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IUP Grads Launch Tutoring Web Site
By CHRISTINE LIVENGOOD, Gazette Staff Writer November 03, 2003

Scott Palat, left, and Dave Farrer created ehomeworkhelp.com to help students struggling in the classroom. (Gazette photo by Michael Henninger)


When Indiana University of Pennsylvania student Scott Palat was student teaching, he noticed that at the end of class, some students would fail the quizzes, even when they seemed to be paying attention.

Palat, of Indiana, decided to talk to them after class and get their feedback. He learned that, for the most part, students don't have long attention spans, maybe only 20 minutes long. And out of a 40-minute class, half the information is lost.

So he decided to do something about it.

While he was student teaching, he took the time after each class to review the material the students had learned that day.

And Palat, who has since graduated with an education degree, is looking once again to do something to help children. And this time he has help.

Palat and his roommate, Dave Farrer, recently launched the Web site ehomeworkhelp.com, an online classroom that offers tutoring to students in need of learning assistance, in hopes of curbing the trend of students getting "left behind."

"The truth is, most children have no one else to turn to when they don't understand their schoolwork," Palat said. "It gets a bit uncomfortable if they ask too many questions during class. ... Some students like it better because they don't feel inferior to the teacher. Some students are just shy."

After his experiences with student teaching, and speaking with Farrer, who graduated with a computer science degree from IUP in May, they decided to do some research to find out the number of people looking for homework help.

"There were thousands," Palat said. "There really aren't too many companies offering this service. (So) we fumbled around with the (Web site) idea."

According to Farrer, they laid the groundwork for the site in April. It took approximately six months to create the site and thousands of dollars, which Farrer and Palat had saved up from previous Internet marketing endeavors.

"A select few got to try it out from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15," as a test run, to see how the site would fare, Farrer said.

The site did well, and it's been open to the public since Oct. 15.

Through the Web site, students get one-on-one interaction with tutors from their own computers. Students log onto the site and wait in an online waiting room, after selecting their grade and subject they need help with, and a tutor will pick up the student and take them to an online classroom, equipped with a virtual white board, voice interaction and instant messaging.

The Web site costs $97 a month to join, which, according to Palat, is much cheaper than private tutors who can charge up to $40 an hour.

"We hired local tutors," Palat said. "All tutors require criminal child abuse checks."

They also have to take a sample test.

"After they jump through the hoops, we set up an interview," he said. "We've started with six (paid) tutors, all local."

The tutors all work out of their homes. Most of the tutors are certified educators or are working toward getting certified.

Students can log on anytime between 3 and 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday - school nights. If a student didn't understand something in class that day, the student can go on at night and not be lost the next day.

"We guarantee we'll boost grades if (students) log on every night," Palat said.

The tutors are instructed to keep each session at no longer than 20 minutes because of students' attention spans. If, after a break or a snack, the student wants to log back in and work some more, they can do that as well.

"No questions will be left unanswered," said Palat, who added that the Web site has about 50 students currently but that more log on each day.

The tutors are also instructed to not give the students any answers. Instead, the students will be forced to think for themselves.

"Each student will learn how to use step-by-step processing so they learn how to answer questions for themselves," Palat said.

"(The goal is) to force each student to think for himself," added Farrer, who said that they also offer a three-day free trial period for those who are interested in the site but may be skeptical. "We firmly believe once they see it, they'll join."

Part of the reason is because of the quality of the site. Ehomeworkhelp.com is one of only two Web sites that offer voice interaction and a virtual chalkboard, according to Palat. However, the other site, eSylvan.com, offers tutoring to students in only grades 3-9 and is curriculum based. Palat and Farrer's site offers help to students in kindergarten through 12th grade and focuses on whatever the students' individual needs are, rather than a strict curriculum.

"Our technology is now top of the industry as of today," Farrer said.

In order to reach more local children, Palat and Farrer are planning on trying to work with the school districts.

"Our big goal is to work with school districts so they're not forced to pay for tutors" because of the No Child Left Behind Act, which sets goals for student proficiency in reading and math, Palat said. "And if they do, it'll cost the schools less to pay for us than the price of tutors."

But while the founders have big goals for their Web site, one fact still remains. The Web site's goal is to help students, whether it be in Indiana the county or Indiana the state.

"We want to help children boost their grades," Palat said. "We look forward to helping students across the country succeed in school. It will feel good to know the staff of ehomeworkhelp.com helped so many students succeed in school."

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