Remote or Online Tutoring

Remote or online tutoring is an emerging trend in tutoring. I noticed that there are a number of such services available. Even though it sounds interesting and has its own advantages, I personally feel that it may not be an effective way of learning if it is abused.

The notion of you can connect to anyone online immediately when you are stuck on a homework problem sounds great. However, this can result in students spending less time carefully thinking about the problem before asking for help. The student can then become more and more passive, and heavily relying on such technology for studying. Imagine when the student graduated and entered the job market. Does it mean that when he is stuck in solving a math problem during work, and he can just connect online to seek for tutor's help? I think it is important, at some level, that the students to struggle a little before getting help. If they know that there is such option, this can possibly spoiled them, where they cannot even live without such technology!

Another problem that I can see is the technology itself. While there are many cool technologies available to facilitate video conferencing, it is still quite different from having someone sitting beside you to point out the mistakes that you made. Worst, sometimes getting used to using such technology for learning itself can be challenging! For instance, when using a chatroom for typing equations, say you want to solve for x in the equation x^2 + 2*x + 1 = 0 - hey, you are now expecting the students to know how to type equations like a programmer! The equation above is still manageable. What about (-b +/- sqrt(b^2 - 4*a*c))/(2*a)? Do you see the problem? If the students are required to learn how to type these equations on a computer, I would rather suggest the students to spend the time reading about how to solve the problem. One would argue that such skill (typing equations on computer) is also important. However, when they are learning basic algebra, such skill should not be a prerequisite. Otherwise, they can actually access Wolfram Alpha - a free online computational "search engine" - where all the math problems can be "computed" and solved without any understanding. What I am trying to argue is that at each level of (mathematical) development there is a focus. If a student is spending time in learning the technology to learn the math, I would rather advise the students to spend more time on just reading the books to learn, as it is more important for them to understand math.

Of course the technology would evolve such that more immerse interaction will be available. I think one important point is that the technology itself should enhance the learning of complicated idea. If the technology itself is complicated and prohibiting the learning of the more important content, it doesn't make sense then. It is still important for the students to develop the critical thinking skill, rather than the technology usage. To this end, having a tutor beside the student is still more effective than online tutoring, as the tutor can actually point at the mistake, or talk about the mistake. The experience would still be very different from the online/remote interaction.


Hi Chinpei! Interesting perspective that you have about online tutoring. One way around this problem that you point out (that it is difficult to enter equations into the computer) is to use a pen input tablet. I got one for about 50 bucks and it works great. And using skype, I can share my screen with my student and they can share their screen with me. Something to consider! Thanks for the post!
Thanks Cameron! We indeed need better technology like a tablet for effective tutoring. Yes, one thing I, of course, did not really mention is that we definitely need much better technology to help the students. However, for the moment a writing tablet can be the most useful tool that can help.
I agree whole-heartedly with this post, Chinpei. I happen to be a math scholar myself and I have faced the arduous task of relaying a math problem via text messaging, email, chat, etc. and I must say, there needs to be some drastic improvements. Buuuuut, no matter how advanced our technology becomes, there will never exist an equal to human contact. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the best formula for a tutor-tutee relationship is exactly that--a relationship.
Thank you so much for your feedback, Armin! Indeed, human interaction is important for efficient learning.


Chinpei T.

Experience the Difference - Math, Science, Engineering & Programming

10+ hours
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