Improving Academic Performance

Key Reasons to Consider Online Tutoring

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Wed, Jan 04, 2017 @ 04:00 PM


I’ve come to firmly believe the benefits of online tutoring far outweigh the downsides. From online GMAT tutoring to online statistics tutoring to online chemistry tutoring and many other subjects (some of which require a virtual whiteboard, some of which don’t), we have a long list of success stories around delivering private, customized tutoring online.

 

I recognize that for some students, the stress associated with not understanding key concepts and being generally behind in a class can be exacerbated by trying to become familiar with new technology. But I believe many students who have just a slight bias toward in-person and away from virtual tutoring would be well served by re-considering an online approach.


Here are some key reasons to consider online tutoring:

  • With a good internet connection, the online experience can be similar to in-person in that you can "read and respond" to your tutor's verbal and non-verbal cues
  • If you are using a tablet with a pen, writing on a virtual whiteboard is no more difficult than writing with pen and paper. If you are not, simply using a mouse or your finger is not as difficult as you might imagine
  • In some respects, a virtual whiteboard can in fact be better than writing on paper with pen. Why? Some whiteboards can be saved, downloaded, tagged for ease of search, and easily reviewed later.
  • When you don’t have to travel, both the student and the tutor save time and money
  • When you don’t have to travel, there tend to be more times available for a student and tutor to meet
  • In some cases, online tutoring sessions can be recorded, so the student can review lessons to reinforce the concept or approach. This obviously isn’t possible with face-to-face tutoring.

If you have decided to consider online tutoring, there are still decisions to make around how it will work for you. If you are a student, your tutor will take the lead here, but if you have a preference or expectation for the experience, you should of course voice it. Here are some common required decisions when a student or tutor considers online tutoring (along with our general perspective.)

Common decisions associated with working with an online tutor...

Required Decision

MyGuru’s Perspective

Is it important to physically see the other person, or is just hearing a voice OK?

 

Being able to respond to non-verbal cues (i.e., physically seeing the other person’s face) is important, but not critical. For some people, it’s actually a little stressful and they’d rather turn “off” the ability for the other person to see them.

Is screen sharing needed?

 

This is generally helpful, particularly if you need to navigate to a web-site or look at a file in real-time.

Is file sharing needed?

 

This isn’t critical, as simply emailing a file to someone works fine.

Is a whiteboard needed?

 

For some types of tutoring (i.e., reviewing essays, some finance classes, statistics, marketing, etc.) it is not. In many cases, screen sharing is sufficient. However, whenever a fair amount of math is involved, a whiteboard is generally important.

If needed, is the whiteboard going to be physical (i.e., a webcam pointed towards an actual whiteboard) or virtual (a shared screen which both parties can draw on with a mouse or tablet connected to the computer)

 

We prefer virtual whiteboards for two main reasons: 1) both parties can work on the same board at once and 2) the board can be saved and shared via picture or video and reviewed later.

Do you want to be able to record the sessions?

 

Not enough students take advantage of the ability to record a session for later review.

 

So, the above provides a rough outline for the type of experience a tutor or student should seek to create when designing an online tutoring session. But there are two other universally important factors to consider: cost and ease of use. Regardless of your situation, lower costs and ease of use are preferable. If an online tutoring platform delivers all of the features above, but the process of downloading the software and learning to use the system is complex or burdensome, it’s not going to be a good option.

Here are some example well known online tutoring solutions...

We’ve done our research on the range of available options for delivering online tutoring. Each has its upsides and downsides. I won’t go into a detailed review of each available option, but here are some of the usual suspects for you to check out:

  • …and there are many more.

As you can see, there are many options. The best option for a given individual depends on their objectives and preferences. For example, WebEx is great for screen sharing and recording, but has a less functional virtual whiteboard. It can also be a little “buggy” when software is being downloaded by a user for the first time.

Here is MyGuru’s  approach for delivering online tutoring effectively.

First, I should mention that we have a few tutors who are very comfortable with the current approach to online tutoring that they’ve been using for years, and we don’t force anyone to use the approach below. Really, the tutor’s comfort with the technology is the most important factor in delivering an effective online tutoring session. For example, our best online physics tutor, who has a PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago, points his webcam at a physical dry erase board, and works through problems live in that manner with students.

But in general, given the perspectives we’ve shared above, we take the following approach to delivering online tutoring.

Before the online tutoring relationship begins

  1. Our tutors use a RealtimeBoard online whiteboard.
  1. Students require only a Skype or Gmail account for online tutoring to allow for videoconferencing. Students are free to sign up for a free RealtimeBoard account if they like, but it is not required.
  1. Students have the option to sign up for session recording, but require an online Box or Dropbox account to download their session recordings.

During the session

  1. The first session begins with a contact request being sent from the instructor to the student's provided Skype or Gmail account.
  2. After saying hello and beginning the videoconference, the student is then provided a unique RealtimeBoard link in the accompanying chat window to bookmark and use throughout their sessions. This allows students and instructors to keep a running whiteboard of notes for the entirety of the coursework.
  3. Students will also have the option of taking their own notes on the whiteboard using either a tablet and pen or typing into the RealtimeBoard text box.
  4. If the student wishes to be an active participant on the whiteboard rather than just passively viewing the instructor's notes, a brief whiteboard tutorial will commence.
  5. Otherwise, the instructor will begin by recording background information from the student regarding goals, prep work so far, and educational background.
  6. After each session the student and instructor will then pick up right where they left off on the whiteboard creating a consistent narrative of learning that can be referenced until test day.
  7. The subsequent sessions will then commence the same way with the instructor text messaging the student in either Skype or Gchat to ask if they are ready to begin the videoconference, before confirming their entry into RealtimeBoard and beginning the session.

We believe this online system and process provides a level of convenience and recording that is not possible with in-person sessions. Even in a classroom, the whiteboard is erased forever after only so many problems. With MyGuru’s approach to online tutoring, every note ican be recorded for the duration of instruction. In addition to the personalized live whiteboard that can be accessed anytime, students can also take hi-res screenshots of any specific content they would like to highlight. This makes organizing key processes and techniques so much easier to reference later. Additionally, because a computer is directly available it's easy to supplement any lesson with additional online resources (e.g., www.mathisfun.com, which provides a litany of content for those students who need refreshers on how to perform rote calculations such as fractions, decimals, long division or other basic operations that many adults rely solely on calculators for in real life).

A premium full session recording service is also available for students who want a complete catalog of all of their tutoring. For example, busy professionals who desire the flexibility to go back and see exactly how the instructor broke down and solved a particular data sufficiency problem (which is a type of question on the GMAT exam) three weeks ago can purchase this additional option to be assured that no concept will ever be lost. Additionally, our instructors will sometimes edit out down time (drills/breaks) and insert topic slides for easy reference within each session recording. Again, the only additional requirement for students who request this option will be a Box or Dropbox account to access their session recording files approximately 24 hours after a session has been completed.

 


Finally, because many standardized tests, like the GMAT and GRE, are computer-based now, working with a computer-based tutor encourages good habits, such as writing down a process of elimination outline for every problem and proper note taking for reading comprehension rather than just completing the problems on the page of a GMAT Official Guide book (for example). In turn, many students consider buying the online or Kindle versions of the GMAT or GRE materials to once again best approximate the actual testing experience.

For these reasons, in our view, online tutoring is at a minimum “as good” as face-to-face tutoring. In fact, it might be better.