Digital Skills for the E-Learning Age
While laptops and tablets are increasingly common in the classroom, distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought about a new dependence on these technological tools. It has also been a new opportunity for adults to observe how well children navigate the hardware and software provided to them. Over the last ten weeks, I have been talking with my educator friends and professional contacts about how technology challenges have popped up in ways that we did not expect. We have all noticed that our tech-native students need more support with computers and tablets than many of us adults knew. Below are some categories where most elementary children need some additional assistance from parents and tutors as they continue to navigate this new distance learning world. Even once we return to a more typical schooling format, it may be worthwhile checking in during homework time to make sure that your child is appropriately supported in the following areas.
Though we ask children to type often, it is a skill they are not always comfortable with, particularly as schools do not always provide keyboarding instruction time or delay that instruction until years after students are expected to use computers regularly. A common challenge for most of my students is typing with capital letters: Using the shift key is not intuitive for young people who have learned to type on phone and tablet screens, and they may not know the difference between shift and caps lock.
What to do: Consider typing software or typing lessons.
I ask children to copy (or cut) and paste between documents and online learning platforms frequently. Some online school assignments and assessments also assume that students know this skill. Being able to easily move typed text is also a helpful revision tool that writers can benefit from using as early as the third grade. Yet, a lot of children do not know the ctrl+c and ctrl+v shortcuts. (I usually teach them only to copy and never to cut, as it is easy to accidentally delete and permanently lose text from the clipboard after cutting it.) If students print at home or at school, knowing the ctrl+p shortcut is also useful. The last shortcut that I have found invaluable when working with children is the find function, ctrl+f. This is one I use during online research to quickly find a topic on a webpage with a lot of text. It is also helpful when a child cannot find a particular sentence or phrase within his or her own document.
What to do: Assist your children with a few assignments or free-choice projects and show them how these shortcuts can make working on the computer easier.
Social media, messaging, and entertainment apps have notifications, which are not always intuitive to control. When I am working with students, I often hear various alerts coming from their computers. Most of my students are not trying to seek out distraction during our interactions. On the contrary, they are often embarrassed and frantically searching for a way to shut off the noises. In general, younger folks need guidance setting up preferences. They then need help creating tech routines to close unnecessary programs and turn on do-not-disturb functions.
What to do: Sit down with the devices that your child uses and check the settings for all of the apps and software. You may have to search with Google or DuckDuckGo to learn how to manage everything. Make sure to ask your child what he or she is using regularly because there may be Web-based services that are not obvious to you.
A few minutes before online classes or Zoom meetings, check on the computer or tablet that your child will be using. Make sure that unnecessary programs and extra browser windows and tabs are closed. Help your child to exit out of messaging and calling applications like Facetime, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and similar.
On the best of days, it is easy for children to get involved in what is on their screens and forget to keep an eye on the battery level. Distance learning may make battery monitoring even more challenging, as it requires multi-tasking. As well, Zoom video chat windows can obscure battery monitoring icons when they are in full-screen mode.
What to do:
Battery management is easiest when children use the same device for academic work and use it in the same place. That way, when they need the power cord, it can also be located near their workspace. Zoom and other video chat platforms default to full-screen mode. Help your children to change their settings so that they can see the battery monitor on their screens while they are working. Remind students to look for a good stopping point once they see the battery has reached a 10 percent charge so that they have a chance to plug back in before the battery is fully depleted.
Digital file organization
When teachers hand papers out in the classroom, we spend a lot of time talking about whether those papers need to be retained and, if so, where they need to be stored. We print long-term reference materials on colored paper and put them in page protectors. The digital world does not offer the same visual cues. In fact, we adults often forget to give guidance about where to store computer files. I have seen several students’ Google Docs folders over the years, and they are often disorganized. In some cases, I have known students to have two or more versions of the same document saved in more than one account. Of course, this leads to trouble remembering which version is the most current.
What to do: When children have had little experience with tangible file folders, digital file folders are not always intuitive. If your child’s teacher has not provided guidance about creating folders, file naming conventions, and document versioning, then consider stepping in to assist with document organization. Perhaps spring cleaning becomes a digital experience as well as a physical experience.
In a typical year, students have Google Classroom accounts, Blackboard accounts, and multiple textbook log-ins to manage. It is so easy to lose track of important URL’s, usernames, and passwords if they are not stored in an organized way. During research projects and distance learning, teachers are depending on an even greater number of educational websites as a means of sharing e-books, videos, and math activities.
What to do: Show your child the bookmark function in his or her preferred browser. Model the importance of bookmarking school-provided websites on first visit so that they will not be forgotten. If your child has started to accumulate at lot of bookmarks, help to set up appropriate folders. Equally important, help your child to learn a safe way to store passwords, like a password manager.