The use of whiteboards in synchronous online drop in tutorials in distance delivered courses
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The Use of Whiteboards in Synchronous Online Drop-In Tutorials in Distance Delivered Courses. Lawton Shaw Centre for Science. Outline. Background & Review The Pilot Project Demonstration Student Survey Results Conclusions Acknowledgments. Challenges in Tele-tutoring.

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The Use of Whiteboards in Synchronous Online Drop-In Tutorials in Distance Delivered Courses

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The Use of Whiteboards in Synchronous Online Drop-In Tutorials in Distance Delivered Courses

Lawton Shaw

Centre for Science


  • Background & Review

  • The Pilot Project

  • Demonstration

  • Student Survey Results

  • Conclusions

  • Acknowledgments

Challenges in Tele-tutoring

Challenges in Tele-tutoringLearning Styles

  • Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic Learning Styles

    How does a strong visual or strong kinesthetic learner actually learn much over the phone?

Challenges in Tele-tutoringSemiotics, or How the story is told

Semiotics: “the study of signs and symbols in various fields” (Oxford dictionary)

  • Many academic disciplines are communicated through a system of symbols: philosophy (logic), linguistics, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, statistics, accounting, finance…

Semiotics of Chemistry

Language of chemistry:

  • chemical symbols

  • visual abstractions of molecules

  • mathematical descriptions

Can we address some of these challenges with online whiteboards?

Whiteboards in Education

  • Extensive literature on classroom applications1

  • Limited applications in DE

1for example, Smith, H.J., Higgins, S., Wall, K.,

Miller, J. (2005) J. Comput. Assist. Lear. 21,


“Phone + whiteboard”

  • 1-on-1 tutor/student

  • Very easy to implement

  • Quite effective

  • Pilot in AU math courses (Julie Peschke and Konrad Michalski)

“Text + whiteboard”

  • Commercial tutorial services2-3 and in institutions4-6

  • 1-on-1 tutor/student

  • No audio (interaction is hindered)

2Bourke, C. (2007) Aplis 20:2, 67-71

4TVOntario Independent Learning Centres:

5Smith, G.G., Ferguson, D. (2004) Int. J. Math. Educ. Sci. Tech. 35:5, 681-695

6Online Classroom June 2005, 5

“Text + audio + whiteboard”

“Elluminate approach”

  • Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic Learning Styles

  • BONUS: Multiple participants!

    (opportunities for interesting social aspects)

Online Synchronous Drop-In Tutorial using Elluminate

Pilot Project:“Online Synchronous Drop-In Tutorial using Elluminate”

  • “Drop-in” online tutorial

  • Supplement to I.S. tutoring

  • 12 weeks

  • 3 evenings per week

  • 8:00-10:00 pm MST

Required Hardware

  • Graphic tablet for tutor

  • $150 – 250 for a 6 x 8 tablet

  • Microphone & speakers (usually an existing PC component)

Pilot Project


  • Students were sent weekly group emails (bcc) announcing the weekly schedule, link to an anonymous online survey

  • At end of survey, provided link to Elluminate class


Survey Structure

Have you used the online drop-in chemistry tutorial before?



  • Question sets on:

  • Age/Gender

  • Location

  • Courses

  • Length of time in course

  • Previous tutor contact

  • Technological savvy

  • Access to Technology

  • Question sets on:

  • Number of visits

  • Evaluation of Elluminate

  • Ellumination tools used

  • Qualitative free-response

Correlate using

IP addresses

Link to Elluminate

Student Participation Rate

  • Over period of study, 245 students were enrolled in the 5 chemistry courses

  • 171 students visited at least once

    70% participation rate

    17% completed evaluation survey

  • Single visits: 157 students (91.8 %)

  • Multiple visits: 14 students (8.2%)

Evaluation by Students

  • 97% found it easy to get started in Elluminate

  • 90% found it easy to use Elluminate as a virtual classroom

  • 97% found the sound quality acceptable

Time Use

  • Average 5.1 min wait time

  • Average 7.0 min spent on their question

  • 70% found other students present when they logged in

  • 67% watched/listened to tutor answering other questions


  • “Is the online whiteboard an effective teaching tool?” -100% Yes

  • “Do you think this technology is helpful in learning chemistry at a distance?” - 100% Yes

  • “Would you use the online drop-in tutorial again?” - 100% Yes

  • “Would you recommend using the online drop-in tutorial to someone you know?” - 100% Yes

  • “Do you think this tutorial mode should be available to students on an ongoing basis?” - 100% Yes

Some Student Comments

“watching and listening to other student's questions was a great learning experience. It was somewhat like sitting in a lecture hall listening to other student's questions after a lecture…”

“I really, really liked it! I found it very helpful - both in getting my own questions answered & also when listening to other student's questions. Even to know they sometimes had the same problems I did with some concepts was helpful. Or sometimes they thought of it in a different way, which was good to know & added to my understanding. “

“I enjoyed it very much. Being part of an actual tutor/exchange made me feel like I was part of a class community. Until now, I have felt very isolated while taking this course...“

Biases Affecting RepeatStudent Participation

Biases Affecting Repeat Student Participation

  • Initially attracts more female students, but more males come back.

  • Older student population

  • Time zone effect

  • Number of chemistry courses enrolled in

  • Comfort with technology

The Future

  • Plans to bring back on-line drop-in tutorial in Chem 217/218, in same format as pilot study

  • Supplement to Individualized Study tutor model

Challenges to Broad Application

  • Institutional support of offering numerous online drop-in tutorials simultaneously ($$)

  • Collective agreement changes if it replaces phone tutoring

  • Tutor buy-in


  • Very high degree of student satisfaction

  • Elluminate is suitable for this teaching application

  • Demographic differences between multiple-visit and single-visit students


  • Tutors: Jim Robinson and Lois Browne

  • Elluminate: Shubhash Wasti

  • PSP Surveyor: Mawuli Kuivi

  • Learning Services Tutorial: Cindy Kilborn, Rachelle Reid

  • Institutional Studies (AU)

  • Julie Peschke, Konrad Michalski, and Steve Swettenham for useful discussions

  • Athabasca University for MCR Funding

Thank you for your time.

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