Online tuition is potentially life-changing; transcending geographical barriers, it can connect your child to the perfect provider. As a relatively recent convert, 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. With the kind of apparatus and software that 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 home tutoring. Happily, these 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-provider you are using. Although it's aimed at tutors, this blog is very useful as a plain-English guide to what you'll need and why.
You'll need to think about how your child will communicate with the tutor. Internal 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 inescapable fact that your child needs a quiet place to concentrate. If you're having a conversation, cooking or vacuuming in the background, not only are you distracting your child but you may cause noise interference to the extent that the tutor will struggle to hear them. Most children talk quietly to a tutor (even if they're loud and bouncy with you!) and it's important that the tutor can hear your child clearly.
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 asking your tutor to record the sessions and email them to you – the vast majority of software used by online tutors allows for this option.
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 weekend 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 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 smart phone during the session! 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. Otherwise technology is simply too tempting!