I’ve used many online tutoring platforms over the years.
As a professional tutor, it has always been important for me to find the best tools and resources for the job. Not only can they make my life easier, but they can improve the learning experience for my students.
Every educator has their own requirements. But for me, having a setup which is simple to use, reliable and highly interactive for the student is a must. More than that though, I want a platform that really harnesses technology to enhance the learning experience.
When it comes to online education, the majority of people are still using old web conferencing tools, be it Skype or Zoom, to teach on: platforms which we are all familiar with but were never intended for this purpose.
Great online tutoring requires great teachers AND great technology.
That’s what I discovered with Bramble.
There are a few key reasons why I’ve stuck with Bramble and why I believe that it is currently the best platform on the market for online tutoring
I don’t always tutor from home. Sometimes I tutor remotely, or even abroad. For this reason it is important for me to have a very simple tutoring setup which doesn’t require using multiple platforms and take up all of the space on my hard drive.
I also want to use a platform that works seamlessly across different devices (PC, Laptop, iPad etc.).
Most setups I experimented with involved using multiple platforms and softwares. For example, this is one setup I’ve used in the past:
- Stand-alone Whiteboard
- Video conferencing and screen share (requires download)
- Documents and resources (such as examination papers)
- Online Textbooks
One of the biggest issues I had with this type of setup was that if one platform wasn’t working well, or loading quickly, it compromised everything else, including the quality of the lesson I was trying to deliver.
Another problem I had with this setup was that I was often downloading software (on all of my devices) which slowed them down. Combined with high bandwidth requirements, I regularly had frustrating experiences with lagging, buffering… and the occasional crash. A student's attention is often hard enough to gain without adding these factors into the mix!
In contrast, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy Bramble was to use as a single integrated solution across all of my devices with nothing to download. The screen resolution is fixed across devices so my student can always clearly see exactly what I’m seeing.
Figure 1. Bramble Classroom Across Multiple Devices
Best of all for me, was that I didn’t need anything else for a great online tutoring session. All of the resources I uploaded could be used in future lessons!
Bramble prioritises a low bandwidth environment by focussing the lesson on the interactive whiteboard, resulting in a fantastic session experience free from connection issues and slow upload times.
Perhaps my favourite feature of the interactive whiteboard is the multiple ways I can upload resources to it. I use the following methods to upload resources to the lesson:
- Upload Button (you can upload straight from your device)
- Drag and Drop (the upload method I use the most due to its speed)
- Copy and Paste (often used to share web pages and links)
- Screenshot (via the Snipping Tool to capture images across the web)
- Snapshot (a smart way to use your webcam to import pages in textbooks)
A large PDF can be uploaded almost instantaneously, which is excellent for working with exam papers, markschemes and even ebooks.
[Figure 2. An Uploaded Exam PDF]
In my experience, there are few platforms out there which can compete with the in-lesson performance and speed of Bramble.
3. Lesson Recordings and a Searchable Revision Library
Every lesson on Bramble is recorded, transcribed and fully searchable.
For a student, this clearly provides a fantastic revision tool and maximises the value they derive from each session.
For a tutor, it becomes a phenomenal asset over time. Every resource I use on Bramble can be found and reused in future sessions, at the click of a button.
The lesson recordings come complete with a bunch of useful information, such as:
- Session Date
- Length of Session
- Word Counts
You can also search your session recording by student and date, which makes locating a previous session much easier.
Then there are the smart features, such as AI powered session synopses and automatic subject detection which allow you to identify a session subject and topic at a glance.
[Figure 3. Session Recordings]
Finally, you are able to playback any session at multiple speeds. All of this is wonderful, but what pulls it all together is Smart Search.
Smart Search unlocks the real value of lesson recordings. It allows you to search through all of your lessons for anything you have talked about and even any resource you have shared.
For example, if I want to look back at how I delivered a particular part of a lesson on covalent bonding, using Smart Search I can type in the words ‘covalent bonding’ and it will return all of my previous lessons which included this topic. You can search via annotations, text and/or resources, so it becomes very easy to locate and find anything you’ve used on Bramble.
[Figure 4. Smart Search]
Smart search and session recordings take online tutoring to the next level to the great benefit of the student AND the tutor.
I constantly hear from my students how much they enjoy the interactive and collaborative nature of Bramble. It is built in such a way that everything drawn, annotated or uploaded is done in real-time, with no lag.
