Minneapolis students who are stumped on an algebra problem or looking for advice on an English paper can now find help with just a few clicks of the mouse.
The Minneapolis Public Library system recently began offering students access to a live online homework tutoring service. The service is free, and students can access it either by using a computer at any of the city's libraries or by using their library card number to log into the program on the Internet through MPL's website.
The service, provided through a contract with Tutor.com and funded by a grant from the Youth Coordinating Board and the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, became available Oct. 2. When students log in, they are asked to identify their grade level and the subject with which they need help. The service brings them to a page that looks like an instant messaging screen. Students can type in questions, and one of 2,000 tutors stationed in the United States and Canada will respond. Like an instant messaging conversation, the dialogue takes place in real time. Below the conversation screen is a virtual “chalk board” where tutors can draw mathematical equations or visually represent a concept. That same area of the service also allows tutors to show students helpful websites and share and receive files.
The online tutoring service is available in English seven days a week from 3 p.m.-10 p.m. and in Spanish Sunday through Thursday from 3 p.m.-9 p.m. The subject areas covered are English, social studies, science and math for grades four through introductory college. In Spanish, the subjects covered are science and math for grades K-12.
Most of the tutors are teachers and retired teachers, said Tutor.com representative David Ziembiec. He added that all tutors have to go through a background check as well as a training process that lasts more than three months. In addition, students are asked not to share any information about themselves, and the service is confidential and anonymous.
There are no time constraints on how long students and tutors can interact.
“An average tutoring session lasts 20-25 minutes, but we've had some last as long as three hours,” Ziembiec said, adding that the most heavily used hours are between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The online tutoring service will complement the in-person Homework Helper program the library already has in place. In that program, students can stop by any one of the nine city libraries participating in the program and meet in person with a tutor. But the hours of the service are varied, and students have to find a means to get to and from the library, both things the online service takes care of.
“I'm really excited about this,” Library Board President Anita Duckor said. “It's a tool, and we'll see how effective it is.”
The St. Paul Public Library is the only other metro-area library to also provide this service.