Could you tell me something about it?

This is my favorite, and hence the first question I ask my students before getting on with the lesson. Prior knowledge of the subject is something which is very common with today’s students. The teacher no longer holds monopoly of facts in the classroom. Students have access to enormous amounts of facts and data with the click of a mouse. The teacher must utilize this in their favor in order to facilitate a constructive learning environment.

It is important for teachers to know what the students already know about the topic. This not only saves time, but also sustains the students’ interest in the class. Moreover it provides ample time for the lessons and a little more time for activities which enhance the learning experience for the students.

Another aspect of such pre-quizzes is that they help in clarifying the misconceptions the students might be having about the concepts in their lessons. Such sessions make the students not just answer the ‘what’ of it but also the ‘why’ of it. A pre-quiz not only grabs the students’ attention but also implants an element of curiosity in them which would insure better attention and consequent retention of the concepts.

The teacher, apart from conducting such pre-quizes, should insure proper motivation and appropriate feedback to the students. If done properly, such sessions would result in the voluntary effort by the students to read more about the topics after school and come up with more questions. This will ultimately lead to the stage where students begin to synthesize their own questions and answers, realizing inquiry based learning (Ah… That’s my favorite word!)

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 22:18  Comments (2)  
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Picture Perfect with PechaKucha

In this post, I thought of sharing my views and experiences with PechaKucha – An antidote for death by PowerPoint.

Here are the rules of the game: PechaKucha (The 20-20 version of PowerPoint) is a rapidfire, but effective method by which 20 images are shown, each for 20 seconds. Text may be used but the usage must be highly limited. The beauty of this method is that your speech is restricted to those 20 seconds as the slide transition happens automatically. This means that your entire presentation will be 20 slides x 20 seconds = 400 seconds, or 6.40 minutes! The speech part hence needs some careful planning.

Although this technique was originally invented for architects, this is one of the most popular methods in PowerPoint presentations. After watching a series of beautiful PechaKuchas, I finally decided to try it out with my students. I prepared a PechaKucha for a science lesson and explained the concepts in 6.40 minutes. I was able to observe its effects in three phases

  • During the lesson the students were more attentive and receptive
  • The student’s retention power was enhanced and I was able to observe this in subsequent testing
  • Compared to my usual classes, the PechaKucha sessions had the students to come up with more questions and ideas

Although I haven’t tried this method for high school students, I am eagerly looking towards testing this method for more complicated topics for higher classes based on my experience so far.

Have you used PechaKucha for educational purposes for students of primary, secondary or high school levels? If so, I request you to share your experiences here.

Happy reading!

Online Tutoring from India Part-3

Hope you have enjoyed the first two posts in this series. If you haven’t read them, do look into them. I invite you to share your experience as an online tutor with me and do leave your comments on my posts. For aspiring online tutors from India/abroad, you can read the first and second parts of this series before this post and feel free ask me any questions that you have. You can reply to this post and I always make it a point to reply to every single post. If you would like to share this post with your friends, do tweet it using the tweet button at the end of this post.

I will be giving a brief overview on some of the platforms which are commonly used by online tutors in India for synchronous e-learning. Online tutoring can be done on numerous platforms. Like I had mentioned in my previous post, some are available for free and some on payment basis.

These are free!

There are loads of free stuff which can be used for online tutoring. I will give a brief account on some of them which I have used so far.

MSN Live, Google Talk, Y! Messenger, Skype: These are the most common chat software used all around the world. Anyone who uses the Internet will have a Gmail, Yahoo!, an MSN Live ID or a Skype ID, if not all. Interaction may be carried out through chats (text, voice and video). They work on a mode called VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). All these platforms offer free VoIP services. Since all these platforms also support file transfer, you can share documents, presentations and images which are relevant to the lessons. Yahoo Messenger has a theme known as Doodle, which even enables freehand writing on the chat window. A disadvantage with such chat software is the lack of real-time simultaneous view of documents (through file sharing) and discussing over it. This can be overcome by using whiteboard software.

