e-Tutoring and Online Learning:
With the Covid-19 crisis gripping the country, there have been major changes to everyday life: social distancing, cancelled schools, closed businesses and deep economic uncertainty. These changes are having profound impacts on education as teachers, schools, and students are forced to adjust to e-Tutoring and online learning. This shift can be challenging, thus we’ve organized a number of suggestions to help smooth the transition and aid educators in providing a positive learning environment for students in these difficult times.
Logistics and Tech:
For e-Tutoring and online learning, there are a few technological essentials. First, you need a mode of clear audio and visual communication with your student and luckily there are plenty of options! Services such as Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom all provide free video conferencing. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that both you and your student have reliable internet access and a quiet location to work. Communicating digitally inherently presents a barrier and it is crucial to remove any additional distractions; lagging calls, freezing screens or a barking dog can all damage the effectiveness of your session.
Also, it is important to have some manner of a shared workspace with your student for online learning. We recommend a shared white board program such as Groupboard, or the screen sharing available in Zoom. For math subjects, it is essential to be able to work through problems visually together; a Wacom writing tablet (or similar type) will also speed up your ability to draw diagrams and write out equations. For English and grammar exercises, however, it may be preferable to work in a shared Google Doc. Your choice of shared workspace may change with your student’s needs, so it is prudent to become comfortable with a few different options. Simply put, writing out diagrams on paper and holding them up to the camera is not the most efficient or effective way to communicate with your student.
Finally, regardless of how you plan to communicate with your student, it is important to make these decisions before you start your online learning. This will give you time to ensure that both you and your student have access to and familiarity with whatever technology is required. You want to avoid spending ten minutes of your session trying to guide your student through the functioning of a Google Doc, unless the purpose is digital coaching a tutorial of this platform or tool.
Reducing Friction from Online Learning:
When e-Tutoring and delivering online instruction, it is essential that you and your student both have copies of the material. We recommend having a dedicated channel for file sharing. Whether it is an email thread, text chain or the chat option in your video conferencing program, you both need to know how information and documents will be sent. Then, if you need to add a worksheet to your lesson plan or send over another round of practice problems, you won’t waste valuable time logging into emails or sending links to the wrong place.
Additionally, if you are not using software that includes screen sharing, you should vocalize every time you change tabs. While it may seem obvious to you that you’ve moved from the digital white board back to the worksheet, if you do not explicitly tell your student, they may not change tabs with you and get lost. Each time you and your student are not aligned, you risk disrupting the flow of the lesson.
Finally, if a student is completing any homework offline, you need to ensure that you have a way to view it. This can be achieved with a document camera during the session, or by having the student scan their work and email it to you before the session. If students don’t have a typical scanner, they can take a photo and email, text, or upload it to a designated spot.
Maintaining Student Interest:
Because you will lack many of the non-verbal cues that indicate if a student is engaged with online learning, it is harder to know that your student is paying attention during a remote session. In order to keep them interested, it is key to have the student actively participating in the session. You should constantly ask questions and have the student rephrase any information you provide in their own words. Remember, the moment you are talking and your student is not, they may have opened another tab or drifted into a dream world.
Additionally, because you are no longer in the room with your student, you should aim to ratchet up your enthusiasm. Learning from a screen can feel stiff compared to learning in person, so it is up to you to compensate for that gap with fun and purposeful activities, a positive attitude and consistent energy.
Flexibility of Session Length and Schedule:
Because online learning doesn’t require travel, it allows you to be more flexible with your schedule. Breaking up a full-length session into two smaller sessions or scheduling short follow ups are now options that you can offer your students. Be creative! You can now schedule a session to outline an essay and another one to edit the final draft, or three thirty-minute sessions to do math drills and review content consistently throughout the week.
Providing Normalcy and Minimizing Disruption:
Given the current disruption to your students’ school life, you should check in on how they are handling the transition in their schools. Your students may have issues with their new remote classrooms and you can help them develop strategies to learn more effectively. This can be an ideal opportunity to model problem solving behavior; rather than prescribing solutions, use targeted questions to help guide your students to strategies on their own.
Additionally, be open to feedback. Ask your students about how your remote sessions are going and try to incorporate their suggestions. Check in about what they like and don’t like about online learning and be willing to adapt your approach to their needs.
Finally, in the midst of this crisis, online learning will act as an emotional support to your students. This is bound to be a trying time for your students; their daily routines, education and social life are all in upheaval. By continuing to provide the same warm, reassuring presence that you bring to your in-person sessions, you can be an important anchor of normalcy in their life. The very fact that you are taking additional steps to meet with them in the midst of a crisis signals your commitment to their education and general well-being — it will not be overlooked.
By Jacob Backer, Private Tutor, and Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed. and Learning Specialist
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