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Academic Support Center, 657-1641

April 21, 2009

Walk in, call in or log in: new online tutoring program expands services at MSU Billings

Academic Support Center at forefront of providing learning assistance

By Dan Carter
MSU Billings News Services

It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and Judy Jones, a college math student in Billings, is working her way through a particularly vexing homework problem. She needs help, but her baby is sleeping, so she can’t go to the Academic Support Center for tutoring help.

 Nearly 250 miles away in Helena, Paul Smith, a student in an online class, is working his way through the same problem. He needs help, too, but, like Judy, he can’t get to the Academic Support Center.

The instructor for the online Algebra class is tending to another class and both students need a tutor; what do they do?

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All students — including those choosing to do their learning online — have increased access to tutoring now, thanks to a new program offered at Montana State University Billings.

This semester, the Academic Support Center at MSU Billings began offering online tutoring in math and science. In the past, students could receive writing help through the online writing center, but now help is available in “real-time,” as the students need it.

Chairsty at her computerStudents sign in to an online portal through the ASC’s webpage. ASC instructors and tutors staff the virtual tutoring center, answering questions via webcam or through a “chatting”-type feature that works like instant messaging. Using Elluminate Live! as the tutoring platform, students are able to interact with tutors in a real-time, interactive classroom environment.

“We view it as offering more accessibility to our online and on-campus students,” said Gwen Braun, ASC Director.

Nearly 2,200 MSU Billings students are taking some of their classes online. Another 15 high school students are taking online classes at MSU Billings through the University Connections program, which can be taken by high-schoolers at a discounted rate of $100 per credit.

Like numerous online students, many on-campus students juggle school, work and family responsibilities, limiting the time they have available to work with tutors. Providing an online option benefits all students.

The online learning project was funded by a grant from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education in Helena and is a complement to the array of tutoring services already offered through the ASC.  MSU Billings is the only university in the Montana University System that offers drop-in online tutoring.

Students can log in any time between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Fridays to chat with a math tutor. Whether it takes 25 minutes or more than an hour, the tutors can walk students through mathematical processes and answer questions so the students can better understand the material.

For students needing help with a paper, they can either submit their papers as email attachments to the online tutoring center at writelab@msubillings.edu or log in to the new online tutoring portal and receive more immediate feedback.

Academic Support Center staffBraun and ASC staffers Leanne Frost, Chairsty Stewart, Andrea Payne and Vivian Zabrocki said that while some on-campus students may feel more comfortable with face-to-face tutoring, students are becoming increasingly comfortable in the online environment.

“Those who have used it, really like it,” said Zabrocki.

“The only difference is that a tutor is not sitting right next to them,” added Stewart.

Online students can access the tutoring center through the Academic Support Center link at the MSU Billings site or go directly to www.msubillings.edu/asc/Online_Tutoring_Center.htm.  Students can quickly enter Elluminate without massive downloads. A virtual orientation familiarizes students with the program.

Some MSU Billings instructors have been encouraging students to use the online tutoring center. During a recent demonstration, math instructors Payne and Stewart showed how interactive and easy the program can be for math students.

Tutors can see when students enter the site and then can see when they “raise their hands” with questions. Using a mouse or the keyboard, students can write their math problems on a screen. Tutors can then guide students to the solution or answer the question by writing on the screen, typing messages in an instant messaging format, or speak via webcam and microphone.

Up to 15 people at a time can be logged in to the virtual tutoring room and the tutors emphasized that they will provide assistance for as long as it is needed.

“The real question now is how do we get students to try it and not be afraid of it,” Zabrocki said.  

Braun noted that more colleges and universities are looking into online tutoring and is proud that MSU Billings is leading the way to help all students, no matter where they live or what their time constraints might be.

“It’s amazing the number of schools who know they need this; they’re just not sure they know how to do it,” she said.

For more information on the online tutoring program at MSU Billings or other assistance offered through the Academic Support Center, call 657-1641 or go to www.msubillings.edu/asc.

First photo at left:

Chairsty on screen: Chairsty Stewart, an academic support specialist at MSU Billings, demonstrates how the new online math tutoring process works. A tutor write out math problems and answer questions for as many as 15 students at a time during a tutoring session.

Second photo above:

Tutoring crew: Academic Support Center specialists who assist students with the new online math tutoring are, clockwise from top, Andrea Payne, Vivian Zabrocki, ASC Director Gwen Braun, Chairsty Stewart and Leanne Frost.

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