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Best Whiteboard For Online Tutors

Having tested out several different online whiteboard tools when tutoring online, I was interested to find out if new kid on the block BitPaper was up to scratch. Could BitPaper be the best collaborative online whiteboard for online tutors? Let's find out. 

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Getting started

At the moment, BitPaper is completely free and you don't even have to sign up to test out this collaborative whiteboard. Follow these simple steps to get started:

Step 1: Open your Google Chrome or Firefox browser (MacOS Safarai doesn't work so well) 

Step 2: Click on www.bitpaper.io

Step 3: Give your 'Paper' (whiteboard) a name

Step 4: Click Create Paper

That's it. You're now ready to start using the online whiteboard.


The Basics

The first thing you'll see is a short demo video which outlines the key features of Bitpaper:

When you've finished watching the video, click the next button at the bottom of the page to read some useful tips and the manual. Or click CLOSE and start testing out the tools.

You'll quickly discover that to use the more advanced features (like saving your papers) will require signing up. You can sign up in 30 seconds with your Facebook account or email address by simply adding your name, email and a password. 

Bingo! You've just unlocked a bunch of cool features that bring BitPaper to life, like audio/video calls and the ability to save your lessons and turn them into sharable PDFs. Very handy.


How to share you BitPaper whiteboard with your online student

Every BitPaper you create has a unique URL (web address) that you can simply share with your student by copying and pasting it into an email or if you're logged into Skype, the Skype chat box. Once your student clicks the link, you'll hear a 'ding dong' sound and they'll be able to see and interact with your BitPaper whiteboard.

Note: Make sure your student is using a Google Chrome or Firefox browser and logs into their BitPaper account with either Facebook or their email address. 

Where to find your sharable URL

Built in video and audio calls

Video Audio Call for BitPaper

At this point you could start your online tutoring lesson with an audio/video call using Skype or Zoom. Or you can start a voice or video call right inside your BitPaper. The advantage of using the inbuilt calling feature is that you and your student will be able to see each other within BitPaper. This means you won't need to navigate away to another app like Zoom or have multiple windows open to maintain eye contact on a video call. Anything that keeps the technical side of things as simple as possible for online tutoring gets a thumbs up in my book as long as the quality of the call remains high. 

Zoom is currently my favourite tool for audio and video calls because of the clarity and stability of the call, which is vital for online tutoring. I was interested to see if BitPaper's inbuilt calling feature could match it so I ran two tests. Test 1 was with another tutor in the UK and test 2 was with one of my students in Saudi Arabia (which often has an unstable connection due to slow internet). Here are the results:

Test 1 - UK to UK video call

The BitPaper video and audio quality were both very good for the duration of the 30 minute call, with no drop out or interruptions. We were both using fast broadband connections (50Mb) so this was to be expected.

Test 2 -  UK to Saudi Arabia voice call

I decided to run this test with a voice only call because in my experience, video calls to Saudi Arabia often result in serious connection problems but voice calls are usually possible. The BitPaper voice call connected ok and I was able to hear my student clearly to start with but after about 5 minutes, the quality started to deteriorate and within 10 minutes, I couldn't hear her at all. I quickly switched over to Zoom and was able to complete the lesson using a Zoom audio call. The student was still able to access my BitPaper whiteboard for the duration of the call and she commented that the board was very clear and easier to read than a Zoom screen share.

Test Conclusion 

If both you and your online students have a strong internet connection, then using the inbuilt video/audio call function within BitPaper could be a easy way to provide a simple, all-in-one place tool for your online lesson. Having not tested BitPaper's video call feature extensively, I don't know how well it would perform at a range of different connection speeds. But if in doubt, or you've had connection issues in the past, using a combination of Zoom for the call and BitPaper for the collaborative online whiteboard is a good option and worked well for me.


BitPaper Features

Once you've got the hang of sharing your BitPaper and the basic drawing tools, there are a few other key features that you need to know about:

Add images

You can simply drag and drop any image onto the paper, re-size or reposition it and then double click the image to fix it in place. Choose carefully where you want the image to go as once it's on the paper, you can't select or reposition it. I couldn't find a way to delete the image other than using the eraser tool or clearing the whole paper. Also, I found that larger images can take a while to upload so if possible, it's better to do this before the lesson starts.

Another way to add images is to use the snipping tool. This is great for taking a screen shot of anything and then pasting it onto your page. On a Mac, click 'Shift + cmd + 4' and drag your cursor over the area of your screen you want to copy. Click cmd + V to paste onto the page. BitPaper's guide recommends Windows users download the Windows 10 Creator update and then use Shift + Windows key + S to take a snap shot followed by Ctrl + V to paste onto the page.  

Use the Hotkeys

Don't be that person who desperately searches for the right button to click to change the colour of the pen tool! It's painful to watch and will quickly annoy your students. Instead learn the Hotkeys and teach online like a pro. Hotkeys make using BitPaper much faster. For example, instead of clicking on each tool you want to use, numbers 1-6 on your keyboard will change the tools for you. Here's a full list of the Hotkeys but you can find this list when you're using BitPaper at any time by pressing M (that's right, another Hotkey!)

BitPaper Hotkeys
Export to PDF

This feature is cool because it can add value to your student by giving them the option to save and print any part of their online lesson, which is great for offline revision. Here's how this might look:

Step 1: Your student emails you a copy of their handwritten essay*.

Step 2: You upload the essay to a BitPaper and share the URL with your student*.

Step 3: During the lesson you correct and annotate the essay.

Step 4: At the end of the lesson, the student clicks the Export to PDF button and now has a copy of their corrected essay.

PDF feature

*If your student is confident using BitPaper, they could do Steps 1 and 2 for you (saving you time).

Save your paper

If your student wants to just save a copy of your paper and come back to it later, click the save button (or press Shift +S) and this will save it into their 'My Papers' area.

Note: I lost a couple of papers because they don't autosave so make sure you click the save button to store your lessons in your 'My Papers' area before closing BitPaper. 


Conclusion

Here's a list of my likes and dislikes at time of testing:

Likes

Dislikes

Easy to get started


Quick and easy to add images to paper

No tool to select and move/delete/resize images when you've added them to paper

Simple to share paper with student

Papers don't autosave so disappear unless you save them to 'My Papers'

Built in call feature

Can't minimise video/call image so gets in the way of your paper

Create multiple boards in one paper

Turn lesson into printable/sharable PDF with two clicks

Easy for students to interactive with lesson content

Can use features quickly with Hotkeys

Free

Overall, I give BitPaper 9 out of 10 stars. I love the fact that it's quick and easy to get started so if you or your student are new to online tutoring, you've got nothing to fear. There aren't tons of tools, which keeps things nice and simple but I missed being able to select and manipulate images and drawings once added to the page. I don't mind using Zoom for my international calls but I've got used to Google Docs that autosaves everything so those are minor dislikes for me. If the team at BitPaper can add a select tool and autosave feature, I'd be a very happy bunny.

Is BitPaper the best collaborative online whiteboard for online tutors? If you want an easy to use, free and interactive tool to share lesson materials with your online students, look no further than BitPaper. 

Matt Thompson
 

Matt is an online English tutor and founder of Smart Online Tutoring. He's a big fan of technology and when he's not teaching or helping others with their online tutoring businesses, you'll find him on the badminton court.

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