There are a huge number of software options for delivering online tuition but I use Zoom and, in my 1-to-1 online tuition, BitPaper. I favour Zoom over Google Meet, Skype and the rest because it’s the only one I know of that allows annotation of a shared screen (by both tutor and student) and allows the tutor to hand control of the mouse over to the student. It also allows the host (the tutor) to end the meeting for everyone, which is less straightforward in the others.
BitPaper is a very versatile whiteboard app that allows you to keep a permanent record of each student’s work.
This post describes the software mainly from the student’s point of view but I hope it will also be of use to tutors. Please share it with anyone who you think might find it helpful.
Using Zoom for online tuition
You will need:
- A decent broadband Internet connection
- A device with webcam, microphone and preferably a reasonably large screen (for screen sharing)
- Either a touchscreen or a graphics tablet is useful if you want to use the annotation tool, but otherwise isn’t necessary
Go to https://zoom.us/download and download the Zoom Client for Meetings, or click on the link in the email you have received inviting you to join a Zoom meeting and download it from there.
When you have the Zoom app open you will see the icon – a white camera on a blue background – on the taskbar.
Joining a meeting
When you receive a meeting invitation, simply click on the link. (Zoom meetings are password-protected by default, but if you receive an invitation by email then the password will usually be embedded in it.) If you are asked what app you want to use, check that “Zoom” is selected (it will probably be the only option shown), tick the ”Remember my choice” box and click “Open link”. In future it shouldn’t need to ask you.
Alternatively, if you know the meeting ID and password, you can go into the Zoom app, click on “Join”, and type in the meeting ID and then the password.
Most tutors will use a waiting room so you’ll be sent there when you first join, and will only be able to get into the online tuition session if you’re expected. A free Zoom account allows meetings of unlimited length with only two participants, but as soon as a third person – or device – tries to join the meeting, the time limit is reduced to 40 minutes.
A meeting can take the form of video, audio or just screen sharing. I normally start with video and take it from there. If your Internet connection isn’t great then it may help if you turn the camera off. With larger groups you may find that your camera and microphone are turned off when you join the meeting, but you can normally turn them on using the icons at the bottom of the screen.
In an online tuition session
Once you’re in the meeting, you’ll see whatever the participants’ webcams are pointing at. You can toggle between “Speaker view” and “Gallery view” using the button in the top right-hand corner (on a desktop machine). If the tutor shares their screen then you’ll see whichever window has been shared with you (website, PowerPoint, spreadsheet, PDF, etc.). When you move your cursor a green bar should appear at the top of the screen, telling you whose screen you are viewing. You can use the menu options on this bar to annotate the shared view (a graphics tablet or touchscreen makes this easier) or to request remote control.
You can also share your screen with other participants – look for the green “Share screen” icon at the bottom of the video window. You can choose to share either just a single window or your whole screen. It’s usually best to share only the window that you want everyone else to see. You can stop the share using the red bar at the top of the screen, or by closing the shared window.
There’s a chat function that can be used for sharing URLs or for asking questions if you’re part of a larger online tuition group. Depending on the host’s (tutor’s) settings, you may be able to choose whom your message goes to, or you might only be able to address the host.
If you minimise the Zoom window before using BitPaper (or other apps) then the video window will float on top, so you don’t lose sight of the person you’re talking to.
If there are ever any problems with Zoom then Google Meet and Jitsi Meet are possible alternative platforms that can be used for online tuition. These both allow screen sharing but don’t have the annotation or remote-control facilities.
BitPaper is a feature-rich online whiteboard that’s designed with online tuition in mind. Zoom has a built-in whiteboard but it’s far more basic. I assign a paper to each of my 1-to-1 students and we use it like an exercise book, so it gives the student a permanent record of what’s been covered in their online tuition. Each paper can have up to 100 sheets, each infinitely extendable in any direction, and so can be used for an extended period. A record of every keystroke is stored, though, so eventually a paper will become slow and you’ll need to start a new one.
You will need:
- Ideally, a laptop or desktop computer with a graphics tablet plugged in. Any Wacom, Huion or XP-Pen graphics tablet is fine; you can get one with a 6 x 4 inch active area (corresponding to your screen) for around £40, or a smaller one for around £25-30. It will come with its own stylus.
