Webcam tutoring program reaches out

    “”It’s like riding a bucking bronco: There is never a dull moment!””

    Chris Padfield
    Guardian

    Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Educational Advancement Loren C. Thompson wasn’t talking about the latest UCSD basketball game against rival UC Davis. She was referring to UCSD’s newest form of outreach into the community: online tutoring.

    Thompson introduced this new operation, called Student Education Advancement, and is pleased that UCSD is one of the first universities to partake in this kind of high-tech retention.

    Michael C. Dabney, the director of media and public relations for S.E.A., said there are about 30 UCSD students who actively tutor seventh through ninth graders at Gompers Secondary School in Chollas View. Their job is to assist students in math and science, and their methods are innovative.

    On the first floor in Student Center B is a quiet computer lab where many new gray, flat-screened computers are set up. Each comes with a webcam and a black headset that includes a microphone and earphones. Microsoft NetMeeting and a digital drawing pad allow a student 20 miles away to write an equation while a tutor on campus watches it appear on the screen at the same time.

    S.E.A.’s goal is to reach out to underrepresented and low-income students.

    “”We want this major outreach to expose them to not only UCSD, but the prospect of college in general,”” Dabney said.

    Gompers, the pilot school involved in the program, was selected because its students’ need for such tutoring was acute, according to Dabney. Grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the Verizon Foundation, as well as the volunteered time of computer engineers from Qualcomm, helped Gompers establish a multipurpose Community Technology Center.

    Harry Shelton, the vice principal at Gompers, spoke passionately about the online tutoring.

    “”It has helped us a lot,”” Shelton said. “”The kids are excited to have some technology in their education, and it is a nonthreatening way to learn algebra. Many of these kids feel insecure or discriminated against in classroom settings; working with a tutor on a one-on-one basis really helps them.””

    Shelton also said that class attendance has increased by 5 percent since implementing online tutoring.

    “”It is the beauty of working together,”” Thompson said. “”We are bringing people together and helping others develop important skills. No one expected such a reward.””

    The UCSD tutors who work in the Outreach Communications Center also share the idea of reward and satisfaction.

    Marshall senior Sandy Minn admitted that she originally took the job back in December because of the “”flexible hours.”” Now she feels satisfied because she feels she is helping children.

    Muir sophomore Andrew Chika also explained how the tutors are there to encourage the children.

    “”They are not that motivated, but they are smart nonetheless,”” he said. “”They just need guidance, and that is why we are here.””

    Dabney added that the students at Gompers are receptive to the program.

    “”You can just see their eyes light up when they work at a problem and get it right,”” Dabney said.

    Not only do the tutors act as tutors to the students, but they also have to build trust and a relationship with them.

    Minn said that children initially want to just talk instead of learning.

    “”You have to go along and become friends with them,”” she said.

    Marshall junior Shibani Kapoor revealed another challenge in the program: the technology. At the program’s outset, Kapoor said there were “”many problems with the high-tech technology.”” For example, the tutors could not hear the students well, or the webcam would not operate correctly.

    However, she said that since then, some of the kinks have been worked out.

    According to Thompson, online tutoring is continuing to grow. UCSD is setting up new centers to serve American Indian and Mexican-American communities in northern San Diego County. The university just received a $1.4 million federal grant to improve academic achievement and increase the college-going rates at Pauma Elementary School and Valley Center High School, where elementary school students will be tutored.

    With all these new developments, no wonder Thompson claims that there is never a dull moment. Indeed, he said the continuing success of the program makes this “”a very exciting time to live.””

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