Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Flat World example: Tutors Without Limits

I was interested but not surprised to find the 'Tutors without limits' website yesterday. As I am reading the Thomas Friedman book, The World is Flat I am more aware of the elements that are making our world the way it is.....flat. This site advertised these possibilities:
  • Connecting with millions of students
  • Being in business in less than 4 minutes
  • Free setup with a chance to charge your own rates
  • Pay only a minimal transaction fee
  • Use video, voice, whiteboard, chat ect
  • Collaborate in realtime on any document
  • A complete 'busines in a box'
It is part of the Worlds Without Limits Foundation which I know nothing about yet except that on their website they state:
"Our aim is to create a world which is not only elegantly simple to use but where the best of best teaching flourishes and is available to all. We are harnessing the passion of teachers, educators, parents, and students from around the globe to unleash innovation and imagination and to provide all children, in all countries, the best education the world can offer."

OK, this sounds good....let's experiment.
Out of curiosity I created an account I registered and created a company name 'Lindsay Online'. I thought it better to put my country as Australia, thinking that Bangladesh may have certain connotations. The interface allows you to create a profile, set your local time, availability and schedule and also view requests from potential students who want tutoring from you.
First question: what are the checks and balances with this? Who is checking your qulaifications to be a tutor? Where is the section asking for referees and people who can vouch that you are who you say and that you can do what you claim?

I then investigated money and payment methods. First you have to select the subjects you are able to teach. I chose Computers and then from a long list of possibilities including Java, website authoring, C++ etc I chose HTML. It seems you can charge what you want for each session but you have to put the cost in in US$ as well as 'local' currency. When checking the 'banking' area the 'flat world' scenario according to Friedman became obvious. So far payments can only be made to the US, Pakistan and India! Maybe I should have declared I was in Bangladesh (however we are an independent country, once called East Pakistan and once under Indian control).

So, tutors without limits......c/o worlds without limits....soon to expand into many other countries but based in US, India and Pakistan. An interesting exercise in online delivery of services. I question the ethics and social implications of this service but at the same time fully support the initiative. As an educator I can see many benefits to both teachers and students but feel uncomfortable with the possible lack of integrity. The simple online interface seems too easy and there is no one person to contact for more information.

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1 comment:

Glynn Willett said...

Hello Julie,

It was fun and enlightening reading about your observations about Tutors Without Limits. We have a lot of work ahead of us in the coming months to deliver fully upon our promises. Your concern about no checks on the integrity of tutors is very valid and you will see before the end of the year, a system that let’s teachers have their credentials and background verified. In the last two weeks, over 4000 tutors have registered. We have a pilot program started where 100 tutors have been verified and have gone through a training program in online tutoring.

At the end of this week, you can visit our home page and use a demo of the Lesson Board without having to have a student sign up. I’d love to hear your comments on what we consider the best technology available for teaching online. We have a million and a half dollars invested so I hope you will find what some teachers have commented on as “This is just like teaching in a classroom!” Of course, please also realize that this is our first release and we are still in beta.

While our technology dissolves national boundaries in communications, it more importantly removes the logistics that impede one-to-one teaching. I believe you will see in the next decade that tutoring will become just as common as jumping on the school bus to go to school. Interesting, we have found just as strong demand from our American tutors and teachers as we have found in Pakistan and India. I suspect the in-country tutoring will be far more popular than out-country tutoring but we’ve created a “marketplace” where students and parents will be making this decision.

Best regards,
Glynn Willett
Tutors Without Limits