Online tutoring setup
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Master online tuition with Zoom and BitPaper in 2021

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.

Online tuition - BitPaper screenshot
BitPaper screenshot

Using Zoom for online tuition

What you’ll 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

Initial setup

Go to 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.

Backup options

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.

Using BitPaper

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.

What you’ll 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 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.)

Screen icons

Use the menu across the bottom of the BitPaper screen or the number keys on the keyboard to select your tool:

  1. Select pen colour & thickness;
  2. 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);
  3. 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);
  4. Select and move items;
  5. 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];
  6. Draw shapes selected from the library;
  7. Type text;
  8. 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.

BitPaper left-hand menu

Bottom left of screen:

  • Upload files (but you can use the Windows Snipping Tool to paste selections directly into the whiteboard; that’s what I do);
  • Add grid or coloured background (may be helpful for those with dyslexia) to paper;
  • Use chat box (or join audio or video call but that costs extra);
  • Share URL of whiteboard with someone else;
  • Open full menu in sidebar.

Bottom right of screen: undo action; redo action.

BitPaper undo-redo

Keyboard shortcuts:

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?

Please share this if you find it helpful!
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  1. Hi Lynne
    This is a great guide, very useful. Thanks for sharing. There is one thing about using Edge as a browser tho. That’s what I use a lot, in fact most of the times as I find it super quick to upload bitpaper there. I used Chrome before. I actually clicked Edge by mistake once and found it uploaded bitpaper quicker so have used that ever since.

    1. Wow, I didn’t know that. BitPaper didn’t work properly on the old Edge, but I understand that the new version (the one with the swirly blue and green icon rather than the old blue e) is based on the same open-source software as Chrome, so it makes sense that the compatitibilty would be better.

  2. Thank you for sharing this comprehensive guide, it’s been really helpful. I use Teams but considering changing to Zoom for the annotation of a shared screen. I wish Teams would introduce this functionality so I can avoid changing!

  3. I really like everything about Bitpaper, except that imported pdf files (such as exam papers) are too small to read. Apart from laboriously copying and pasting screenshots of each question, have you found a way round this problem?

    1. I don’t import whole PDFs, I just do screenshots, so it’s not an issue I’ve encountered. I assume that you’ve already tried grabbing a corner and stretching the image (while holding down the Shift button to maintain the aspect ratio)?
      You could try contacting BitPaper on Facebook; they’re usually pretty responsive.

    2. Hello. Thank you for your helpful guide. My daughter is using bit paper with an online tutor. The tutor is great but we’re running into problems with bit paper even though we are technological household. The tutor pastes images with questions for home work which my daughter was then trying to write maths problems on and it’s very tricky to do with the finger on the touch screen (the digits over lap and get muddled) and you can’t zoom in on bitpaper. So we’ve switched to trying to write with the mouse, if you use the rubber it rubs out the question in the background so we use the undo button instead and it’s very easy to click the undo button too many times and the image disappears and we can’t recover it. Is this something you’ve ever encountered? And do you have any solutions for these problems? many thanks.

      1. Hi Gary, I’m afraid I can’t really offer many helpful suggestions for a tablet without a keyboard, but if you have a keyboard and mouse then you can zoom in and out by holding the Ctrl key down and either using the scroll button on the mouse or pressing +/- on the keyboard.

        You’re right about the eraser tool – it’s more of an invisibility cloak really! If you undo too many times, you can redo what you’ve undone by either clicking on the Redo icon in the bottom RH corner of the BitPaper window or pressing X on the keyboard.

        You can also delete items by selecting them (using the icon that looks like a mouse arrow) and then pressing the Delete key on your keyboard. (On an iPad you can’t press the Delete key but you can grab the item and move it out of the way.) It’s very easy to accidentally select/move something that you didn’t want to, but you can prevent that by selecting the item that you don’t want to lose and then clicking on “Lock”. Then you can select content that might overlap it but you won’t select/move/delete the locked item. Useful for annotating diagrams!

    1. Normally I don’t approve attempts at advertising but in this case I’ll make an exception since it’s relevant to the subject matter.

      I’m quite happy with the software I’m already using but will bear yours in mind if I feel the need to change.

  4. Hi, can students use the writing, drawing etc. features if they are using an iPad? My students are unable to write etc.

    1. In BitPaper? Yes, they should be fine. Obviously they won’t be able to use the keyboard shortcuts, unless they have a keyboard for their iPad (I tend to use Z to undo, rather than the Undo icon on the screen) but otherwise it should all work. Not sure about handing over remote control in Zoom though. The ideal setup is a computer screen for the video conferencing software and either a second screen with graphics tablet, or a separate touchscreen such as an iPad, for them to interact with the BitPaper themselves.
      (I actually don’t use Zoom any more, as the service is no longer free for my needs, whereas Skype is, so I’ve gone over to that.)

  5. Hi Lynne,
    Thanks for getting back to me. It’s the remote control in Zoom that I am having trouble with – which you may not be able to help me with! When I give remote control to the student they are unable to interact with paper on BitPaper using the iPad (very frustrating as you can imagine). Do you know of any other sites I could find out the answer?
    Thanks for your help,

    1. You could try joining a Facebook group for tutors and asking there, but I think I’ve heard other tutors with similar grumbles so you might find that it’s a known issue that you can’t do much about.

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