A top notch tutoring organization offers insights into the benefits and drawbacks of this emerging approach to the age old practice of tutoring.
Guest post by Nathaniel McCullagh.
Simply Learning Tuition is a leading source of private tutors for students in London and the UK. Their tutors and qualified teachers are selected from leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.
Over the last twelve months, we have received an increasing number of requests for online private tutoring. Before investing significantly in a dedicated online tuition platform we commissioned research to measure the effectiveness of online tutoring and identify the main strengths and weaknesses of online as a tuition platform.
The results showed some clear strengths and weaknesses of online as a tutoring platform. We will use this information in the development of our dedicated online system and will report back on progress.
The following data came from a survey of 200 tutors approximately 20 clients who have received online tutoring.
The tutors’ preferred platform is Skype – with shared screen and whiteboard. It is free, convenient and user friendly for both students and tutors. Although Skype recommend a minimum connection speed of 300kbs, several tutors found that connections were not working effectively even at this level. Additionally, one tutor experienced feedback through their Skype headset, which was not rectified by removing the headset. We suspect this was a hardware issue.
The advantages of online tutoring are easily summarized
- Tuition is provided by the same highly qualified and vetted tutors as regular one-to-one tuition but there are no geographic limitations and tutors do not spend valuable time travelling to their client.
- Children are increasingly using online learning within schools and university – becoming familiar with this style of learning is useful training for the future.
- Online tutoring can be provided at a lower cost than face-to-face tuition.
- Several tutors travel widely in their academic careers – this causes gaps in regular face-to-face tuitions, which online sessions can overcome. This allows strong relationships to be maintained between student and tutor.
Their research highlighted several potential limitations with online tutoring
- Unless both student and tutor have writing tablets, it is impossible to convey information by ‘scribbling and doodling’.
- Students require some IT knowledge, this means it is not always suitable for younger children.
- Students must have a strong internet connection and be able to download Skype.
- Online tutoring does not work so well for questions that require long or detailed answers or calculations that are normally done on paper.
- If the student needs significant motivation, or is disorganized and often fails to turn up for tutorials, the tutor is unable to ‘bring them to the table’. Parents will need to check that their children are online when they should be!
- With online tuition, parents don’t meet their children’s tutors face to face; the relationship between parent and tutor is therefore diminished. This, for many parents is an important part of the tuition process
- Online tutoring leaves less room for, ‘tutor intuition’. Unless the tutor can see how the student is working out questions as they go along, it is hard to see what they are thinking. This raises the possibility that the student has got the correct answer, but is using the wrong calculations. Even watching how a student moves their pen over their paper can help the tutor understand how they are working.
- Graphical explanations can be difficult – it is much more time consuming to create a graph in e.g. Excel than to sketch one on paper.
- Students and tutors do not like talking to people they cannot see – even if it is on a computer screen.
The results of our survey helped us to create a best practice model for online tuition, which Simply Learning Tuition will incorporate into a dedicated online tuition platform:
- Tutors should ask students to email partially completed work or question sheets to their tutors in advance.
- The tutor will in turn email a copy of their notes to the tutee in advance of the tutorial.
- If possible, tutors will focus on questions that can be answered orally. Until writing tablets become commonplace, tutors will aim for there to be no requirement for the student to show workings out or sketches to the tutor. The Skype text facility allows short sections of text for e.g. grammar exercises to be written out.
- All tutors will use webcams so that the student can see who they are talking to. This remains optional for the student.
- Students will book an optional short chat with parents at the beginning or end of each tutorial.
The future of online tutoring
Tutors and parents were excited about the future of online tuition for several reasons:
- Touch screen technology should allow both student and tutor to make hand-written notes in real time.
- With the increasing use of smart phones and ipads/tablets it is likely that online tuition will become more ‘portable’, further enhancing it’s usefulness.
If you have any questions about the results of this survey, please do not hesitate to contact Nathaniel or Katie at Simply Learning Tuition (Studio F7 Battersea Studios, 80 Silverthorne Road, London, SW8 3HE, United Kingdom, +44 (0) 207 350 1981).
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