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Tech Tips: Back-to-school advice in unprecedented year

This is an uncertain time for many families as our kids go back to school under extraordinary circumstances. But innovative use of technology can help us handle the unique challenges we’re facing this year. Here’s how to give your computers a checkup before the school year begins, and how to integrate new technology your child may receive into your home network.

One major difference this year is the shortage of technology, especially webcams and laptops. If you’ve been unable to find the equipment you need, there are some workarounds you can try. For example, an old phone, tablet or laptop with camera can be turned into a webcam. Even digital cameras can be put to use. Several manufacturers including Nikon and Canon have updated their software so that certain models can be used as webcams.

Older devices may not be able to run the latest system software, but you’ll still want to make sure they’re running the most recent versions they can support. I suggest you use antivirus programs that still receive active updates, and web extensions to block malicious sites.

Next, let’s make extra back-to-school backups. Drive image software is great for this. You can make an exact copy of your computer in its current state, including system, apps and data. Then, if it crashes, all you have to do is restore from the drive image instead of having to
reinstall from scratch. Combined with your everyday backups, this can get you out of a real jam. Don’t forget to test your backups, too.

It will be easier to set up your child’s school computer if you optimize your network first. Slow networks might need to be evaluated for upgrade. Again, equipment stocks may be low, but there are still good deals to be found. If your router is more than a few years old, a replacement may do a world of good for performance. If you can’t replace your router, see if it has updates or settings which might improve speed. Wireless networks also can benefit from relocating the router to increase signal strength.

Your child’s school should provide information about how to connect their technology to your home network. Most schools have frequently asked questions and other resources on their websites, if you need help. It’s beneficial to take notes on any configuration settings, in case you need to reset things later.

It’s helpful to teach your kids how to keep track of their login information from school. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how to create and maintain strong passwords. After all, they’ll need to do so as adults. Remind them that they should never reuse passwords or
share them with friends.

The new school year is the perfect time to go over your family’s internet safety rules. Even preschoolers aren’t too young to learn that they shouldn’t give out their name or address online. You’ll find additional help for parents and kids on my Tech Tips blog, including internet safety guides, backup strategies, troubleshooting tips and more.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design, and business writing services. Visit her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com to receive the latest consumer tech news by email.

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