- Failing that, a touchscreen computer or tablet (at least 768 pixels wide, which normally means a 7-inch screen, but bigger is better; phone screens are usually too small to display BitPaper)
- You can get away without either touchscreen or graphics tablet, but freehand writing with a mouse is tricky!
- Chrome browser; Firefox or Safari should work too, but BitPaper doesn’t support Internet Explorer and Edge… though I’m told that the new version of Edge (with the blue and green swirly icon) actually works very well, which makes sense since I understand it’s based on the Chromium open-source software.
Getting into the paper/board
Open Chrome – support for other browsers, especially Internet Explorer / the older version of Edge, is more limited – and go to the BitPaper.io URL you have been given. The URL is permanent, so the same address can be used multiple times, keeping everything in one place. You can open up the same paper on more than one device if you like.
You can log into BitPaper using either a Facebook or a Google account, or email if you prefer, and you need to do this if you want to be able to use the whiteboard in between your online tuition sessions and save your work. Use Shift-S to save it for the first time, and after that it will appear in “My Papers” and will save any changes automatically. Logging in also allows you to create one free paper of your own per month.
A turquoise rectangle outlined on the screen indicates the field of view for the participant with the smallest screen. If you put anything on the screen outside that window then that person will need to pan around the page to see it.
If for any reason you have difficulty accessing BitPaper then it can still be shared with you via Zoom, though then you’ll only be able to write on it properly if remote control is handed over. (Without remote control you can still write on the screen using the Zoom annotation tool, but that’s like writing on an overlay and doesn’t get saved.)
Use the menu across the bottom of the BitPaper screen or the number keys on the keyboard to select your tool:
- Select pen colour & thickness;
- Use pen or highlighter (if you click on the ruler icon then you’ll get only straight lines, but you can also do this by holding down the Shift button while you draw);
- Use eraser (best avoided since it actually just covers things up rather than removing them; you can delete items properly by selecting them and then pressing the Delete key);
- Select and move items;
- Pan around the page [and since I wrote this post they’ve added the facility to recentre, i.e. jump straight to the beginning of the current page];
- Draw shapes selected from the library;
- Type text;
- Enter mathematical notation using TeX language – a nice new addition if you’re comfortable with TeX, but it’s usually quicker to handwrite!
Top right-hand corner: click on box to bring up menu allowing you to delete the page, add a new blank page or add a duplicate page; click on numbers or up/down arrows to move between pages. I leave the first page blank for my students to experiment with, and suggest that they use to it make a contents list of what’s on the other pages, so it’s easier to find things again later.
Get a full list of BitPaper keyboard shortcuts by pressing K at any time (except when text entry window is open). A few handy ones to remember are:
- < and > (without the Shift button, so really , and .) to change pages
- 1, 2, 3, etc. to change tools
- Z to undo last action (even if it was someone else’s).
- To draw a straight line or maintain the aspect ratio of a shape, hold Shift down while drawing.
- To zoom out (and fit more on the screen): Ctrl and –
- To zoom in: Ctrl and +
- T – show/hide screen icons
- F – toggle fullscreen view (Esc will also get you out of it)
To use the Snipping Tool on Windows 10 (with Creator update installed): Shift+Windows+S, select area to copy, then Ctrl+V to paste. (Personally I use this ALL the time, so I have it pinned to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen for easy access. You can do this with any app by right-clicking on its taskbar icon (while the app is open) and selecting “Pin to taskbar”.)
Snipping tool on Mac with Chrome: Shift+Ctrl+Cmd+4 then use cross-hairs to select desired area, then Cmd+V to paste.
Using screenshots / copy & paste
If you feel more comfortable doing your working on paper rather than on the screen then take a screenshot of the question (so you don’t lose it if someone else in your online tuition session moves to a different view while you’re working) and do your working-out on paper. When you’re ready, either (a) take a photo of your work, copy it (either the whole thing or a snipped section) and paste it into BitPaper for feedback, or (b) hold it up to the video camera and let the tutor do the copy & paste bit.
To find out how to make a DIY visualiser for free using just an old smartphone, have a read of this blog post.
If you’re interested in finding out more about online tuition with B28 Maths Tutor then click here.
If you’ve found this post helpful, or think there’s something I’ve missed or got wrong, then please let me know in the comments below. If you know someone else who you think might find it helpful then please share it with them too.
What are YOUR favourite video conferencing and whiteboard apps for online tuition, and why?