Can Interactive Whiteboards Revitalize Online High-Dose Tutoring?

After the pandemic, the nationwide adoption of online high-dose tutoring was expected to address deepening educational disparities. Additionally, it gained attention for its ability to provide high-quality education in regions with inadequate supplies of teachers, especially in higher-grade STEM education.

However, as of 2023, the effectiveness of high-dose tutoring has gradually declined due to low student participation rates and skepticism from education authorities regarding the actual educational impact of online high-dose tutoring. Some school districts have opted for in-person high-dose tutoring. So, is the low effectiveness of high-dose tutoring simply due to its online nature?

To answer this question, examining the conditions enabling online classes and exploring how EdTech technology can help address educational disparities and teacher shortages in our education system is crucial.

Currently, most online high-dose education services do not provide students with the same quality of lessons as in-person classes. To effectively conduct high-dose education, teachers need not only to explain and repeat but also to find novel ways to help students understand difficult concepts, including encouraging students to take a central role, solve various examples themselves and explain their understanding to the instructor to be educationally effective. Especially for students with low achievement, diagnosing what they don’t know through various questions is crucial, as students themselves often don’t know where they need improvement.

However, attempting to conduct such “high-level communication” with flat-dimensional video alone or showing pre-made lesson slides through screen sharing can deter student engagement and make it challenging to achieve lesson goals. So, what additional elements are needed to attain frequent problem-solving communication in education online?

Throughout history, humans have used various media such as stones, wood, paper and chalkboards to explain and learn abstract concepts and complex knowledge. Chalkboards are often used by teachers to describe concepts, but they can also serve as a medium for students to come forward and try solving problems to ensure their understanding. In one-on-one tutoring, blank notes between the teacher and student serve as a substitute for chalkboards. Even students who do not ask questions because they don’t know what they don’t know can be encouraged to explain what they just learned to the teacher or classmates or to attempt problem-solving, revealing their true abilities to the teacher. This way, teachers can help students achieve the lesson’s goals by providing more diverse examples and problem-solving.

During the recent pandemic, online high-dose tutoring was not embraced by teachers, students and parents for a number of reasons. Teachers had to rely on their voices to capture students’ attention and adapt to unfamiliar remote teaching methods to motivate students who only appeared on video. However, despite teachers’ efforts, students remained passive participants and could not actively engage in lessons as they would in a physical classroom. Observing these unengaged students, parents began to think that offline classes would be more effective.

In other words, to achieve online education of the same quality as offline, the whiteboard function, serving as a substitute for chalkboards, is not optional but essential. This whiteboard should not be a rudimentary feature where you can only draw rough underlines and lines with a mouse. It should provide a writing experience similar to using a pencil on paper or writing graphs and equations with chalk, capturing the feeling of offline note-taking. Only then can online education achieve the same quality as offline.

You might think popular video conferencing solutions already have a whiteboard function. However, the standard whiteboard function is more geared toward assisting business meetings rather than the feeling of a classroom whiteboard. There are apparent differences between educational and business whiteboards.

According to operational data from Pagecall, which provides whiteboard functions to educational companies, teachers and students input around 20,000 strokes of communication data in an average 60-minute online class. Unlike business whiteboards, which draw simple underlines and circles on presentation materials, educational whiteboards must synchronize a large amount of input data generated quickly among participants in real time and represent it graphically. Moreover, implementing such real-time communication and graphic rendering functions in tablet devices, which have lower hardware capabilities than PCs and suffer from battery drain and heating issues when performance is pushed to the limit, presents a considerable technical challenge. However, only when teachers and students can communicate with each other efficiently in this way, similar to offline teaching, will they feel that the quality of online education has improved.

Recently, in South Korea, one of the most competitive countries in the world for education services, the Seoltab service has grown significantly. It lacks video features and relies solely on audio and whiteboards for communication between teachers and students. Still, it has attracted thousands of users nationwide and continues to grow. Seoltab has grown as a beloved online education service for students and teachers because they have tablet devices with stylus input, allowing them to communicate effectively in a non-face-to-face environment, much like explaining on a practice sheet as if they were meeting in person.

Some school districts that are disappointed with online high-dose tutoring attempt to return to offline methods. As it becomes more difficult to find teachers who can adequately cover the subjects and study hours that students require, the disadvantages of online learning will slowly diminish, leading to a shift in focus toward online education. This transition will be accelerated by advancements in AI technology, the widespread adoption of digital textbooks and the emergence of vertically integrated super apps for edtech solutions. However, the starting point of this change will be the digital transformation of the chalkboard, which has been a core element of the education field for thousands of years.

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