I've always tutored students in person but recently took a couple of online gigs on. Any advice or best practices regarding maintaining a great presence over Skype and making lessons engaging?

Answers

Adrian Dingle, Educator and Chemistry Author with 25 years teaching experience

User avatar for Adrian Dingle

I've been tutoring for 26 years, and in addition have always been very tech savvy. At the beginning of online tutoring, perhaps 10 years or so ago, I used to 'tutor via email' - yes, via email! I would arrange a time to be online, and the tutee and I would go back and forth for 1 hour with 'live' email. Surprisingly, not least of all because at the time the expectations were entirely different than they are now, it worked OK.

As technology changed I went through some difficult transitions. A LOT of technology came and went, and I found it increasingly frustrating. It never seemed to work well, the connections were often plagued by issues, and the whole thing was a massive stop/start process - all very aggravating and dissatisfying to me and the students. Things didn't change for me until about four years ago. The combination of my Mac Book Pro, my iPad, Skype and Doceri software basically solved the problem. Here's how it works.

I call the student via Skype on my Mac, and almost immediately turn off the video (this helps with the connection and we really don't need to see one another). Then I share my screen with them via the Skype feature that allows that. In the meantime, I fire up the Doceri software on my Mac, and connect my iPad to it via WiFi. Then I have a clear audio connection, and a tablet that I can write on, share (including documents) with the tutee and we generally have a great exchange. If kids need to show me work they can turn ON the video link, email to me, or take pictures and text etc. I works really, really well. FINALLY, a critical mass of online tutoring happiness was reached!

When I initially figured all of this out, I used it with kids that I tutored in remote locations all over the USA, and across the world. While I was doing that, I continued with my face-to-face work here in Atlanta. Remote tutoring is NOT for everyone, so it worked well for kids that preferred one method over another. HOWEVER, I have found that the flexibility that online offers, AND the fact that so many kids are now increasingly comfortable with the remote situation, that many kids who I could reach locally, are keen to try the online route first.

Caitlin Holmes, College Professor, Writing Teacher, Digital Rhetoric

User avatar for Caitlin Holmes

I'm a big fan of screen sharing when it comes to Skype for writing tutoring and support. I conference with my students regularly, and I find that it's handy to have their paper in front of me and provide comments in line as we are writing depending on the level of engagement and feedback the student needs (as well as time limitations).

Of course, the opposite is also a great thing! Have your tutee pull up their work, and then have them share their screen. Ask them to take notes in the document as they are writing via comments or track changes. It's a fantastic way to ensure that they know what they're doing and comprehending the feedback that you're giving them. Have your tutee take ownership of their own success, and then you can follow along with them as they make notes. If you find that the student isn't spelling something correctly or struggling to understand what you're saying, you can take advantage of the chat function to write something out for them to pop into their notes.

Also, it can be handy to record your sessions. I know that Skype has a 'record' function that may be useful for really difficult content or working with multilingual students. They may want to listen to your conversation multiple times to hear the way you pronounce words or talk through concepts.

Jenny Bristol, Homeschooling Parent, Writer, and Editor

User avatar for Jenny Bristol

I have experienced tutoring sessions on the student side of things, and I feel the most important aspects of a good tutoring experience are a good Skype connection and proper camera orientation, aiming it at you and/or the work very clearly with the right distance away. It's important for your students to see what you are referring to as you tutor them, but it is just as important for them to see your face and for you to see theirs. This helps keep a personal connection between you and your student, and it helps demonstrate your enthusiasm for a subject on your face as well as in your voice and actions; this helps keep students engaged. That physical presence which is easy to maintain in person takes a special effort over Skype. If you find that you don't have trouble engaging students in person, use those same teaching techniques over Skype, and focus your extra energy on eye contact, listening, and using humor if technology ever fails you. Don't let on if you get frustrated with technology mishaps, because your students may follow your lead.

Also, make it easier for students to refer to visuals that you create. In person, they can just point to a page. But over Skype, mark each section you're working on with a number, letter, quadrant, or some kind of identifier to make it easier for your students to ask questions and explain themselves. Make sure anything you work from or on is large enough to easily see on the screen. Practice this in advance if necessary. Good luck!

University Tutor, World's largest global marketplace for independent tutors.

User avatar for University Tutor

UniversityTutor.com offers both in-person and online tutoring, so we understand how important your online presence can be to client retention! One simple way to improve your presence (as well as one that's often forgotten) is to make sure that you look at your webcam - not your screen. Your eye contact will be stronger, and your clients will be more likely to feel like you're interested and carefully listening.

If you work with kinesthetic learners or young students, don't forget that you can still incorporate hands-on activities. With manipulables like smooth stones or crayons, you can teach your client to count, multiply, and so on, and both you and your client can use whatever small objects you have on hand!

Ipek Bakir, Consultant, researcher, human-centered design and data advocate

User avatar for Ipek Bakir

You may also find it helpful to use Google docs when working on students' notes in real time. This is also useful when you want to be able to immediately edit or comment on the students writing, as well as easily take up where you left off for your next class. Docs is also better synced and will not have the same delays you may experience during your Skype-screenshare. You can have two windows open during your session-Skype & Google docs.

Robyn Scott, Educational Consultant, TutorNerds LLC

User avatar for Robyn Scott

Hi, I would recommend looking into a few things if you're going to work over Skype. Make sure your Internet connection is above average and ask new clients if they have had any issues with internet. Good lighting and a quiet room away from other noises outside or in the home office is also key. Personally, I use my iPad for Skype and place the tablet upright at the end of the desk (where the student would sit if I were at their home). For me, this makes it more engaging. There are lots of programs that can make the lesson more interactive. I use Google shareable docs so I can see what the student types while they are working and they can see me type as well. If you are teaching math, there are several programs such as iDroo (although I don't have a lot of personal experience with that) to draw/write in live time. The biggest issue is whether or not you will be able to see their text book (most novels are off copyright and can be viewed online for free). Older students tend to respond well to Skype sessions but younger kids may need to be re-directed by their parents from time to time.

I hope this helps!

Your Answer