Rethinking Zoom and Digital Literacy

A penguin figure looks at a zoom page that has four penguins joining in.
Penguin Books or Club Penguin?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: During the pandemic I got used to watching my grandchildren over Zoom so that their parents could work from home. Since the kids were older, ages  6 and 9 back then, it worked out well. Now they are back in school and I am missing our time together on Zoom. I am not sure how to continue that tradition. They live a couple of hours away so I don’t see them often. Am I right to be rethinking zoom? Grace

Dear Grace: This is a great question for our digital times! Zoom is now helping to create a new world of hybrid work. Can it also create a new future for hybrid grandparenting? Before the pandemic, families at a distance might have used Skype or Facetime to stay in regular contact but now they may want to add Zoom to that mix. They are rethinking Zoom.

To answer your question I asked a friend, a self-proclaimed “power” grandmother for her suggestions. If I had more time I would have asked some tweens to recommend activities too.* Here are some ideas my friend shared. Note that these are not the same ones you would do moving the screen around, like demonstrating to the grandkids how to make cookies from scratch with the front-facing camera turned on. That sounds yummy but you can’t recreate that immersive smell of baked goods.

Shop Time:

The first suggestion was shopping: if your grandkids have a birthday coming up or a similar occasion when they get a special gift, go online with them to shop. You both log into Zoom, and then from another window search the shopping sites together. Perhaps it will be for toys or clothing, or something else. The point is that you will know exactly what they want and what size to get. The downside? There will be no surprise when it comes in the mail. And, you don’t get to buy local and support the stores in your community. 

Second, this power user recommended that you schedule a regular game that you can play together on zoom.  Since you grandparented during the pandemic you know about this. But for the sake of digital literacy try to stay within the Zoom app, and explore features that are native.  Pictionary works well with Zoom. In this case you use the whiteboard in Zoom to draw something, and take turns guessing what it is. Meanwhile, the grandchildren and you gain skills in using those online drawing features. 

Feature Time:

Let’s build on the digital literacy skills with that whiteboard! Since your grandkids are getting to the age where they are independent users of technology you might turn the tables here. Ask them to help you, the adult,  discover new features in the Zoom app. Ask them to teach grandma as if she is a five year old! They may show you features that they like, say overlaying music or you may find that you all wear Occulus glasses as you Zoom!

Book Time:

The last recommendation for how to Zoom together is the most important one. it is an area where conscientious grandparents can instill important habits. Children today spend less time reading. Pew research finds the share of American 9 and13-year-olds who say they read for fun on an almost daily basis has dropped from nearly a decade ago. It is at the lowest level since the mid 1980s. With your grandkids, plan out your book selections for your next Zoom meetup. It will require visits to the public library in your community or a download of the material. Since your grandkids are too old for picture books, take turns reading the pages out loud together. If they balk at doing this, find articles in the press or stories on the internet that are timely and two-sided. You can prepare for these shared sessions as if they were a book club or debate team: is the material helpful, is it objective, and who is the target audience? It may take some effort to find reading choices that check off these boxes, but it’s well worth the effort.

When the next generation, your grandkids, think about connecting, it will likely be over a platform that offers both voice and video- not just with the voice communications you grew up with.  Now is a great time to help them gain more digital literacy and prepare to use technology responsibly. Get prepared to enjoy the time together and  explore it through their interests and needs.

*Dear Smartphone, the column, will be on hiatus next week for Spring Break. Look for the return the first week in April.