A Teacher’s Guide to Long Distance Tutoring
There are only so many hours in a school day — and for some students, it’s just not enough. Whether they’re preparing for standardized testing or trying to catch up to their grade level, students today often need help outside of traditional classroom hours. In many cases, staying after school for tutoring sessions just isn’t an option, which results in vulnerable students getting left even further behind.
Luckily, new distance learning technologies are changing that. Now, teachers can connect with students virtually using a bevy of virtual tutoring tools. For example, teachers can use the software application Skype to connect with students via video for online tutoring sessions. In addition, more advanced tools like Scribblar are tailored specifically for distance tutoring and include helpful features like online quizzes and a virtual “whiteboard,” which makes distance learning feel very similar to the real thing. The result? Students get the extra help they desperately need without having to leave home, while many teachers can help students further succeed while perhaps enjoying another revenue stream.
Choosing the Right Virtual Tools for the Right Students
Certain virtual tutoring tools work best for different grade levels. For example, the easy-to-use Skype interface is ideal for all grade levels, including elementary schoolers, while the more advanced interface of Scribblr may be too complicated for younger students to utilize. Khan Academy, a free online resource that offers practice exercises and instructional videos in a wide range of subjects, has many lessons that are tailored to elementary, middle, and high schoolers. Some of the third-party apps and websites that teachers can sign up to tutor under, like Varsity Tutors, is aimed at all grade levels from kindergarten to grad school, though much of the focus is on test prep. Meanwhile, the tutor app Quickhelp, called the “Uber for tutors,” is only available for college students.
Consider the pros and cons of these common long distance tutoring tools to ensure you’re using the best tutoring methods for you and your students:
A web application that enables video and audio calls over the internet.
Pros: The app is free to use with an internet connection and a webcam, which comes built in on most laptops and desktop computers today. The video feature makes it easy for tutors to “read” students’ expressions so they can better ascertain whether a student truly understands a concept.
Cons: Skype wasn’t built for tutoring in mind, so it’s missing valuable tutoring tools like a whiteboard feature. Plus, if the student or tutor’s internet connection is slow, “buffering” problems may arise, interrupting the tutoring session.
An online collaborative tutoring platform.
Pros: Like Skype, Scribblar provides a video interface to further connect with students. As private tutor Angela Culley says, “the video and audio components allow me to read a student’s expressions and comments just as I would in person.” It also provides a whiteboard tool and powerful graph and calculation tools, making it easy to work out math problems online with students.
Cons: A paid subscription is required to access all the useful features. Inputting math symbols onto the whiteboard can also be hard, unless you’ve memorized each symbol’s keyboard code.
Called the “Uber for tutors,” it allows college students to put out a request for tutors through the app and get responses for immediate help from tutors in the area.
Pros: Doesn’t require planning a tutoring session in advance, so it’s extremely flexible. If students only need one-off tutoring, like before a big test, the app allows for that.
Cons: While it allows online and Skype-based tutoring, the emphasis is on in-person tutoring, making it less than ideal for distance learning. Plus, only graduate students can sign up to be tutors, so teachers who are not in grad school won’t be able to use the app.
An online platform that connects top tutors to students in need of help.
Pros: The company recently launched an app, making it easier than ever to get and give tutoring help on the go. A whiteboard and document editor are useful online tools, and students can screenshot their homework worksheets so tutors can review immediately.
Cons: Unlike the Quickhelp app, Varsity Tutors doesn’t offer on-demand tutoring — though the company says that’s in the works. Right now, tutors can only work with their regular students through the app.
A global “classroom” that offers lessons on a variety of academic subjects for a wide range of learning levels, all for free.
Pros: Teachers can monitor students’ progress through a “teacher’s dashboard,” but they don’t have to teach the lessons themselves.
Cons: Unlike the other entries on this list, Khan Academy lessons are not live and therefore are not super customizable to individual students.
Volunteer Tutoring Vs. Part-time Work
Depending on a teacher’s needs and desires, he or she may decide to offer distance tutoring to his or her own students on a volunteer basis, or pursue paid part-time tutoring opportunities. Tools like Skype and Scribblar are great for volunteer tutoring, since these tools are free or relatively low-cost and teachers don’t have to go through a platform “middleman” to use them. This is a great option for teachers who yearn to offer extra help to a few select students from their classes, but want the scheduling ease of long distance tutoring. Teachers can also use Khan Academy for a more “hands-off” approach to volunteer tutoring if they don’t have a lot of time to tutor outside of class.
Virtual tutoring is also an excellent way for teachers to easily supplement their salaries. For teachers in search of paid part-time work, platforms that connect tutors to students in need all over the country, like Varsity Tutors, are perfect. Through these companies, tutors work as independent contractors, not employees, and schedules are typically very flexible. A final option would be for teachers to launch their own tutoring businesses, using tools like Scribblar to aide in their tutoring sessions.