Exploring Electronic Tutoring at the Anchorage Library

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Today we’re at the Anchorage Loussac Library for some online tutoring. I meet up with Eva, a junior at East High School. Right now Eva is using a program offered through the Anchorage Library called Live Homework Help to get assistance with her chemistry homework.

Eva has been using the Live Homework Help program for six years now. She says it’s been a big help with some of her more difficult subjects. And looking at this whopper of a problem, I can see why she might need a little assistance.

“So I type in, ‘What mass in grams of hydrogen gas is needed to fill an 80 liter tank to a pressure of 150 ATMs at 27 degrees Celsius,'” Eva explains.

Toni Massari McPherson is a Consumer Relations Coordinator for the Anchorage Public Library. She says the Live Homework Help program, which is available to anybody with a library card and a computer, doesn’t just benefit kids; it aids the parents who are feeling overwhelmed trying to help them.

“So many parents are stymied by math, calculus, science, stuff that they studied years ago, but it’s evolved, it’s approached in a different way and trying to figure it out is just beyond their abilities.  The kids feeling like ‘Oh my God, they must think I’m dumb’ and the parents are saying ‘Oh my gosh, do I know how to do this?’ So there is a lot of pressure,” McPherson says.

McPherson speaks from personal experience. She turned to the program herself when her son started taking calculus, and she knew she was out of her league.

A screen shot of the online tutor program.
A screen shot of the online tutor program.

“As a parent you feel like you really should be able to support your kid, but calculus was out of the question,” McPherson says.

The usage of Live Homework Help in Alaska has more than tripled since its inception five years ago. McPherson credits the program’s popularity to the online tutor’s thoroughness.

“So, it’s not just the answer to one question it’s actually how to do the process. The people that are doing the tutoring, they’re given classes on how to instruct the kids and make sure that their not telling them what to do but leading them through the process and making sure they understand each step of the way,” McPherson says.

Back at the Anchorage Library, Eva is getting deep into her problem.

“A question like this will probably take 30 minutes. Because they go through and explain it to you, so it’s really helpful,” Eva says. Her favorite thing about the program is that she can ask as many questions as she wants, without any time limits. She says her teachers at school can’t offer that same level of attention.

“I just feel nervous everyone time I talk to my teacher I’m like ‘I hope she doesn’t yell at me.’ If I ask them for help they’ll say ‘No, solve this yourself.’ So then I go on the website and I go through the steps, so it’s easy,” Eva says. Toni McPherson echoes that sentiment.

“I think a lot of kids don’t want to ask questions in class. Either they’re shy, or they’re embarrassed that they don’t understand what everyone else seems to understand. So by being able to talk to somebody or write to somebody online then they can have all their questions answered and when they go back to class the next day they can be prepared. They’re not being left behind,” McPherson says.

McPherson recently discovered that the Live Homework Help program, which is funded by a grant from the Alaska State Library, was going be cut from the 2014 budget. Since then she has spent much of her time talking to board members and users of the program to make sure the funding is maintained. She says the program’s chances are now looking very good.