I have noticed that when using screenshare (mostly done on the tutor’s side), the student tends to be more passive as the lesson is more instructional, meaning they end up taking more of a backseat in their own learning.
In an online environment, this tends to lead to the student switching off and losing their concentration during lessons. This is one of the reasons why so many educators insist that they need a webcam to see the student at all times during the session.
In my lessons, a webcam is rarely needed because the student is already 100% engaged solving an examination question or collaborating with me on a diagram.
How am I able to tell this?
Well, one way is through lesson word counts, which are available once a lesson is finished on Bramble. If I have spoken 10,000 words in an hour-long lesson and my student has spoken 50 words, it was likely a very passive experience for them.
Which brings me nicely to my next point…
5. Data and Insights
The scientist in me loves the fact that I can use technology to improve and enhance my tutoring sessions. One of the things which stood out to me about Bramble is that they are clearly focused on the intersection of education and technology and how the two can be blended together for a better online experience.
I outlined some of the data that is provided at the end of each session on Bramble when discussing lesson recordings. In an hour long session, over 3,500 data points are generated from words spoken to strokes drawn and resources shared. This data can be used in a multitude of ways to predict student performance, customise learning and track your own impact.
I can get real-time data on how many hours I’ve tutored online and also how many hours I’ve tutored each student. I can also see exactly which topics and concepts I tend to focus on with my students.
[Figure 5. Mentions of Key Topic Concepts from my Sessions]
6. Improving as a Tutor
One of the key ways I use this data is to analyse my own performance as a tutor.
I use the lesson recordings to determine the following questions:
- Was I too instructional, not allowing the student to be active and engaged enough?
- Was I clear about what I expected from the student?
- Was I focussing on developing the student’s skills and not just their rote knowledge?
- Was I stretching the student a little more in each session?
I believe it was Anders Ericsson who first coined the term ‘deliberate practice’, which refers to the idea of a purposeful and systematic way of improving a craft or skill. In my case; teaching and coaching students. One way to include deliberate practice and improve my teaching is to get immediate feedback.
Aside from reviews, this was previously difficult for many educators because they did not film themselves in action, so had no way of analysing their performance.
Lesson recordings change all of that. It is now very easy to dip into a session and see how you did. At a glance I can see how many words were spoken by me and my student in every session.
Tutors are a passionate bunch and take a lot of pride in their work. I am certainly glad that I have a way to objectively look at my work and see ways to keep improving thanks to this type of technology.
Customised room links are somewhat a luxury feature, but they sure beat the long generic links popularised by most videoconferencing platforms.
A room link is a unique URL where the sessions on Bramble take place. For example, let’s say I have two students; Joe Bloggs and Sarah Clarke. I can create the following customised room links to share with them:
Alternatively, I could create one link to share with all of my students. For example:
I love the fact Bramble is cloud-based. It makes a huge difference to how mobile I can be with my online tutoring. As long as I have an internet connection and a device to teach on, I’m good to go.
Bramble allows me to work seamlessly across my devices. I never notice any updates and all I have to do is share a link with my students. No hard drive space required!
Once you incorporate cloud computing into your online tutoring setup, I guarantee you won’t go back.
As every lesson is recorded and searchable on Bramble, it naturally lends itself to highly effective safeguarding. In fact, privacy and security in general is very well protected as voice, video and lesson transcripts cannot be downloaded and do not leave the Bramble ecosystem.
This is peace of mind for you, the student and the parent.
10. Built for Education
As a final point, I love the fact that Bramble has been built from the ground up for education.
It started as a social enterprise connecting Cambridge undergraduate students with state sixth formers for tuition and mentorship online. The founders soon realised that no existing platforms provided a good online teaching experience, so they decided to build their own.
Knowing the founders well, I have been impressed by their passion for education and commitment to taking online teaching and learning to the next level. One of the reasons I think Bramble is such a great option for many educators is that it has been built from the ground up with this vision in mind.
Whilst I am always open to new tools for teaching online, Bramble is currently one of my biggest assets in delivering great tuition online and therefore delivering the best results for my students.
You can learn more about Bramble at https://about.bramble.io/. Visit www.tutorfair.com to find a private tutor or browse our new Online Study Groups to join a group lesson at 50% of the tutor's hourly rate!
The Tutorfair Foundation uses Bramble for their free online tutoring programmes. Check out how they have been supporting students www.foundation.tutorfair.com.