Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Digital Future of Tutoring

by Thomas Locke

Private Tutoring in conjunction with traditional teaching is one of the oldest professions dating back to the ancient Greeks where children would come together in small groups to discuss topics and exchange knowledge. The Socratic method, named after Socrates, is a form of teaching that allows the student to explore topics and use previous knowledge to find the correct answer themselves. Socrates, along with Aristotle, were renowned for their work in developing methods of teaching to increase a student's knowledge, with Socrates given the title of “The First Teacher”.

In the Middle Ages, children of wealthy families would be scheduled for private tutoring sessions with well-known teachers and scientists whilst those from poorer backgrounds would typically go onto become an apprentice and develop skills in a particular industry.

During colonial times, the education system developed and with the appearance of educational institutes, textbooks were used to teach a particular subject. However, these were often written in Latin and those wishing to study these particular subjects would have to study Latin, often with a tutor during one-to-one sessions. Tutoring was also used to prepare university students for the challenges they faced ahead.

Until recently, tutoring has remained almost identical to the colonial times where students would meet with a tutor for one-to-one sessions as a way to resolve their academic worries and increase their knowledge in a particular subject or topic.

However, times are changing.

We live in a world where technology is a fundamental part of our everyday lives, whether it be with the usage of digital financial intermediaries, taxi apps to get us from A to B or the possibilities of being able to control your home remotely from a mobile device. We are constantly connected to the digital world and it makes sense for entrepreneurs to take advantage of this growing industry and the technology already in place to launch a fresh concept or idea.

Take Uber, for example, the San Francisco startup that took the world by storm with operation in over 570 cities. Uber took the basic concept of a taxi service and transformed the booking process into an entirely digital service that utilises a mobile app to book and pay for taxi rides. Today, it holds a monopoly-like grip over the taxi industry and has been the cause of many drivers opting to use Uber to provide a taxi service.

A technology startup called Teech aims to follow Uber in its success and revolutionise the way tutoring works. Teech advertises 24/7 video support with tutors from some of the world’s leading universities and institutions such as Cambridge University, King's College London, LSE and Stanford University.

The app was launched in February 2015 by Mathias Pastor, a student from Oxford University and Neil Saada, a student from King’s College London with £305,000 in seed capital. So far, it has raised a total of £600,000 and currently has 150,000 users, 700 of which are tutors. I was curious to understand why the pair chose to launch Teech so I decided to ask Mathias Pastor, the co-founder of Teech about the inspiration behind the idea, he told me that:

“I used to tutor and know how inconvenient commuting can be, and now that I study at Oxford I know my friends tend not to have the flexible calendars needed to tutor but definitely need the money. On the student side, Neil my cofounder used to have some tutoring, but the rigidity of weekly sessions was frustrating as he never had the help when he really needed it.

Of course, this isn't the first time companies have tried to revolutionise teaching; online courses for education have been around for many years with sites such as Future Learn providing ‘flexible and fun’ online courses from some of the UK’s best universities. Other websites offering courses from universities include Coursera, The Open University and edX. Learning platforms such as Quizlet and Memrise have been around since 2005 and 2010 respectively and provide a similar experience. It is a busy picture with a lot of players in the game offering very similar, virtually identical services.                                           

Teech, however, doesn’t offer online courses or digital versions of textbooks, Teech is an app which offers GCSE, AS, A-Level and Y1 undergraduates instant live video help from university students from Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and Imperial, who are known as Teechers. These Teechers are ‘thoroughly vetted students from the world's best universities’ and are described as ‘young, friendly and knowledgeable’ - Teech website.

Similar to clinics at The Portsmouth Grammar School, Teech aims to provide a safe platform for students to seek help from other students. To ensure that the communication between the students and Teechers is appropriate and aboveboard, students have the ability to report sessions and ‘reports are taken very seriously, on a one strike basis’ - Mathias Pastor, Co-Founder, Teech. Teech also randomly audit sessions, which are recorded for reference.

I can certainly see the practical uses of the app: being able to receive support from a certified tutor at any time during the day without being constrained to weekly sessions is appealing. The downside though is the cost of the service. With the prices of the subscription ranging from £3.99 up to £79.99 per month, Teech certainly isn’t cheap, and you can also only get the advertised ‘24/7 support’ if you are a Premium subscription holder, paying £79.99 per month.

Jack Bream, a Year 9 student from Churcher’s College believes that student shouldn't have to pay for private tutoring, saying that:

“The system of education should be built so that no child should need to have to have extra tutoring they should be given more attention in the existing system. And the people who struggle are often the ones who can't afford to pay £80 a month”

I asked Mathias how Teech can justify the £79.99 per month cost for the ‘Premium’ subscription to Teech. He told The Portsmouth Point:

“Teech is actually very cheap when compared with other private tuition services which on average cost over £35.00 per hour. The £79.99 subscription is an unlimited plan, which gives students as much help as they may need in any month”

I understand the concept entirely and its simplistic yet modern design, the ability to connect to a university student within 25 seconds and the app’s built-in educational resources are all very enticing. However, is £79.99/month for unlimited usage of their service justifiable? It depends on how much you would use Teech and it is worth considering whether you require tutoring. There are other plans available at lower prices, the lowest of which only offers users five minutes of video chat time a month.

In my opinion, concepts such as Teech are a step in the right direction in making tutoring and educational support more accessible for all students. I would much rather speak to a tutor via a mobile app than having to organise sessions with a tutor weekly as it would be far more convenient. Over the next few years, Teech wants to expand which may mean that traditional tutors will be abandoning their textbooks and will make their operations digital with the help of apps like Teech.

To find out more about Teech, visit their website here.

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