Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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My online tutoring technology (3): Why I use phones instead of video

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Update: At this point, I now tutor all my students using Skype video. I have found that as technology has improved and become more and more a part of young people’s daily lives, the issues I used to have with video have disappeared.

Here is a more up-to-date article on the technology I’m currently using, if you’d like to learn more about what I’m doing now: Tutoring Technology Update: What I Use Now

When I started developing my online tutoring service, I thought that using a webcam would be an integral part. But I found tutoring via webcam strangely draining and brain-fragmenting. Turns out I prefer to tutor via phone! Here’s why:

Familiarity and ease of use. Most people are already used to talking on the phone.

We’re in sync. There’s no delay in transmitting voice over the phone, so it’s easy to stay in sync. However, at this point in the development of webcam technology, there is a slight microsecond delay between transmitting and receiving video data. This delay feels disconnecting and tiring.

It’s not distracting. It is easy to handle visual input from the computer screen while getting verbal input over the phone. But having the webcam in the same screen as the online whiteboard is weirdly visually distracting.

You know where to direct your attention. It’s easy to pick up on verbal cues over the phone and visual cues from the whiteboard. But when you’re using a webcam, you look in the same direction to see both the person in the webcam and the math in the whiteboard. There’s no visual way to tell which one you’re paying attention to. This is socially confusing.

Your attention is not fragmented. Toggling between multiple windows—for example, the online whiteboard window and the webcam video window—is a classic recipe for decreased focus and degraded executive function. Talking over the phone eliminates this problem, since you are only looking at one window: the whiteboard.

It is nice to put a face with a name, so I do offer new students the chance to start our very first meeting with an introduction via webcam. But then we turn the webcam off and just use the whiteboard and the phone for the actual working-on-math part.

Related posts:
My Online Tutoring Technology (1): Why I chose the Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet
My Online Tutoring Technology (2): Why I chose Team Srkbl

7 Comments on “My online tutoring technology (3): Why I use phones instead of video”

  • on May 11th 9:40 pm

    Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it
    from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog jump out.
    Please let me know where you got your theme. Cheers

  • Rebecca Zook on May 13th 9:48 pm

    It’s all the work of my super amazing web designer, not a prefab theme. 🙂

  • brent on June 25th 10:38 am


    I am interested in tying the online tutoring (math) when I retire in a couple of year. As a result I have been investigating and found your site via a search.

    I am wondering if you can comment on the software being used on this Pearson site, “”.

    Are you familiar with it? Are you aware of software out there that does he same?

    Any help appreciated.

  • Rebecca Zook on June 27th 3:25 pm

    Hello, B Hughes! it’s great to meet you here.

    I’m not familiar with that software, but if you find out more about it, I’d be happy to hear what you learned!

    Here’s the breakdown of the technology I’m currently using:

  • Rosabelle Suarez on September 28th 10:50 am

    I have used Skype to communicate with professors and colleague. I really like this technology. Skype allows people talk for at least four hours and share their screens. If you need to record a section, Pamela for Skype is the beast in the market.

  • kn reddy on February 25th 7:39 am

    Hi Rebecca

    I have come across quite useful info tutoring technology thanks a lot.

  • kn reddy on February 25th 7:39 am

    Hi Rebecca

    I have come across quite useful info tutoring technology thanks a lot.

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