How to get the most out of your online tutor

Online tuition is potentially life-changing; transcending geographical barriers, it can connect your child to the perfect provider. Since the experiences that we all endured during lockdown in 2020 and at the beginning of 2021, I have found that everyone is suddenly on board with online tuition. I rarely meet a new client who doesn’t think that it’s a viable option, this is dramatic contrast to what I found even as recently as 2019.

I am a cautious technophile, who places high demands on technology to work pretty much “by magic” – I don’t like wrestling with equipment and I get mightily exasperated when I have to. Yet with the kind of apparatus and software that so many of us have access to these days, I have been delighted to find that the technical hassles are minimal.

However … (you knew there was a “however” coming, right?) … there are certain pitfalls to online tuition, some downsides compared to face-to-face tutoring, which parents and guardians should be aware of. Happily, they are largely avoidable with a little bit of planning. Never forget: you’re paying for a service, and tuition with an experienced, qualified teacher doesn’t come cheaply. Don’t let the fact that you access online tuition in the comfort of your own home lull you into taking it that little bit too casually, or you may well find you get a poor return on your investment.

Is your equipment up to the job?
For online tutoring, there’s no escaping the fact that you will need reliable, fast internet access: this is a must. Whatever software your tutor chooses to use, they will be talking to your child in real time on the web – this is very demanding on whatever service you are using, so a poor WiFi connection or painfully slow broadband will scupper the session. Use this speed test to check whether your service is up to the job: click “Go” and wait for it to measure the speed. If your either your download or your upload speed is less than 5-10 Mbps then you might have problems: remember that online tutoring is a conversation, two people talking over the internet in real time, so the speed simply has to be there in both directions. If a clients is experiencing a temporary slow-down (it happens to a client I have in Cornwall on occasion) I suggest turning cameras off, which although not ideal does usually enable the conversation to continue.

You need to think about how your child will communicate with the tutor. Integral cameras, microphones and speakers are usually fine, but experiment with supplementary equipment if your child struggles to concentrate – students wearing headphones, for example, often find it easier to avoid distraction and focus on the session. Speaking of focus …

Session location: is your child in the right place?
Aren’t iPads wonderful? Many of my tutees access tuition via an iPad or similar tablet, and the advantages are obvious. However, don’t let the freedom that an iPad offers you detract from the fact that your child needs a quiet place to concentrate. If you’re having a conversation, cooking or hoovering in the background, not only are you distracting your child but you may cause noise interference to the extent that the tutor will really struggle to hear them. If your child is wearing headphones, that will help them to zone out the sounds around them but the same will not be true for the tutor – most microphones will pick up a great deal of extraneous sound, and the effect can become close to unbearable for the tutor if people are talking or using household appliances in the background during a session. 

Ideally, your child should be in a quiet room where they won’t be interrupted by noise or curious siblings. You may wish to be present while your child is being tutored for safeguarding reasons; this is fine, but you should prepare to do something quiet such as reading book. Alternatively, and if the only reason you wish to be present is for monitoring, you could consider recording the sessions – many of the platforms used by online tutors allows for this option.

There has been some recent anxiety on social media re. the safety of Zoom and similar platforms. The package works on closed meetings and the only way that an unsolicited third party could join a meeting is if the link to a meeting is shared online. If your tutor shares the link for each session with you and you alone, there should be nothing to worry about, but you should talk to your tutor about their safeguarding policy. Personally, I only use the “recurring meeting” function with adults; with minors, I schedule a unique Zoom link afresh for every single session with every single child. While this creates a little extra admin at my end every week, I believe that it is worth it in order to mitigate against the risk of a reusable link being accidentally shared with third parties.

Session timings: is your child ready?
If your child finds it difficult to get out of bed, you will need to think carefully about how to manage a morning session. I have tutored students on a mid-morning that have clearly just rolled out of bed; dazed and groggy, they are not even close to being fully awake and this means (of course) that their focus is poor. So, even if your child is entering that inevitable phase when wake-up time becomes something of a battle, do try to peel them out of bed well before the session is due to start, allowing time for them to have a shower and something to eat. They then have a fighting chance of their mind being on the tuition session ahead, not still under the duvet.

One of the great joys of online tuition is the time that it can save you. Some clients that are near enough to me to come for home tuition have still opted to go online; I am based in a heavily-populated area of Surrey and the reality of rush-hour traffic can turn even a 5-mile round trip into a potential nightmare. Online tutoring can open up a wider range of possibilities when it comes to time: take advantage of this and make it work for your child.

One final thing …
Your child is smart! They know that an online tutor’s field of vision is significantly limited compared to a tutor that’s in the room with them. So what do you know? They may well try to use their phone during the session, or to access other apps or websites on the machine they are using. So, especially if your child is currently preoccupied with a particular game or social networking app, do make sure that they leave their phone with you for the duration of the session and do check that they have closed down all their other apps and messaging services.

Image by Jé Shoots