Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"On-Demand-Personalized-Tutoring" Network of Retired Smart People

Combine Baby Boom retirees with Web 2.0 technology?
From Steve Gilbert Sept 15, 2009 - Google Doc   TLT-SWG Blog   
A network of people ".. with resources who can answer many questions immediately and direct the person to a 'library' online that will help the person (client) with really hard stuff." That's what Henry Holcomb, U. Md. Sch. of Med., suggested after reading "At Your Fingers, an Oxford Don" by Steve Lohr, NYT.
1. Would you welcome the service he describes?
2. Do you have friendly amendments to suggest? Or reasons for discarding this idea?
3. Is there already something so similar available that we should look no further? Even within one academic discipline or field of knowledge?

A. Holcomb's Hope: "on-demand-personalized-tutoring"
"...online personal librarian / scout master / big brother helper.

"...Reflected on an article on individualized tutoring sessions in today's NY Times. Only solution that comes to mind for 'on-demand-personalized-tutoring,' might be a network of retired smart people working with smart people in college and those recently graduated, a network of people with resources who can answer many questions immediately and direct the person to a 'library' online that will help the person (client) with really hard stuff. You might call this the 'Distributed Alexandrian Project.' a reference to the vast ancient information lost when the Libraries of Alexandria burned (several times i suspect). Only through a distributed system of interested, smart people with some time to spend are we likely to create the sort of individual tutoring system (NYTimes Today) that we all find so helpful. It might cost a few dollars for each session. Of course creating such a network in the context of a successful business model is another matter. It would be useful to know how many unemployed / retired engineers, scientists, scholars are puttering around their gardens waiting for you to call them.

"...I genuinely believe that a 'scholar-scientist-engineer network,' could be done.
There is an immense number of knowledgeable people with time on their hands. Some are students and some
are people retired or looking for work.
And there is an even greater number of people like me looking for answers to complex questions.
There is no 'easy' way to connect the two communities.
Optimally one would like to ask an expert to convene a 'study group' to help solve a problem or
create a training program. People will pay for this. I'm sure of it. Especially if there is some sort of flexible fee schedule.

"...'I'm especially keen on the idea of providing people with different 'levels' of consult. Some might need only to be
guided through a maze of online choices while others will want and pay for help in solving complex database designs. Not unlike having an online personal librarian / scout master / big brother helper.
could be cool.  Finding the clients is another matter and advertising it even trickier."

Henry H. Holcomb, M.D.
Prof., Psych, U. Md School of Medicine
Maryland Psychiatric Research Center

B. Why "At Your Fingers, an Oxford Don" is NOT what I'm waiting for
Tutorials are not best for everyone for every purpose. Most human beings seem to learn many important things better in something like a traditional classroom and course. Especially if the course includes at least one good teacher and some engaged learners (and not too many disengaged learners), some appropriately selected technology and teaching techniques, and a sequence of activities carefully structured by the teacher and colleagues.

"SINCE the 16th century, the ideal of education has been the tutorial system pioneered at Oxford and Cambridge, nurturing young minds one to one, inquiring, prodding and encouraging. The tutorial method, research shows, is a proven winner.
"For all its promise to improve education, technology is still no match for one human tutoring another — which, of course, cannot be used to educate large numbers of students and is expensive."
Lohr, Steve. "At Your Fingers, an Oxford Don." 12 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 Sept. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/weekinreview/13lohr.html>.

Private tutorials are NOT the best way to learn everything for everyone
This article repeats a frequent and dangerous oversimplification of options for learning. Lohr implies there are only two (maybe two and a half):
1. private tutorials, and
2. "stand-and-lecture factory approach"
[the half is a brief mention of "project-based learning" - not clear if PBL is considered part of 1 or 2 or something else]

Zealots emerge every few years and proclaim the end of classroom instruction shortly after some new technology arrives. The rest of us are expected to enthusiastically accept the superiority FOR ALMOST ALL LEARNERS AND TEACHERS of the apparent ability of the new technology to record and make easily accessible traditional lectures and permit independent, individualized learning "anytime, anywhere". Scheduled face-to-face meetings are often described and disdained as if they were merely unfortunate by-products of political pressure: a convenient mechanism to provide some semblance of education for the masses who cannot afford the real thing. Once the shouting stops, we usually discover that for some learners, for some purposes, and for some teachers, new technologies and new ways of teaching and learning are very effective and better than what was previously available. That includes new options for individualized, independent learning. But the greater progress is often found more slowly in adaptations of new technologies and methods to improve, enhance, or extend the content and quality of more traditionally structured courses.

Steven W. Gilbert
President, The TLT Group

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