Jabber: Jabber is an open source chat client. A jabber account also gives access to open source white boards like Coccinella.

Coccinella: It is a free chat software which also has an interactive whiteboard bundled with it. You would need a Jabber account (It’s free again!) to work with this. An interactive whiteboard is one upon which both the instructor and the student can write and share ideas. Cocinella features some of the basic functions of a whiteboard and is a pretty good place to start with.

Coccinella's Whiteboard

Vyew: It is another whiteboard software. Apart from the standard voice and video sharing along with an interactive whiteboard, it also allows desktop sharing, wherein the instructor/student can look into each other’s desktop real-time. Vyew has both free and premium versions. The free version has certain limitations with respect to the number of participants (not more than 20) and will have adverts in it. You would require to enable Java on your browser to use it.

Vyew's Whiteboard

Got the dough? You’ll need to pay for these!

Webex: This is, by far, the best web conferencing platform that I have used. It has everything in it from document sharing to chat, to video conferencing and lots more. You also have the facility to record the entire session and archive it. Webex does offer a fully functional free 14 day trial which will give you a feel of the interface.

Webex Whiteboard

Elluminate: Elluminate is another web conferencing platform which has a variety of capabilities loaded in it. It has several features similar to the Webex platform, including document sharing, voice and text chats, session recording and so on. Elluminate offers a fully functional trial account for 30 days and that is a good amount of time for you to learn and appreciate the worth of this platform.

Elluminate's Whiteboard

These are some of the platforms which I have used so far. There are many more such platforms offering such services. Do let me know if you find any other interesting platforms. Got any comments/questions for me? Just leave me a message under the comments section.

In my next post, I will be discussing about some of the tools and platforms that are available for asynchronous e-learning.

Happy reading!

Online Tutoring from India Part-2

Welcome to my second post in this series! You can read my first post in this series by clicking here. I invite you to share your experience as an online tutor with me and do leave your comments on my posts. For aspiring online tutors from India/abroad, feel free ask me any questions that you have. You can reply to this post and I always make it a point to reply to every single post. If you would like to share this post with your friends, do tweet it using the tweet button at the end of this post.

In this post, I’ll give you an overview on the common modes of assistance which can be provided for students online. Online tutoring can be delivered in either of these two modes:

  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous

Synchronous E-learning

This is more commonly known as live class sessions. The instructor and the student(s) will be online at a preset time and will interact with each other in a live meeting. The instructor can employ multimedia tools along with live voice and video sharing with the students.

Synchronous E-Learning

This mode of instruction is generally preferred by students who seek assistance in the form of a regular tuition or by those who would like to discuss and/or clarify doubts on a certain topic. I have also used this mode of teaching to demonstrate simple experiments in science for my students and was able to observe a very positive response from them.

Some students contact with such a requirement, seeking assistance for completion of online tests or assignments. Personally, I abstain from providing such assistance as a policy as it is not ethical to involve in such a practice.

While scheduling sessions, it is essential to verify the time zone of the learner and note the time difference. There are many different time zones and some countries follow a system known as daylight saving time (DST). Since this topic is beyond the focus of this post, you can click here to know more about time zone conversions.

Conduction of such sessions would require the assistance of online platforms. There are a number of online platforms which are available for free and on payment basis. I will discuss about these in my next post under this series.

Asynchronous e-learning

This mode of tutoring is preferred, in general, by pre-university, university and research students. This mode doesn’t require scheduling meetings at preset times. There is no real-time interaction between the instructor and the student(s).

This mode is more flexible and is done at the convenience of the instructor and the learner. The instructor normally posts the instructions on their web page, blog or a learning management system (LMS). The student(s) get them and work on them at their own convenient time. I personally feel that this mode allows the student to be more expressive with their ideas. Interaction between the instructor and the student(s) takes place through email and posts on the blog or an LMS. I will be writing about these tools in my next post.

