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Virtual Assistance

Students Turn to Web for Homework Help

When 15-year-old Benjamin Choi has a question about molar mass, he turns to the Internet for help.

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology sophomore is a frequent visitor to the Web site, www.Tutor.com.

The service, which runs from 3 p.m. to midnight, helps students at all grade levels and in a number of subjects. His mother, Clara Choi, introduced him to the site several weeks ago.

CLARA CHOI is a librarian at Cascades Library in Cascades. Last month, she and a handful of other county librarians attended an orientation session on Live Homework Help at www.Tutor.com.

"It’s a great tool, but it hasn’t caught on yet," she said.

The program is ideal for middle-school and high-school students who are familiar with AOL instant messaging.

"It’s really easy to use," she said.

Her son, Benjamin, sat down at a computer at Cascades Library and typed in the Web site address, Monday night. He logged on with his library identification number, located on his library card.

Then, he selected his grade level, 10, and subject, chemistry.

A screen popped up.

"You’re in line," the screen said. "There are a few students ahead of you."

Within three minutes Benjamin was assigned to a virtual tutor, Joseph D.

Linda Holtslander, Loudoun County Public Library assistant director, said Live Homework Help tutors are certified teachers, retired teachers, professors, graduate students and undergraduate students. To apply, potential tutors must submit several teaching or tutoring samples and must pass a mock test. Once hired, all tutors complete rigorous training and certification programs that include technology education and training in online tutoring etiquette.

EVERY TUTOR also undergoes a full background check and as they go on, their work is assessed by program mentors. Mentors have been with the program at least one year and must be recommended by senior tutors, Holtslander added.

"They know what they're talking about," Benjamin added.

"Welcome to Tutor.com," Joseph D. said.

Benjamin typed in his question.

"How do you find the molar mass of a compound?"

The best part of the program, Benjamin said, is that the tutors make you work for the answer. They do so by asking you additional questions.

"Sometimes I’m on here for an hour," he said, "but it feels good once I get it."

The virtual tutor first asked Benjamin if he knew what molar mass is. When Benjamin got the answer correct, they moved on.

After six minutes of back-and-forth conversation, Benjamin got what he was looking for, a better understanding of molar mass.

BEFORE TUTOR.COM, the sophomore said he turned to his friends for homework help.

"They usually have the same problems I do," he said. "I’d have to wait to ask my teacher in the morning."

Benjamin said he likes walking into class knowing the answers to difficult questions. He feels better prepared.

His mother said the program is a big help to parents of older children enrolled in difficult classes.

"A lot of times my husband and I don’t know the answer," she said. "Now, he has somewhere to go."

THE SERVICE RUNS from 3 p.m. to midnight, but Benjamin said tutors won't leave you stranded when the clock strikes 12. He once signed on at 11:50 p.m.

"The tutor helped me until I got the question right," he said. "We ran about 20 minutes over."

Students can access Live Homework Help through the public library Web site, www.lcpl.lib.va.us, from home or at a local library.