When Thomas Nelson switched its online tutoring vendor last year from Smarthinking to Brainfuse, it would have been hard to anticipate the reaction it has gotten from students and faculty.
“We were just blown away by the usage,” said Eve Walker, the Tutor Zone coordinator.
Before Smarthinking’s contract was up at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year, the VCCS put out bids to tutoring companies. Member schools had a choice between Brainfuse and Tutor.com. Walker said one of the deciding factors in choosing Brainfuse was its live online help area, which was available almost 24-7. Part of the contract allows colleges to purchase a specified number of hours for live tutor access. Thomas Nelson initially bought a number that was similar to what was used with Smarthinking, but that quickly had to be adjusted.
“When we realized the monthly average was much more, then we purchased more hours,” Walker said. “It’s a good thing because it means people are using it and they’re happy.”
According to Walker, Thomas Nelson students used a little more than 100 hours of live online sessions in the Fall 2018 semester with Smarthinking. In the Fall 2019 semester, students had used more than 1,800 hours of Brainfuse’s live online tutoring.
What accounts for the increase? Walker said what Brainfuse offers really helps online students and those who can’t get to campus for Tutor Zone.
Raven Scott, a first-year student studying Social Sciences, likes that aspect of Brainfuse.
“I never had a website where I could just turn in the essay and get feedback from somebody else,” she said.
Gwen Clash, an adjunct faculty member who teaches a lot of introductory English classes, said that’s a favorite of her students, as well.
“The students were amazed they could chat one-on-one with (a tutor),” Clash said. “They really liked it.”
Help in English is one of the most requested subjects, but Walker notes a lot of usage also in math, chemistry and physics.
“That’s where we see the greatest need, certainly,” she said.
Another reason for the increase usage is promotion. Brainfuse provided a lot of advertising material, including pens, bookmarks and posters.
“We’ve made sure to try and get them up everywhere on campus,” Walker said. “That’s probably helped. We’re a little more visible on campus.”
Clash said she invited Walker to meet with her class after noticing a bookmark with Brainfuse on it.
“I was looking for another resource,” Clash said.
Walker also cites the switch from Blackboard to Canvas. She said it’s easier to find Brainfuse on Canvas because there’s a button for Brainfuse within each course. That allows for immediate access.
“If students access it that one time and they have a positive experience, get the help they need, they’re going to go back and use it again,” Walker said.
Sometimes good old-fashioned, word-of-mouth advertising works just as well.
“I never even thought about using it, even though I had heard about it (in a class),” Scott said. “But my friend was telling me about it so I started using it.”
So far, Scott has used it only for English but anticipates taking advantage of it for other courses, too.
“Probably biology,” she said.
Walker said some students might be hesitant to try the online tutoring because it might feel impersonal if they aren’t meeting face-to-face with someone.
“Try it one time, and if you don’t like it, that’s OK,” she said. “But if you do, then you’ve found another way to succeed in your course.”