What next for Tutorhub?

We have been working on Tutorhub for some months now. We expect the website to change dramatically over the coming months.

It’s fair to say that it has taken longer than we would have expected, but understandable considering our decision to focus on chat technology using XMPP – which is also used by Facebook chat.

We have a laser-like focus now on controlled growth in customer numbers and adapting the customer offer so that it fits what people really want. We will be holding more parent and tutor market research sessions – getting credible primary research on our web app. When we have ‘nailed it’ then will be time to ‘scale it’.

Measuring what happens on the website is really important – and I have started using Webtrends in preference to Google Analytics. Early signs are that this will be a really useful tool, and worth the investment – even though the dev team find it a pain. We are also completing a website scorecard, so that we can measure things such as feedback ratings. Getting the management information right at the outset is important.

To date, just about all of our resources have been focused on the development challenge – but from now the main challenge is commercial. We have recruited an intern to help with the communications and marketing, and this marks the start of building a commercial team. Our technology remains very important, and we have a series of planned developments in progress.

We have already received our first subscribing customer but are keeping the website low key until the week commencing 1st November when we start advertising on Google. We will also kick-off a wider PR and news campaign then.

Exciting times!

Tutorhub.com launched

Just a quick post to say that our new online tutoring website tutorhub.com has been launched into public beta. Getting the timing right is always a difficult decision. We have launched our minimum viable product, and before we take it onto the next level we need to ensure that we are on the right track.

Developing any new business idea relies on a series of assumptions, and the first priority for us is to talk again to parents, kids and tutors and find out whether it really meets their needs – also known as product:market fit. We also need to prove how best to market it and that it’s economically viable. Only when we have done this can we go for growth – simply put we have to ‘nail it before we scale it‘.

If you fancy helping us with this, please get in touch.

Where does the ISA review leave parents?

The new Home Secretary Theresa May announced yesterday that the Government are to review the new vetting & barring and criminal records regulations to ensure that ‘they are scaled back to sensible levels’. Under the existing proposals privately organised tutoring between parents and tutors was outside of the scope of the new regulations, although arrangements made through tutoring agencies would be covered. So to this extent, there was some inconsistency in the way that tutoring was treated by the ISA.

As parents we continue to be very much in favour of the new ISA regulations. Nothing brings the need for tutor checking home more than the recently reported case of the private tutor Ugochukwu Okorie who went on to abuse two young sisters. Would the new regulations have stopped this happening you may ask, well only if the tutor was already known to the authorities and the parents had conducted an ISA check.

Our advice to parents continues to be to make their own tutor checks and follow up references every time they use a new tutor. The ISA would have made the process a whole lot easier – the combination of wider safety checks and ability to look someone up quickly on the database would give parents a much greater sense of security.

So where does this review leave parents? Well, no better off, lets hope that the Government conclude the review quickly so that we can give families that extra piece of information they need to keep their children safe.

Paying students for exam success

There was a really interesting article in this weeks Economist, entitled ‘Satchel, Uniform, Bonus’ which has set me thinking.

As a father of teenage children I know how motivating the prospect of cash can be. I recall a school friend being incentivised to pass their GCSE’s by their parent paying them £10 per pass. Quite some carrot for a cash strapped 16 year old, I can tell you.

Anyway, this leads me onto the article which considered what might happen if we started paying students directly for performance. Cash payments reward good exam results immediately, whereas the prospect of a better job in say five years time has little meaning for the student.

Some interesting research has been conducted in Israel which shows that financial incentives increased the number of students completing their school leaving certificate by one third, but only for girls who needed to do only a little more to graduate. Research in the USA highlighted that students read more if they are paid $2 per book (subject to passing a comprehension test).

Research seems to indicate that it is least effective in the target groups that probably need it most, e.g. poor and disadvantaged students. It does seem like a good idea however, and rather than ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ it strikes me that in essence this is a good idea, and something we should investigate further in the UK.

”Can you help me with my homework?”

I took a sharp intake of breath last night, when my youngest son asked for help with his maths homework. There was a tap on my shoulder and the question that so many of us dread ”Dad, can you help me with my homework?”

Schools rightly say that children need to be able to work independently, but there are times when they just need some help – and like any caring parent, you feel that you should be able to provide this support. I found myself saying ”it’s not like it was in my day” – hold on a minute, isn’t that what my father said too?

Even when you can provide help, it somehow ends up as an argument – hold on, maybe that’s just our family. I can quite understand how any parent trying to teach their offspring to drive is also doomed to failure.

All of this isn’t surprising really, when you consider the time expired since we left full time education, let alone changes to the Curriculum in the meantime. Those of you who can recognise my conundrum, will be unsurprised to hear that in a recent survey of 2,000 parents, five out of six parents were embarrassed to say that they struggle to help their children with homework.

