My organization has provided a solution to this problem. We have provided access to online tutors — accessible via a link in every course in our OLE (online learning environment).

This is an external service where students can get the support that they need; our teachers do not need to be available all night. There is no need to navigate to a separate web site, or to remember yet another user name and password. The external service has the student’s name, year level and the course they navigated from passed to them as part of the single sign on process (via LTI integration). It couldn’t be easier. (My school, which is in Australia, uses yourtutor, a local company that works with both secondary and higher education institutions. There are similar services for schools stateside, such as Tutor.com, although I personally cannot vouch for them).

yourtutor-page

The front page of the external support service showing the hours when it is available. This screen shot was taken on a Saturday afternoon; the service is open during the hours when many students study, rather than being available 24/7.

Usage of the system is consistent, has been growing in the past year, and has received good feedback from students.

Some comments from students include:

  • “[xxxxx] was a great tutor and was very helpful. Described what he meant and made sure I understood.”
  • “My tutor was very helpful and wasn’t hesitant to give examples.”
  • “Patient with me and helped me find some information on what I was stuck with.”

The online tutors do not simply answer a question; they instead act as teachers to guide students to an answer. Students can now gain the help they need, when they need it, teachers can have the out-of-hours break that they need, and the school can be confident that they are supporting both their students and their staff.

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly blended learning using online learning environments. He can be contacted at pwest@ssc.qld.edu.au or at http://www.blended-thinking.com.