Asynchronous E-Learning

This mode of tutoring requires promptness in replying to student posts and e-mails from the instructor’s end. I have had a lot of students complain to me that their earlier instructors were unsatisfactory on grounds of delayed response to their posts and mails.

A good online tutor must consider the student’s mail as top priority and must respond to them as soon as possible. In this era of IM and push mail,  tutors must aspire to take up greater responsibility in keeping their students motivated throughout their course of study. Since there is no live interaction, a prompt reply will make the learner feel more comfortable and confident in their approach to the course.

My next post in this series will be on the different platforms which are available for e-learning. Do leave your comments on this post. If you want to share this post with your friends, click on the tweet button at the end of this post.

Happy reading!

Online Tutoring from India Part-1


This is the first post in my series on online tutoring from India. Many people have been asking me about how this concept works and hence this series. Online tutoring is relatively new in India. It has been around here since 2005 and has gained momentum since 2006-07. I have been involved in online tutoring for over three years now and would like to share my experiences with you all. If you are an experienced online tutor/trainer, I invite you to share your experiences with me and the rest of the world and send your views/comments/feedback to me. For aspiring online tutors from India/abroad, feel free send in any questions that you have to me. You can reply to this post and I will make it a point to reply to every single post (That’s a promise!)

In the first part of this series, I’ll focus upon how I got involved with online tutoring. My advent into the online tutoring arena was accidental. It happened in the summer of 2007. I was doing my Masters in Biochemistry then and it was vacation time for me. Since I didn’t have the obligations of project work during the first year of my course, I had tremendous amount of time (65 days!) to kill. I came across the Yahoo Answers portal where people from all over the world can post questions on any topic and anyone across the globe can answer them. I began answering to questions under the chemistry and biology sections and soon got addicted to it.

One day I got a message from one of the members of Y! Answers asking me teach him some aspects of chemistry online. I was completely new to this and didn’t have a clue as to how online teaching worked. I spent the rest of the day, googling about online teaching and managed to gather meagre inputs. However, I did get some tips from him and hence my first student became my first teacher in online education!

After that, I had a discussion with Dr. P.T. Srinivasan, who was my professor and is the head of the department of Biochemistry of D.G. Vaishnav College. He is probably one of the very few professors in Chennai, who interact with his students through Yahoo groups and has a web domain for himself where he posts periodic updates for his students. Upon his advice I started my own Web site titled Biochemistry For U.

Initially, I was not sure as to how to market my services. Since I had other academic, co-curricular and extracurricular commitments, I couldn’t spend much time upon thinking on those lines. I posted some advertisements through some free ad portals. Within a month, I had about 4 students enrolled with me in school and college level from US, UK and Australia. This meant tremendous amount of work and I was spending a significant amount of time in preparing course material for the students. Over a period of time, as more students signed up with me, I began accumulating a substantial amount of study material in my repository. I then decided to make all of them open source and hence posted them on public domains. I later realized that this has, by itself, served as an advertisement for my services. By this time, I had also associated myself with a start-up UK-based company as a part-time online tutor. It is during this period that I was exposed to language and accent training. This proved to be an excellent opportunity for correcting my MTI (mother tongue influence) in my accent and in my language.

Today, I’m working as a senior online tutor, SME (subject matter expert)/content developer and a trainer with a private company. Apart from my work with the company, I am also involved in content development as a freelancer. I have authored four books so far and I should say that it was indeed a different and enjoyable experience. I will talk more about content development in another post. I am also involved in providing assistance for research students in their PhD studies.

Among many points, in my view, the following 5 points are extremely important for making a successful online tutor. A successful online tutor must

  • have a very good knowledge of the subject (Isn’t that obvious?)
  • believe in themselves (a.k.a. confidence)
  • never be a technophobic (We are on the driver’s seat and not the computer!)
  • understand the importance of language and communication
  • learn and appreciate the cultural background of the learner

I will be concentrating on the above points, among the other aspects of online tutoring in my successive posts.

Happy reading!

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 19:35  Comments (5)  
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