As a college faculty member and academic adviser, I often recommended tutors for students who required extra help in courses--particularly in mathematics and science--needed to improve their study skills, or had difficulty communicating thoughts in writing. While our university offered generalized reading and writing services and support for students with learning disabilities or for whom English was a second language, it was most effective for individuals to work with tutors who had in-depth, content-area expertise. Such one-to-one experiences offered fresh presentations of topics, other eyes to review assignments and practical assistance in preparing for exams.
But the downsides of securing tutoring services were that suitable help could not always be found, tutors might not be available at the times they were needed--certainly not 24 hours per day--and finding places to meet could be difficult. Scheduling help sessions might mean that tutors or tutees had to take extra trips to campus or be willing to meet in homes or dormitories.
Online Tutoring Centers
That situation has changed dramatically through the rapid development of the Internet and the Web. Now, increasing numbers of colleges, universities and two-year schools offer "anytime anywhere" tutoring services that are completely online. Most of these are directed to students enrolled in particular courses, and may be password-controlled, but some schools also grant free access to students anywhere as a public service, or provide added professional experience to their online tutors, who are usually students. Some tutoring services are simple e-mail exchanges where individuals submit questions to be answered, or send in documents such as writing drafts for critiques. Other schools offer live text- or voice-based sessions, provide special "plug-in" software such as Authorware (www.macromedia.com/software/authorware) for multimedia exchanges, use online "whiteboards" for making online sketches and diagrams, and even offer two-way video and experimental tutoring in virtual environments, such as the multi-user, object oriented SKY-MOO at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Specialized Tutoring Services
Among the developments are the Web-based communications services designed specifically for online courses, such as the interactive features and chat rooms provided through online course management products (see "The `Webification' of College Courses: Choosing a Management System," matrix, September, 2000), which can be used in tutorial situations. These include systems offered by Blackboard, www.blackboard.com; eCollege, www.ecollege.com; Jenzabar, www.jenzabar.com; and WebCT, www.webct.com. Related products include conferencing software packages such as FirstClass, www.centrinity.com, that allow one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many communication.
Perhaps the most exciting trend is the tutoring services that hire content-area experts and train them for positions as online tutors for higher-education students. In some cases individuals may access the services directly, but the more comprehensive programs sign contracts with institutions to provide online tutoring to their students.
For example, Smarthinking offers plans whereby schools pay only for the services their students use at a rate of $25 to $30 per hour, or unlimited access to more than 500 students for $10 to $30 per student per semester. …