As thoughts turn to a summer term spent ‘Home Schooling’ and providing distance learning, Lucy Spencer caught up with Eteach to discuss her top tips for online teaching. Lucy, the Founder and Director of Education Boutique, has seen her own tutoring success develop into a company reviewed by The Good Schools Guide as the top tutoring company in Berkshire.
A bit like a recipe, she says, it’s a good idea to understand the ingredients to quality online teaching. Before looking at the methods of teaching and functionality, there’s the multitude of online software to wade through: Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Bramble, BitPaper, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Google Classroom...
How to call your students
Despite the many options available, experienced online tutors usually prefer to host the call through Zoom*. The simple reason being the stability of call. Users of Skype and other conferencing programmes often report periods of glitching, which are most unwelcome when in the middle of a complex explanation. The software also provides teachers with a plethora of tools to increase engagement. Zoom is free for teachers who are educating students on a 1:1 basis. As soon as you have more than 2 participants in a meeting (including you) – a 40 minute call limit is imposed – so you do need to upgrade to Pro but it’s a minimal monthly charge and you can stop your subscription at any point. Lucy’s verdict – so worth it.
The online tutoring ‘ingredients’ list
Good internet connection
If you are struggling with laggy images or slow upload speeds, it may be worth ordering a new router before thinking you need to change your whole internet connection. Fibre internet is the quickest but you can still tutor online with a standard connection or even using your phone hotspot! If you are using an old router, Lucy’s tip is to call your provider and request or pay for a new router
Desktop or Laptop
“Should I buy a desktop or laptop for online tutoring?” Lucy explains is a common question tutors ask her. The answer? Depends on how portable a teacher needs to be. A laptop obviously closes no doors in being able to travel and tutor online.
What does Lucy use? “An iMac desktop when working at home because of the huge display screen and a MacBook Air when travelling” she explains. Processor speed is important to reduce the likelihood of lagging. It doesn’t need to be a touch screen, although this can have benefits to some people who like to run the whole session through one computer.
iPad or Graphics Tablet
Whilst using an iPad to run the whole session through is doable, it’s not a method that Lucy recommends. If you consider your laptop or desktop as the piece of equipment to get your child sat down in your virtual classroom and ready to learn – you will need a way to write. It is possible, for people just starting out, to use the mouse and text to write on the screen but teachers will soon find that limiting. If your laptop or desktop is touch screen, buying a stylus will allow you to easily annotate your screen. Alternatively, plugging in a graphics tablet to your laptop or desktop will give you a cheap way to write on documents you share on your screen. Lucy’s recommended way is using an iPad who’s screen you can share on zoom or that you can use to annotate her favourite interactive whiteboard software, BitPaper.
Apple Pen or Stylus
When you are starting out, it may not seem the most important piece of kit but a stylus pen or apple pencil is essential to allow you to annotate, highlight and hand write like paper. It’s not imperative that your student has one but as a teacher, it will make your life much simpler.
Can you see me?
Using your devices built-in webcam is absolutely fine but making sure your face is well lit is sometimes a challenge, especially when teaching from home. One of Lucy’s top tips was to buy a light ring from an online retailer such as Amazon. “They fold up very small and are portable so I always carry mine with me to ensure my face is well lit as this truly a way to ensure my students are more engaged in my lessons”
Using Zoom, you can also worry not about your surroundings as you have the option to add a green screen ‘background’ such as your school logo – even on the free package.
Can you hear me?
Quality audio is probably the simplest area to sort. If you have a good pair of headphones, plug these directly into your desktop or laptop and you can focus on the lesson without distractions but also use the in built microphone. It’s definitely worth asking your students to use a pair of headphones their end too.
Lucy’s setup routine:
- Decide on a lesson time and date with a client. Login to Zoom and schedule a repeating lesson with no date. This will ensure you don’t have ongoing administration setting up a new lesson each week. You will have a link that you can both click on at any time. Don’t worry – if a student ever clicks the link outside of the session they would be held in a waiting area – which you set up in settings.
- Once the lesson is scheduled you can email the link to your client. The first time they click the link on the device they will be using for the lesson – there will be a short 2 minute download.
- Before the lesson, open BitPaper and create a new paper. Use the slides to share pictures of questions, texts, picture stimulus etc.
- Copy the BitPaper link in an email to yourself on desktop.
- Move onto iPad and open the link in emails so the same BitPaper is displayed on iPad.
- At the lesson time, click start on the scheduled lesson on Zoom and wait for the student to join the call.
- Share screen with the student and move to the BitPaper.
- Give control of screen on the BitPaper so the student can write/type on the document.
- At the end of the session, copy the BitPaper to PDF and send student the download of all the notes made in the session.
- Confirm the time for next session and finish the call.
Lastly, Lucy’s top tip was to keep positive. It’s important to remember that the transition to online tutoring for many, has been forced by the unprecedented current events. You’ll make mistakes, their might be the odd technical difficulty but no one is expecting you to be perfect. Lucy’s advice – keep smiling, be positive with your students and adopt the attitude that we are all in this together. Who knows, in a few months time, you may even prefer it!
As well as tutoring for a range of celebrities, diplomats and company CEOs Lucy has recently given lots of her time for free to support teacher and tutors learn to teach online. She was invited to attend Forbes under 30 in Berlin last year and has been described as “one to watch” by the Good Schools Guide. Lucy is very happy for any teachers to reach out to her on LinkedIn, should they need any support with the transition to online teaching.
* When using Zoom be sure to follow best practice safeguarding rules. Only share your link to the Zoom lesson with those who need to attend and make sure it is password protected. Treat such links and passwords like any other password: Keep them safe and do not share them with anyone outside your class. This will help you avoid "Zoom bombs", an unfortunate event where uninvited attendees may disrupt your session. When you apply the appropriate safeguards, the meeting host, in this case, the teacher, will have full control of who may or may not enter the session. Anyone trying to join the session will be in the "waiting room" and teachers will authorize (or deny) attendees. It is an extra step but it ensures that uninvited attendees cannot disrupt your lesson.
About the author
After qualifying as a teacher, Lucy taught in the UK and Dubai both the state and private systems, before starting Education Boutique 4 years ago. She has led the company to rapid growth and in the future hopes to open a hub for Autistic teaching as an alternative to more traditional schools. Lucy is intensely passionate about schools and tutors working together to achieve the common goal of excellence for all students. Lucy became a published author in 2019 and has been interviewed on BBC National Radio about Home Education and Online Teaching.