So, where next? Well private tutoring can provide that one to one support when it’s required. But it’s not always practical to find a tutor when you need one, let alone get support at 6pm when the homework is due in at 9am the next day. We have been thinking hard about this, and are working hard on a new online tutoring website which will connect families and CRB checked tutors.

Tutorhub is currently being piloted with a group of families and tutors. If you are interested to learn more about how you can become part of this pilot, please feel free to contact me.

TutorHub Pilot

Just a quick blog post to say that our new web offer TutorHub.com is being tested with parents and tutors, prior to be launched as a public beta.

This is a new and innovative offer to parents wanting to support their children’s learning out of school. We are testing the website with a group of Bristol-based parents and tutors. We are really pleased by the quality of feedback received and are adapting the offer around what our customers say they actually want.

I have been a close follower of Steve Blank’s work, and the whole lean start-up philosophy. What will result, is a customer offer that is much more customer focused and breaks the mould.

Exciting times.

Bristol Families – We need you!

Exciting news! We are three weeks away from launching Tutorhub, a new internet-based educational service, and we’re now looking for families with children in years 7-12 to take part in a trial of the service.

For the kids, Tutorhub combines the one-one attention of a home tutor with the speed and convenience of just looking it up on the internet. To start with, we’re focusing on maths tutoring, but we’ll be adding further subjects as we go.

What’s in it for you? Well, the bottom line is that for the pilot period of two months, your children will have immediate access to a whole bunch of maths tutors, for free. In a nutshell, they post their tricky question on Tutorhub, it’s picked up by one of our tutors who can best answer it and they can start a ‘chat’ session’ to get the problem solved. Once solved, the session ends and you can rate the tutor on how well they answered the question.

For your peace of mind, all of the tutors are CRB checked and all the sessions are recorded for review later. The kids will find the technology very familiar and it means you don’t have to answer those tricky questions they got for homework that night.

What do we want out of it? We want you to try it out and let us know what the kids think and hat you think. At the end, we’ll have three questions for you: what did you like about it, what did you dislike about it and what would you do differently.

Online Tutoring

Beanbag was set-up back in 2007 to assist parents / guardians in finding face to face tutors for their children. Why – because as parents we struggled to find tutors for our children, and because we believe that this is an area where new technology solutions to old problems can make a real and lasting difference.

Our objective was always to increase the accessibility of tutoring, and as a technology business we have been thinking long and hard about other ways in which we could make this happen.

The problem as we see it, is that it’s not always possible to find a tutor when you need one, particularly if you live in geographically remote areas for example. It can also be a problem finding one to one support when your child needs help with an assignment or piece of homework. Formal tutoring arrangements whilst valuable are not always the answer. Online tutoring could provide a more cost effective way of tutoring, or provide that bit of supplementary support just when it’s required.

Yes there are alternatives. You can join a study programme online, e.g. themathsfactor.com, but this will not necessarily address the specific problems your children have when they need one to one support. Individual tutors sometimes offer skype (internet phone-call) based tutoring as well, but how do you know that they are who they say they are, and how does the tutor get paid?

Some of you may recall that Tutorvista.com entered the UK market in 2007, with a technology based offer providing unlimited online tutoring support by tutors based in India, but for a number of reasons this did not take off here. Why? Based on feedback from my children who used the service, there were dialect, and technology problems, this combined with low customer service levels made it unattractive to us. In spite of these issues, online tutoring is we believe a good idea, all you have to do is to see the number of online tutoring services in the USA, such as Tutor.com to understand the potential of online tutoring to address a wide variety of learning needs.

My belief is that online tutoring would be attractive to parents in the UK, if it were delivered properly, using technology that children prefer combined with professional customer service. What if we could provide online tutoring direct to parents, using the large number of CRB / ISA checked tutors that we already have listed on Beanbag? Would this be a winner – I think so.

Watch this space.

Panorama look at child safety and the ISA

Some of you may have seen the thought provoking BBC Panorama programme last night entitled ‘are you a danger to kids’.

With more than nine million people potentially effected by the vetting and barring scheme, it is something that will touch many people’s lives. Certainly those who come into regular contact (more than once a week) with children and vulnerable adults will be expected to obtain ISA registration. I explained the impact on tutors in a previous blog post.
Inevitably the programme touched upon issues around how the ISA will evaluate people – they will be expected to cover not only criminal records but allegations, complaints, tip-offs and suspicions (whether proven or not). An interview with John Pinnington highlighted the distress that unproven allegations can have on an individual, their family and their career.
We will be very much in the hands of the ISA’s two hundred strong team of case workers to make the right decisions. We will also be expecting them to safeguard potentially damaging personal data – no computers to be left on trains, please.
So what’s our view at Beanbag? Well as parents we welcome anything that reduces the risk that those with evil intentions ever get access to our children. As individuals, we are equally concerned about the human rights issues posed.
The debate will run and run, and I am sure that I will be writing about this again.