Type: Online tuition service
Specs: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £50 lifetime membership (including hardware) plus minimum £15 per hour for each lesson
Whether you want help writing a will or you want your kids to pass their Maths GSCE, WebTutorNet.com aims to match up students with online tutors via their new web based tuition service. Will the new service have to sit a retake or will it pass with flying colours? Read on to find out
It used to be that if you wanted to learn about a specific subject your only option was to enrol on a course at your local college or get a private tutor. However with the growth of high speed broadband comes the opportunity to bring the classroom environment – complete with audio and video – into the home.
While the idea is not entirely new (Indian company TutorVista, now largely owned by publisher Pearson has been going since 2005) it is one of the first services in the UK to match online tutors with students. It’s the brainchild of Nevil Chiles – brother of British TV presenter Adrian Chiles who, usefully, also provides online video explanations about how the service works.
While WebTutorNet.com is is many ways an extension of Chiles’ existing Kensington and Chelsea Tutors business which has now been going for 10 years, it is hoping to be much broader based than a home tuition service aimed primarily at wealthy parents looking to get their kids into the best independent schools.
“I see WebTutorNet as social network for learning things,” says Chiles. In that sense, there are similarities to sites like Fiverr.com and Five Squids, but the bar is set a little higher with a minimum rate at £15 an hour and obviously the emphasis is on the student learning things rather than receiving a specific service.
Either you can use your own equipment (built in webcam, mouse etc.) or WebTutorNet provides a nifty looking white briefcase packed full of tech goodies. This is provided for £50 and includes a lifetime subscription to the service.
Inside there’s a bendy 8 mega pixel webcam which can be angled to focus on, say, a piece of paper you want to show the tutor, a specialist pen mouse which can be used for writing on documents/filling in exam papers etc. and a USB-based headset so you can hear your tutor and talk to them.
Once you have registered for the service and tested your equipment works here, the next stage is obviously to find a subject that you want to learn about. At the moment the list of subjects and tutors is largely around academic subjects offered by Chiles’ Kensington and Chelsea tutorial service, such as English, Maths and foreign languages. However there are a few outside the curriculum including Writing a Will, Drama School Auditions and Special Education Needs.
The plan is to add thousands more tutors and subjects over the coming months (WebTutorNet.com takes 30 per cent commission on each lesson). Obviously because the internet is global, the business does have the potential to attract both teachers and students from all over the world.
A profile is provided for each of the tutors with image, educational background, a list of subjects they teach and their availability. Once you book a lesson you are sent a reminder so you don’t forget to log in at the allotted time. Feedback for the tutor can be provided via the website and the plan is, over time, to create a ratings system similar to to that used for eBay sellers as well as services like Fiverr. Unlike Chiles’ K+C Tutors business, those on WebTutor Net won’t need CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks.
Unlike some web tuition which is largely based over Skype, the key to WebTutorNet reckons Chiles is that it integrates audio/video with a shared desktop (see top image) where you can look at papers and documents together. Open Office with Excel, Word etc. is provided while using built in Xournal software you can share notes. Particularly useful is the pen mouse which makes it much easier to write and draw than a standard mouse.
All in all it works the service works well. I had a few problems with a lag on the audio stream but that was almost certainly a fault in the broadband connection rather than the service itself. Usefully, you can download the lesson to watch later if you didn’t quite understand what he or she was saying or missed something. Recordings are also kept for a period of time by WebTutorNet.com in case there are any issues between tutor and student that need to be sorted out.
WebTutorNet promises a revolutionary way of learning using the latest technology. Though initially an extension of an ‘offline’ tuition service for school children learning traditional academic subjects, it has the potential to match up thousands of tutors worldwide with millions of students. While the service has been exceptionally well thought out its success will ultimately depend on maintaining quality of the tutors and the willingness of students to engage using the latest technology rather than in a conventional face-to-face environment.