Online Whiteboard Information
What it does.
An online, or virtual, whiteboard is software designed to make it easy for more than one person to use and interact with a shared drawing area at the same time. There is a whole category of software made for this purpose, The program I chose to use for answering quick questions from the students I tutor is called Scribblar and is at Scribblar.com.
Why Use an Online Whiteboard?
From my personal experience, answering math questions by email is a tedious and inefficient way to respond to a question. While it may be easy for the student, by the time I have typed up a thorough response I have spent far too much time. And I may not have answered the real question! There is often a fair amount of trial and error involved in understanding just where the student is confused, they often can't explain their problem clearly or may not yet know what key piece of the puzzle they are missing. And speaking over the phone, while more efficient, is frustrating because in math you really need to see the problem and see where the student is stuck. And you need to be able to show them how to get "unstuck." An online whiteboard provides the visual interactive environment needed for practical math help. I haven't found an online whiteboard that was made from the ground up for math help. Someone, somewhere is probably working on one as I type this!
Scribblar is a general purpose online whiteboard but it has some particular tools that are made to help with math tutoring. The most important one, for me, was that it has built-in WolframAlpha support. While a student watches I can enter a formula into WolframAlpha, see the result, and make notes right on the results. Another feature of Scribblar that I like is that it allows me to insert Adobe PDF files for markup. I use PDF files a lot for notes and worksheets. It also supports entering math formulas using LaTeX, but that was only a minor selling point for me since LaTeX has to be one of the most cumbersome math markup languages to use in the history of the world. Roman Numerals are almost easier to use. But in short doses I can use LaTeX to show some math formulas much more neatly than I can write them with the mouse. Scribblar also has built-in chat either by typing or, if you have a microphone attached to your PC, by voice.
There are two short (10 minutes total) training videos that I recommend watching before you use Scribblar. One video is titled "Scribblar-The Basics" - 4 min. The other video is titled "Beyond the Basics" - 6 min. You do not need a Scribblar account to enter my Scribblar room. But I encourage you to create your own free Scribblar account so you can experiment with your own room. It is the best way to learn the program and you may find a fun way to collaborate with a friend. There is also a short (less than 2 minutes) video that provides help titled "Microphone and Audio Setup for Scribblar." Click here.