• The Learn Lab

Make the switch: Is online the only way?


2020 seems to be the year that education goes online for good and this is especially true for tutors who must increasingly rely on distance teaching.


Teaching and tutoring over the last decade has had its changes and developments; from curriculum overhaul and grading rebrands, to the removal of coursework from exam board specifications. Each of these tweaks has left teachers and tutors with many extra hours of planning and creating learning materials, as well as comprehending the way new specifications and grading systems impact students' success. However, nothing prepared us for the rapid developments that have occurred since all schools across the UK (and most of the world) shut down in response to the biggest pandemic since the Spanish Flu.


Considering it's 2020 and we have been living in the digital age for a few decades now, it seems astonishing that schools have had to adapt so many of their delivery methods. Most schools have an intranet, some kind of cloud storage, and the ability to access software such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and yet according to The Institute for Fiscal Studies, many children are receiving little to no education during lockdown. Let's get one thing straight - this is not the fault of the schools, the parents or the children themselves. This is due to a lack of accessibility and resources faced by many families who may not have access to computers or laptops at home. Additionally, there are those who are working from home and do not have the luxury of owning a laptop per family member. This is not about laziness, lack of enthusiasm or lack of support, as will undoubtedly be reported by some ignorant social commentators. It is a countrywide issue that will create an even greater division between those with the most and those with the least.


So what can we do? Well some local councils have already bought supplies of laptops to provide low income households with access to a computer for educational purposes. These small steps will ultimately help a minority, but already students across the country have missed out on three months of physical teaching time. Personally, I have migrated my tutoring online, but as with any new technology, many parents have been skeptical about how useful a lesson can be online. There are also so many different platforms: how can you tell which is the right one for you? In the next section, I will discuss some of the ways we can adapt to the mass online movement without losing the individual quirks that make our teaching style unique, and most significantly, more effective.


Find your niche

The online marketplace is full of educational websites and tutoring companies offering lessons and content on any subject you can imagine. Don't try to brush up on all the core subjects you think you could have a go at - be realistic. If you are passionate about one subject and this is where you excel, you will naturally be more enthusiastic and will have better results in both acquiring clients and helping support students. Although I have taught a few different humanity-based subjects, nothing has quite the same appeal as opening up a novel and letting a student find their own critical voice amongst the chapters and it shows through their successes.


Choose your platform

It's important that you experiment with a few different options before settling on the platform that works best, especially as many come with a monthly subscription cost. Some prefer live teaching through Zoom, Teams, Skype or FaceTime. Each has its own benefits and restrictions. Zoom has been slated over security fears, but I haven't had an issue with it and the features felt the easiest to navigate for the kind of lessons I wanted to host. If you prefer setting tasks and offering feedback and don't want to pay for a platform, you can use Google Docs or Dropbox which allow you to work on documents collaboratively. This can be really helpful if you want to give written feedback as the students works on a task without the possible awkwardness of a video chat that make some students reluctant to participate.


Accessibility and Pricing

First thing's first - know your worth. Just because you are teaching through an online platform doesn't mean you deserve less for your time. Try to strike a balance to encourage new clients to use your service, without dropping your prices by 80%. This will demonstrate a lack of confidence in your ability to deliver. Before taking on new clients, it is important to test the software you will be using, check the features work as expected and don't be afraid to get creative! Be aware that as with any lesson, an online lesson has its own issues that can't be helped. At the moment I am trying to find ways to make my resources accessible so they can be shared through mediums other than laptops. There is no perfect solution to this so send your ideas this way if you can or want to collaborate.


Opportunity

Finally, don't see the current situation purely for the damage it's doing. This is a chance to open up education and really look at it. It's also a chance for tutors to expand their methods and ability to reach a wider audience. The internet means we can teach students nationwide, not just in your county or local area.


So at the moment, or at least until social distancing begins to ease, online really is the only way. Make the best of it and you might be surprised by the possibilities it offers.