Pupils testing online tutors

Pilot program gives libraries free use of Internet service

Could be offered statewide

Web site connects students who need help with educators

March 11, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

The answer to Michael Baker's health homework was out there somewhere.

The Westminster sixth-grader could have asked his parents for help on his research paper on tobacco and cancer that was due the next day. Or he could have asked one of the librarians at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, which he visits almost every day after school.

Instead, the 11-year-old East Middle School pupil logged onto a computer at the library one afternoon late last week and found an online tutor who, within minutes, led him not to the answer but to a list of dozens of Web sites that would help him in his research.

"Cool," he said, scanning the comprehensive list provided to him by tutor.com, an online tutoring service that libraries in Carroll, Baltimore, Allegany, Cecil and Caroline counties have made available to patrons through August.

The pilot program is funded by a $51,000 federal grant from the division of library development and services at the Maryland State Department of Education. Usually subscribers to tutor.com pay $99 each month for the service, which is called Live Homework Help.

The libraries, which were chosen by the state, wanted to make the service available to patrons for free because "we're very interested in exploring how to help students complete their homework assignments," said Gail Griffith, deputy director of the Carroll County Public Library.

About 100 library sites nationally - including in Boston, Albany, N.Y., and cities in California - subscribe to the online service.

The program connects users to a tutor for up to 20 minutes of live help in math, science, social studies or English. The screened tutors, who help students with coursework in the fourth through 12th grade, are teachers, professional tutors, graduate students and college students.

In the past three weeks, nearly 200 Maryland students have used Live Homework Help through the five county library systems offering the service, according to the New York company.

After the six-month program ends, state library officials will determine whether they will purchase or subsidize the purchase of tutor.com's Live Homework Help service for all of the state's libraries, Griffith said.

"We are not trying to replace library staff," she said. She explained that while a student might ask tutor.com to help construct a thesis statement for a paper, he or she would still need the assistance of a librarian to find resource materials to write a paper. "We see this as complementary."

Live homework help through tutor.com is available in Carroll County Public Library branches from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

It also is available in the media center at West Middle School in Westminster and through the Carroll County Public Library Web site - www.library.carr.org - from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Patrons must have a Carroll County Public Library card to use the service.

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