Online Tutoring Program Helps City Students-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Online Tutoring Program Helps City Students

A high school student can't figure out how to solve a physics problem. He asks his tutor for help, and the tutor begins to diagram possible solutions on a white board, guiding the student through the problem. While this may sound like a standard classroom tutoring session, Carnegie Mellon students have introduced a new twist, doing all of this online as part of a new initiative in the TutorNet program.

 "TutorNet is an example of one of many ways Carnegie Mellon is helping students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools," said the program's founder Newell Washburn, assistant professor of chemistry and bioengineering. TutorNet offers traditional in-class tutoring, as well as the new online program, providing a physical and virtual network between high school and college students. 

In the Web-based program, the high school students log in from their home computer to a session hosted by a Carnegie Mellon tutor. They are able to ask the tutor questions using an online chat program. Tutors use a tablet computer to diagram problems on an online white board and continue to use the chat program to discuss problem-solving methods with the student. The online program was developed in collaboration with the Technology Consulting in the Community Program (TCinC), which fosters partnerships between non-profit organizations, schools, government agencies and Carnegie Mellon students.

"We feel that TutorNet not only helps high school students to master their coursework in science but it also gets them to start thinking about majoring in science and pursuing careers in science. The program gives them role models in Carnegie Mellon student tutors. They think ‘that could be me in a few years,'" Washburn said.

TutorNet began in 2006 as a traditional tutoring program. Carnegie Mellon students traveled to Schenley High School to help the students learn and get excited about science.  While the tutors still travel to Schenley, now located at the Reizenstein campus, to offer in-person tutoring in biology, chemistry and physics after school, the new program makes tutoring available to students who might not be available at the end of the school day due to other commitments, like extracurricular activities or part-time jobs.

It also allows Carnegie Mellon students who might not be available to tutor during afterschool hours an opportunity to participate in the program. Washburn said many Carnegie Mellon students come to the university having been active volunteers in high school, and they are eager to continue this volunteerism while in college. TutorNet allows them to share their knowledge and experiences while learning the responsibility of becoming a role model. 

"In high school, I was a tutor and I received tutoring. TutorNet is a good way to give back and show how much I appreciated what I received," said Bernard Parker, a sophomore chemistry major who is active in the TutorNet program. "It's an opportunity to help students."

By: Jocelyn Duffy