An Algebra tutor helps a student gain confidence Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona

An Algebra tutor helps a student gain confidence


A credentialed, online tutoring service provides expert support to community college students

Mesa Community College (MCC) began looking for an online tutoring service in 2010 when it was applying to the Higher Learning Commission for an accreditation to offer 100 percent of its degrees online. Staff members from MCC’s in-person tutoring program had provided distance tutoring via phone or online in the past, but they didn’t have the resources to offer 24/7 support or to expand their efforts to meet the projected demand.

MCC chose Smarthinking, Pearson’s online tutoring service, as its vendor. Smarthinking provides 24/7 services for a range of subjects and its tutors are credentialed, with 90 percent holding advanced degrees. “A lot of them have a master’s degree and are based in the US,” explained Melissa Carpenter, director, Learning Enhancement Center.

The college launched Smarthinking in 2011. Online tutoring sessions currently make up 4 percent of the tutoring sessions at MCC and the most popular subjects are algebra, the Essay Center, chemistry, and single variable calculus.

Student satisfaction with the service is high. Ben Catlin, coordinator, Learning Enhancement Center, noted, “I know students like Smarthinking because they’re using it multiple times per month. On average, students who use Smarthinking use it 2.6 times per month.”

Exit surveys confirm that students are satisfied. From 2012–2015, 86 percent of students gave Smarthinking subject tutors a favorable rating (3, 4, or 5 on a five-point scale), and 93 percent of students gave a favorable rating to essay tutors. In addition, 90 percent of students would recommend Smarthinking subject tutors to a friend and 93 percent would recommend essay tutors to a friend.

One algebra student said, “[My tutor was] very helpful with explaining and not giving me the answers, but just letting me figure it out on my own by giving me hints.” An Essay Center user also gave a positive review of her tutor: “The feedback that my tutor gave me really helped me make my ideas clearer and fixed my sentence structure.”

Students enjoy the flexibility and convenience of the online tutoring service. A physics student raved, “SO happy this is 24 hours! I am so appreciative of this service!” Laura Ballard, director, eLearning, explained, “It’s a great customer service piece that rounds out our tutoring services. We’re going to fit it around your schedule whether you are an online or an in-person student.”

I was near tears. Now I can finish my assignment with confidence :) Tutor was wonderful!

Algebra student

When asked what advice she would give other colleges considering online tutoring services, Ballard suggested that they check tutor credentials first. Carpenter agreed: “The credentialing and the vetting of the tutors are a very important part because we want to be confident that when we refer students, they’re going to have a good experience.”

The reason why we continue to select Smarthinking is because of the credentialing of the tutors.

Melissa Carpenter, Director, Learning Enhancement Center

After that, Ballard stressed the importance of good reports. “I love the monthly report that gives me a quick visual update.” She recalled an incident when the reports showed a large decrease in usage. Further investigation revealed that an access point to Smarthinking had been deleted, so she and Catlin were able to respond quickly and create a new one.

Catlin made a third recommendation: Colleges need to consider how quickly customer service will react when a problem occurs. He explained, “We need to have an immediate response because students are counting on the service for immediate help that very evening or that very afternoon. There has to be a team that’s ready to deploy and get it to work right away when it’s not working.”

MCC is one of ten colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District and is the largest user of Smarthinking. MCC is happy to share its best practices with other colleges considering online tutoring services.

To learn more about MCC’s online tutoring implementation, read the full success story.

Read the full success story


Online tutoring that’s just a click away

Smarthinking provides online tutoring that is simple, fast, and always available. Learners connect to live educators from any computer that has Internet access, with no special software installation or equipment required.
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