Life under Lockdown
Staying in Touch
If you can’t meet loved ones or colleagues face to face, how can tech help you feel less isolated – or conduct effective business meetings? Here are some tools.
- The old stuff
- Telephones, email, Facebook. Don’t knock them – they work! Don’t forget to call mum every week just like you used to.
- This is a popular app for smartphones that lets you text chat, voice chat or have video calls so you can see the person you’re talking to. Don’t underestimate how much better you feel after seeing peoples’ faces when you’re cut off from each other. You can use it on a computer too, but maddeningly, you need a smartphone to set it up in the first place.
- Not just an alternative to WhatsApp, this is a video conference tool that lets you have family get-togethers, business meetings and even lessons remotely. Don’t be put off by the reports you my have heard about its security – unless you intend to discuss state secrets it isn’t an issue – but do read Zoom’s security advice. Use a different meeting ID and password for each meeting and don’t publish meeting links on public places like Facebook or you might get ‘Zoom bombed’! It should be pointed out that there are alternatives like Skype, Cisco WebEx and LogMeIn.
Most laptops have built in webcams and microphones, but check yours work before the meeting. If it’s your first time, download and install Zoom in advance. Don’t be the one who holds everyone up because you didn’t prepare. Desktop PCs need a plug-in webcam, like this one (right) that clips to the top of the monitor.
Incidentally, these tools are also a great way to get remote help with your computer problems by sharing your screen with whoever is helping you. But beware scams! Never share with someone you don’t know. If you get a call to say you have a problem, or a caller asks you to install something, just hang up.
With the kids at home all the time it is tempting to stick them in front of a screen for long times, but please don’t use TV and tablets as baby sitters. Kids need real people to interact with and physical interaction with the real world. So get them cooking, painting, doing woodwork, growing plants in pots or the garden – anything where they can get the feel of materials and understand how gooey, bendy, stickable and strong they are (yup, stuff will get broken: it’s the only way to learn). Make your outside time together exciting and educational too: see it as an opportunity for kids to appreciate nature at first hand.
What about the tech, though? Well, Facebook and other sites are full of suggestions for activities at the moment. Be inspired!
TV to the rescue
The BBC is presenting a rich choice of educational programmes from 20 April on Bitesize. Take full advantage of them, including BBC iPlayer and the red button. YouTube carries some educational material too, though make sure you find reliable producers. But again, just looking at a screen isn’t enough. Research shows that people – all people, not just children – learn best when another person engages with their learning, so stop the broadcast every ten minutes or so to ask questions and check your kids’ understanding. Use plenty of open-ended questions as well as yes/no and single word answers so they have to think and demonstrate understanding, not just recall. Record programs so you can view them when it fits your timetable and watch again if you need to. And follow up with activities that build on what they have just learnt. Children learn by doing.
But kids can get techie too. Get them writing games using Scratch, a free drag-and-drop programming environment, and they’ll learn to program without realising it. There are oodles of ideas and projects at https://scratch.mit.edu/
If you need cheap computers for the family, look at the Raspberry Pi. At just £34 each, you can all have one. You can purchase one, or a starter kit, here and here. They come with loads of educational software for free and are good enough for a grown-up to surf the web, watch videos and write emails and documents. But budget for a few extras you might need if you haven’t got old ones knocking around the house, like an SD card, power supply, HDMI cable, keyboard, mouse and maybe screen, though a TV will do just fine.
I haven't room to mention all the wonderful things you can do with a Raspberry Pi, but all the sites above have a wealth of material to inspire and educate.