Since 23rd March, schools throughout the UK have been closed to most students due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is unclear how long they will remain closed but it seems unlikely that students will return to school before September at the earliest. This is a very significant period of time to lose from a GCSE or A level course.
Most schools are setting work for students and, I’m sure, will be working hard to minimise the impact on students’ learning. While a small fraction of schools are providing online classes, in the majority of cases, there will be minimal opportunity for direct teaching or for students to ask questions about problems with the set work. Further, any new topics will inevitably require largely self-directed study by the students. Under these circumstances, many students will struggle to maintain adequate progress through their GCSE or A level courses as they move towards the exams in summer 2021.
Online tuition provides all the benefits of individual face-to-face tuition while observing the current health guidelines and keeping all concerned safe. Many of those I am currently teaching have said that the online lessons provide a focus and structure to their studies at a time when it could become more difficult to remain motivated. Students are able to ask questions about set work and resolve problems which have arisen as they work independently at home. In addition, we are able to work on filling in gaps in knowledge or understanding as well as moving ahead to prepare students for subject matter which will be taught in future lessons - perhaps after returning to school.
Online lessons are available via the video communications app Skype. Skype is free, easy to download and use. It is available for a wide range of devices from smart phones through to desktop computers.
A typical online lesson involves face-to-face discussion via webcam, sharing of device screens to show questions, diagrams or explanations. Students are able to follow written worked examples and descriptions either on a physical notepad or on a shared screen in much the same way as in a face-to-face lesson. They can also use screen capture to take copies of examples or other information to incorporate into their notes after the lesson. Prior to their first online lesson, many student expressed doubts as to how it could work. In all cases, these doubts have disappeared a short time into the lesson as they realised it wasn’t very different. Indeed a number of students seem to prefer and respond better to the online teaching.
Online lessons are so similar to face-to-face teaching that all the advantages of one-to-one-tuition discussed elsewhere on this website apply equally well. Issues such as building confidence and identifying concepts which have not been understood are even more important in the present situation. The numerous benefits of individual tuition via online teaching include:
- Helping to provide a focus and structure to the self-directed study which will be a major part of students’ learning over the coming months
- Providing help and guidance with set work from school
- Working to tackle gaps in knowledge from earlier subject material to break down barriers to learning new concepts
- Building confidence through supportive feedback on students’ work and progress
- Looking ahead to topics later in the course to ease the eventual return to school and minimise the time lost due to being at home
Most families will already have available, or can easily obtain, all the items required for online lessons. These are:
- Broadband internet connection
- A device with a webcam (either internal or external) capable of running Skype
- A Skype account
- The Skype app
Broadband internet: As with most things internet-related, the faster the connection, the better. Although the speed and quality of internet connections has varied considerably, none have posed any insurmountable problems during the lessons to date. It may be necessary to ensure that, during a lesson, no-one is involved in any data-demanding activities such as streaming video or games elsewhere in the house. It will depend on the speed of your internet connection.
Device with a webcam: A broad range of devices are suitable, ranging from desktop computers with a webcam, laptops, ipads or other tablets and smartphones. The main limitation on the suitability of smartphones will be the screen size. It may be difficult to see text clearly on a smaller screen. It is possible to split the screen to show both the camera output and a shared screen side by side. This is generally more suited to the larger screens of desktops and some laptop computers.
Skype account and app: A Skype account is free. Go to www.skype.com. Click on sign in and then select sign up and follow the instructions. The Skype app can be downloaded for free at the same website. Alternatively, if you arrange online lessons with me, I will send you a Skype invitation link which will prompt you to both sign up to Skype and download the Skype app for your device.