a screen, considers a pair of blue light glasses to protect their eyes. Some experts claim the lenses filter the light coming from screens and reduce eye strain. Blue light is also reported to affect melatonin, which helps you fall asleep, so blue light glasses may be helpful if your child needs to go from screen to bed.
  • Chargers. If you’ve been sharing one charger for multiple devices, now is the time to pick up extras to ensure that everyone is powered up and ready for class. Make sure you have a dedicated charger for each laptop, tablet or phone your students are using for school.
  • Monitor, mouse and keyboard. As home-based learning stretches on, kids may benefit from using a large monitor with a keyboard and a wireless mouse. You can use a docking station to connect most laptops to a monitor and a keyboard. These devices can improve the ergonomics of your child’s setup and help them sustain their energy. Don’t forget to get a mousepad, too. With all the designs and colors available, a mousepad is a budget-friendly way to personalize a workspace.
  • Printer. Your children will have assignments to print out, so be ready. Your choices will include whether to get a printer only or an all-in-one printer that includes scanning and copying. Also, think about whether you need wireless printing capabilities, two-sided printing or other features. The other big choice for most people is whether to buy an inkjet or laser printer. Laser printers cost a bit more, but toner cartridges last longer and may be more affordable than ink in the long run. Inkjet printers work well if you do limited printing and plan on colorful print jobs. Either way, stock up on paper and ink or toner to avoid last-minute problems.

You may not know your exact needs until the school year is underway, but you can learn a lot by looking at your kids’ upcoming classes and gathering information about anticipated learning requirements. Contact teachers to ask about any specifics that will help you. Whatever you put in place now can be added to or adjusted as the school year proceeds.

Looking for additional resources? Use these home-learning checklists to make sure your student has everything they need to start the school year off right.