Some of the best tutors we know are moving their businesses online, and for good reason. Tutoring students online completely eliminates the waste of spending your day traveling between appointments, which can often eat up valuable tutoring hours.
And while tutoring online may be more efficient and convenient, it’s not without its challenges.
Not every subject transfers well from in-person to online: depending on the subjects you tutor, online tutoring may not yet be perfected. Until recently, it was almost impossible to simulate the experience of freeform collaboration on a shared problem set online, as is common in math and science tutoring.
Forming an emotional connection can be challenging: when you begin teaching a new student, breaking the ice with a new student can becoming challenging, as it’s more difficult to make an emotional connection without being present in the room.
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Holding the student’s attention: when screens are open and there’s no in-person supervision, there will undoubtedly be distracting windows open on your student’s screen.
The good news is, problems like these can be solved in a variety of ways, from modifying your teaching approach to using new tools and software that help you get the job done.
Let’s walk through the software setup we at Podia recommend for the online tutor’s toolbelt.
Podia’s Picks: Skype for 1-on-1 online tutoring sessions, Google Hangouts for group online tutoring sessions.
Both Skype and Google Hangouts (free for unlimited use, though Skype offers a premium plan for group calling) are mature products that work well and provide most of the same features: free 1–1 video or voice calls, screen sharing, file sharing and chat.
With the launch of Google Hangouts On-Air, it’s now possible to schedule a free group session in advance, which will be recorded and available after the session for students to re-watch.
This is a fantastic tool for online group tutoring — in a 6-week course, it’s unlikely that every student will be able to make every session, but with Hangouts On-Air they won’t fall behind.
Podia’s Picks: Baiboard for 1–1 or group tutoring sessions if you have an iPad, Idroo if you’re on a Windows or Android tablet.
For subjects like science and math, it’s critical to simulate the experience of sitting next to a student, crowded around a single exercise on paper or in a book.
When the only tools at our disposal were the keyboard and mouse, this was really tough — there’s nothing clunkier than trying to scribble math notation on a problem set with a mouse.
With the introduction of the iPad (and other tablets) and a host of networked whiteboarding apps, everything changed. The best whiteboarding apps on the market satisfy a few conditions:
- Real-time: You and the student are looking at the same document, with a minimal network lag time.
- Simultaneous: Multiple people can edit the document at the same time.
- Flexible canvas: Allows you to upload any document to be used as the background for the lesson.
- Persistent: Whiteboard sessions are stored, so that either you or the student can review the lesson afterwards (or you can share with another student or tutor).
There are five apps on the market that satisfy these conditions, and are mature enough products to be trusted in tutoring sessions:
- Idroo (free for limited use, €10 a month for unlimited use) provides all of the features listed above, with a slick drag-and-drop interface for adding images to your teaching canvas. It’s also compatible with Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS and Android, so you can make use of it without an iPad. Our one issue with Idroo is the free plan only allows you to upload the first two pages of a document for use in the canvas, making it of limited use for full lessons.
- Baiboard (free for unlimited use) is fantastic for conducting group sessions, as it can accommodate up to 40 participants on the same board at once. It also offers iPad-to-browser sharing, so that students can participate from anywhere.
- Groupboard (free for one whiteboard, $9.99/month up to $499/one-time for more whiteboards) provides most of the same features as Idroo and Baiboard, but with a few key limitations: the free plan tops out at 5 users on one whiteboard, and background images must be image-formatted (vs PDF). Lack of PDF compatibility is a dealbreaker for many tutors — but if you’re partial to Google Hangouts and don’t need PDFs, Groupboard offers a slick integration that embeds a board into your Hangout session.
- WizIQ ($16 — $1,000+/month depending on number of whiteboards / students needed) is a full-fledged e-learning platform, which has an accompanying virtual classroom app. While it includes all of the key features mentioned above, it also integrates with Learning Management Systems like Moodle and Blackboard. If you’re running an online school with a long-term student base (vs conducting tutoring sessions), then WizIQ is for you.
- Scribblar ($14-$39 depending on number of ‘rooms’) is unique in that it allows you to integrate an online whiteboard directly into your own website, versus using the whiteboard on Scribblar’s own site. Leyla Norman of Empower English Tutoring enjoys using it because of the persistent nature of Scribblar classrooms, which allow students to refer back to sessions and keep track of work week-to-week.
Podia’s Pick: Google Docs, enough said. Simply the best online document collaboration tool for tutoring.
There’s only one king of the Online Shared Document Jungle. Google Docs is free for unlimited use.
Podia’s Picks: Camtasia and Screencast-O-Matic for screen recording, Animoto for video editing, YouTube or Podia for video hosting.
Many tutors find it useful to record sessions with students, so that the student can review the lesson later on. It’s also a great way to self-critique your own teaching methods, and make improvements.
If you’re planning to develop an online course at some point, screen recording can be used to seed content and lessons. Just think about how many courses you’d already have prepared if you’d recorded every one of your tutoring sessions.
There are a few necessary, complementary tools in the online tutors video recording toolbelt:
- Screen recording: Camtasia ($99 for Mac, $299 for PC) and Screencast-O-Matic (free for 15 minutes or less, $15/year for unlimited) both offer easy-to-use screen recording tools for Windows and Mac, which allow you to produce beautiful videos with a minimal learning curve. Camtasia has a more advanced video editor, and also offers mobile recording for Mac (by connecting your tablet or phone to your Mac with a lightning cable). The choice between them really comes down to how you’re using screen recordings — if you’re building an online course, we’d recommend Camtasia, but if you’re recording student sessions to save for them, we’d recommend Screencast-O-Matic.
- Video editing: Both Camtasia and the pro version of Screen-o-Matic come with video editing tools built-in. But if you’re looking for a standalone editing tool (and don’t want to opt for a professional tool like Final Cut Pro), we’d recommend Animoto ($8/month). It allows you to add music, photos and text to your videos, and is great for producing online course content.
- Video hosting: For one-off video hosting nothing beats YouTube (free for unlimited use) — if it’s a lesson that only involves you teaching (i.e. — doesn’t show or mention the student), you could even post the video publicly and let other students benefit from it. For online courses, we’ve built a fantastic platform at Podia(free for unlimited hosting, 10% transaction fee on courses sold) to host your videos and lessons.
Podia’s Pick: Extempore for language tutors.
Oftentimes, tutors will assign students homework or practice questions to help reinforce the information the tutor’s been teaching. To do it, tutors usually use Word Documents and PDFs, but as online tutoring evolves, more tutors are using web products and mobile apps to help with things like assigning homework.
Here’s a tool that language tutors have recommended to us as something they use with their students:
- Extempore: Extempore ($29.99 per student/year; institutional licenses are available) is for speaking practice between language tutors and students. Extempore allows students to record their homework answers directly from their mobile device, which makes it easy for tutors to review in real-time.
- Squid: Squid (free with in-app purchases) is a handwritten note-taking application for Android that has two great use cases for teachers. First, teachers can import PDF worksheets into Squid and students can do the work directly on the sheets before exporting and sending them back to the teach for review. Second, tutors can import work that the student has done, mark it up, and send it back to the student to see what they did wrong.
Online course builder alternatives
The Online Tutor’s Toolbelt
To sum it all up, we at Podia recommend using:
- Video chat: Skype for 1-on-1 sessions, Google Hangouts for group sessions.
- Virtual whiteboard: Baiboard for iPad, Idroo for Windows or Android.
- Document collaboration: Google Docs
- Screen recording and video production: Camtasia for online courses, Screencast-O-Matic for live sessions. Animoto for editing standalone videos. YouTube or Podia for video hosting.