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Do you need a touchscreen for online tutoring?

by Will Chambers on 19th September, 2017

To continue our recent approach of cutting straight to the point, no.

The touchscreen question comes up whenever you're thinking about using an online whiteboard, or similar, for your online tutoring. Unsurprisingly, it's a question I get asked a lot. My response borrows a technical term which might not be familiar: The online tutoring experience with Bramble is progressively enhanced depending on what devices tutors and students have access to.

Online tutoring and progressive enhancement

Gov.uk provides a lovely definition: Progressive enhancement is a way of building websites and applications. It’s based on the idea that you should start by making your page work with just HTML, and consider everything else an extra. This is because the only part of a page that you can rely on to work is the HTML. If the HTML fails there’s no web page, so you should consider the rest optional.

In our case, we make the Bramble online whiteboard work with just keyboard and mouse and consider graphic tablets, touchscreens and whatever's coming next as an extra. I was talking to someone about this the other day and suddenly had the horrible feeling what if this isn't the case? What if our power users all have access to touchscreen devices and that's why they become power users? So, I did what everyone does in times of uncertainty and turned to the data.

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Do our most active online tutors use touchscreens?

I looked at data from the first six months of 2017 and selected 20 power users who had clocked up 915 hours of use. For those of a graphical disposition, you can take a look at the data below. To summarise, I found that 15% (3/20) of power users used a touch-device: two iPads and one Windows touchscreen laptop. Of the 915 hours of online tutoring delivered, 15% (140) involved a touch device, with one tutor using a touch device for around half of their sessions but not requiring it for the rest. Notably, none of the top 3 power users by hours used a touchscreen device.

The good news then, is two-fold. Most importantly, it is not necessary to have access to a touchscreen device for a rich online tutoring experience. Hundreds of hours were delivered on Bramble in the first half of this year alone, without any need for touchscreens. Less importantly, but reassuringly, I haven't been talking complete nonsense.