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Subject:

Re: online tutoring - textbook publishers / college tutoring centers

From:

Burck Smith <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 5 May 2004 11:54:27 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (49 lines)

Hello List --

SMARTHINKING provides online tutoring to Houghton Mifflin and to Lippincott Williams and Wilkins that gets bundled with their textbooks. Also, we provide online tutoring directly to schools, usually as a complement to their face-to-face service. For schools that use both, both sets of tutors can be accessed from the same account.  I think I can provide some insight into the issues listed. It seems that there are several questions to address.

The first question is: will publisher provided online tutoring eliminate the need for schools to provide tutoring all together? The second question is: whether online tutoring programs at schools should feel competitive with online tutoring providers, whether they are tutoring companies or publishers.

To address the first question, using online tutoring thatís bundled with textbooks is definitely a way to reduce costs for an institution. However, this is not a complete solution for learning assistance/tutoring support.  This is for a number of reasons:

* Typically, the student can only get access to service in a single subject, rather than a range of subjects. For instance, a student can get tutoring in Math with the right textbook, but not English because the school uses a book from a different publisher. This could change if the school chose to work exclusively with one publisher, however, given the level of faculty independence with regard to textbook selection, this seems unlikely, at least in non-profit and public colleges.

* Typically, the hours provided are not 24/7. For Houghton Mifflin, tutors are staffed from 2 pm to 5 pm ET and 9 pm to 1 am ET Sunday through Thursday. For schools that contract with us directly, tutoring is provided 24/7 in Math and from 4 pm to 1 am ET in other subjects.

* Perhaps most importantly, not all students will buy the new textbook. Students who purchase used textbooks typically do not have access to these services.

* There are things that can be done face to face that canít be done online. Conversely, there are things that can be done online that canít be done fact to face. For instance, if a student wants direct help from a particular professor, needs longitudinal, structured tutoring, has a learning disability, or simply prefers face to face tutoring, then that student is more likely to be successful in a face to face instructional environment. However, if a student does not have access to campus facilities during particular times and requires immediate academic assistance , then 24/7 online tutoring is the best answer. There may also be students whose learning style is best accommodated in the relative anonymity of the online environment.  Finally, there may be some areas that, taught in an online setting, actually enhance the work that is achieved in the face-to-face classroom or tutorial. For example, when engaging in online writing tutorials, students send drafts, read written tutor critiques, and revise drafts.  This entirely text-based mode of communication may actually encourage the internal dialogue that composition and rhetoric theorists argue is so vital to a student writerís development.  These issues are addressed, in part, in Hewett and Ehmannís forthcoming work: Preparing Educators for Online Writing Instruction: Principles and Processes (NCTE Press, due out by the end of 2004)

* Finally, it is my guess that, at some point, as textbook provided tutoring becomes more popular (and it is growing fast), publishers will be forced to charge for it or limit it. It hasn't happened yet, but I would guess that it will in the next couple of years.

So, I do not think that online tutoring is a replacement for face to face interactions. It is an excellent complement and, for those students who canít have face to face sessions, a passable substitute to face to face services.

As to the second question, should online tutoring at a school feel competitive with online tutoring from a publisher or a tutoring company? In my opinion, the question should be: whatís in the best interest of the student? Does a schoolís online tutoring program provide better or more comprehensive service to the student and at what cost? Is the true cost of the schoolís online tutoring program (admin, facilities, training, oversight, tech help, customer support, tutoring costs, infrastructure costs software costs, etc..) more, less or the same as publisherís program or a companyís program? Clearly, I have a biased opinion on this subject, but hereís what weíve seen. When SMARHTINKING makes a presentation to a school and the school decides not to use us, one of the most common reasons is: ďWeíre offering online tutoring already.Ē Typically, if they are providing online tutoring (and Kathryn is an exception), it is through the whiteboard interface contained within a course management system with a patchwork of tutoring hours that roughly resembles the hours provided in the face-to-face center. Not surprisingly, there is not a whole lot of demand for this type of online tutoring. This is because this undermines the reasons for using online tutoring in the first place. The Internet allows 24/7 service to be provided. It allows the sophisticated capturing of administrative information and the provision of tutoring in multiple subjects Ė all from one location. Most schools simply do not have the volume of students necessary to justify investing in 24/7 staffing in multiple subjects or the technology and service infrastructure necessary to manage this.

SMARTHNKING also hosts its technology such that schools can staff their own online tutoring service. Now, we know that students really like online tutoring. We provided 155,000 tutoring sessions to 37,000 students this year, and it is growing by 80% per year. We have many other indicators that demonstrate both student satisfaction and student success. However, clients that have chosen to staff their own tutors over our technology have typically had underwhelming demand. We think this is due to several reasons. First, clients donít provide the frequency of tutoring in enough subjects to justify frequent use of online tutoring (see above). Second, schools underestimate the difficult and unique challenges of managing an online tutoring workforce. Third, schools underestimate the marketing challenge of getting students to change their study habits and professors to change their teaching habits. Where a client has been successful managing its own online tutoring workforce, there has been a person who is dedicated to running the online tutoring program.

To sum up, Iíve experienced that most individual schools who embark on online tutoring are unlikely to be successful simply because of the lack of volume of students who would use it and consequently, the will to invest in the service and technology infrastructure to support it appropriately. Where schools want to offer the service as a consortium, they need to identify an individual whose sole job is to run it. Of course, at this level, institutions also need to look at the true cost (admin, facilities, training, oversight, tech help, customer support, tutoring costs, infrastructure costs software costs, etc..) of doing it themselves vs. contracting with someone else. Further, although I havenít conducted any formal studies, I have not heard that the demand for face to face tutoring has declined dramatically from the 300 or so campuses that use SMARTHINKINGís tutoring. I imagine this is the same for schools who offer their own online tutoring program. Online tutoring is a powerful complement to face to face tutoring, not a replacement. Ultimately, the student is the one that benefits from the provision of all of the types of services that a school can bring to bear.

Finally, Iíd like to clarify a couple of points from previous emails in the thread. At least through Houghton Mifflin, professors and schools can find out how much tutoring is being used through a publisher at a particular school. However, you will need to contact the publisher.

Also, as for tutoring platforms--we do indeed use Nettutor for live tutoring. However, weíve added many feature around it such as an online writing lab, enhanced user interface, pre-scheduled sessions, enhanced access to administrative data for clients, and free reference materials for students.


>
> From: "Lee, Elizabeth" <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: 2004/05/05 Wed AM 11:29:32 CDT
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: online tutoring - textbook  publishers / college tutoring
>               centers
>
>

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