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Online tutoring expands to ND

Catherine Owers | Monday, September 10, 2012

Apparently, technology can be a teacher’s best friend.

Using webcams, chat, and a virtual whiteboard, tutors at InstaEDU, an online tutoring portal, assist students with their studies through a computer.

InstaEDU CEO Alison Johnston said she was inspired to create the company after working as a tutor herself. In her role, she realized private tutoring could be both expensive and exclusive.

“Our general goal is to make high-quality, one-on-one tutoring universally accessible to any student … to let any student work with a tutor at any time,” Johnston said. “Also, we realized that the time when many high school students are in need of homework help, say 11 p.m., is when many college students are available.”

Sophomore InstaEDU tutor Jordan Stella started tutoring in high school and also tutors at the First Year of Studies Learning Resource Center.

Stella said tutors connect to InstaEDU through Facebook or Google chat and receive notifications whenever a student asks for help. Students can view tutors’ profiles to see areas of expertise and interests. They then select an individual tutor, or can be matched randomly with an available tutor. The tutor’s time is logged, he said, and they are paid by the minute.

“Why not [do it],” Stella said. “I’m on Facebook anyway.”

The InstaEDU website lists help available for a variety of subject areas including math, science, finance, languages, English and social studies.

“[The tutor] can choose areas [he or she] wants to tutor, like SAT prep, ACT prep [or] AP test prep,” Stella said.

The students looking for tutoring “could be [in] high school, could be [in] college, could be [in] middle school,” Stella said.
Stella said he heard about job opportunities at InstaEDU through an email from the Anthropology Department, and the pay-per-minute of tutoring was appealing.

Tutoring online does not inherently pose a significant problem, Stella said, though he believes lecture-based tutoring is more difficult.

“In general, it’s all the same, as long as you know what you’re talking about,” he said. “If it’s something I’m not really familiar with, then it might be easier if you’re sitting next to me, so I can gauge what you’re understanding, what you’re not understanding.

“It also depends the subject. Math is something easier to tutor over the Internet, there’s one’s answer, one way to do it.”
Stella also said he thinks the students using InstaEDU are more motivated to learn through tutoring, as opposed to just receiving an answer.

“We’re not supposed to do their homework for them,” he said. “They’re not just going to be like ‘Hey, what’s the answer to this problem?’ They could just Google search that.”

Stella said he appreciates InstaEDU’s promise of nearly instantaneous tutoring, and believes he would use online tutoring if he needed help, as opposed to having to set up a time to meet with a tutor in person.

“I think I’d rather do online than in person, again depending on the subject. Personally, I’d much rather be like, ‘Hey, I need help right now,'” he said.

Going into the future, Johnston said InstaEDU is looking to expand the tutor base.

“We’ve had a great time recruiting out of these top universities, like Notre Dame,” she said. “We also would love to plug into the online learning platforms. Right now we’re seeing a lot of top schools putting courses online.

“We think it’s awesome that anybody can go and take class with an MIT professor. The one issue is that you lose a lot of the personal touch, so all of a sudden, you can’t raise your hand in class, can’t talk to a classmate.”

That is where InstaEDU can contribute, she said.

“Say Notre Dame offers classes online, and it would be very valuable if a student is taking a class from somewhere like Oregon, that you could, actually – if there’s a point in the lecture you don’t understand – pause it and immediately connect over video chat with a Notre Dame student who had taken the class last semester and gotten an ‘A’. That’s a pretty powerful experience,” Johnston said.