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Education / 2013

Crowdsourcing Education To Provide Free Oneonone Online Tutoring For Underserved Communities

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Learn To Be Foundation


  • Aim to improve the current Learn To Be model of free, one-on-one, online tutoring for underserved communities
  • Implement an Adaptive and Persistent Problem Module (APPM) for students and integrate it into online classroom
  • Provide practice problems in almost any math, science and language arts topic
  • Track time needed for student to complete each problem
  • Create adaptive algorithm, in which problems get more difficult based on previous correct answers or easier based on previous incorrect answers and adapts to students’ academic needs
  • Store students’ answers in a database for future recall by tutors; different tutors will have access to same data for student so no ambiguity on what one tutor worked on with a student vs. another
  • Each one-on-one session can now be more specifically tailored to the needs of students, targeting exactly what the student needs help with and honing in on fundamental deficiencies


Introduction to Learn To Be

In an interview given to CNN in late 2011, Bill Gates stated that "one-on-one teaching is kind of that ideal that you would like to achieve where you see where they're [students are] confused, you see where they're [students are] bored and you're tuning what you say according to that."

Since 2009, that ideal is exactly what the Learn To Be Foundation (LTB) has been offering to K-12 students in Los Angeles and around the nation. Through the use of a real-time virtual whiteboard with voice and webcam conferencing abilities, Learn To Be provides 100% free, online, one-on-one academic support to underserved students struggling in math, science, and language arts. In this time, we have recruited over 600 volunteer tutors and have enabled them to teach over 20,000 sessions for over 11,000 hours of instruction to our students.

Imagine a tutor from Iowa, sitting at a cafe on a portable device, helping a homeless student at a Los Angeles shelter learn his multiplication facts through the LTB online platform. Or a college student in her dorm in Austin helping a student at an elementary school in LA learn how to read. This is what Learn To Be tutors have been doing since 2009. Our tutors are like-minded individuals who are part of a crowdsourcing solution to today’s education problems. Students no longer have one teacher but an army of them scattered across the nation, ready at a moments notice to help out in whatever way possible.

But in an attempt to create an even more meaningful interaction between students and tutors we need to know what exactly students are struggling with, and as such we have proposed the following project:

An Adaptive and Persistent Problem Module (APPM)
Adaptive systems are those in which the questions presented to students adapt based on whether the previous question was answered correctly or not. So as students answer questions correctly, subsequent questions become increasingly difficult.

And by persistent, we mean that all problems logged by a student will be forever stored for recall. This includes information regarding the correctness of the answer, all incorrect answers inputted before the correct answer was submitted, and how long it took the student to answer the problem correctly.

By themselves, adaptive and persistent programs already exist. However, none have been integrated so extensively into the constructs of a live, one-on-one tutoring session. We want to implement our own APPM and integrate it into our online classroom.

Not only does this practice help students to master academic material, but it also allows all tutors to have access to the same data for that student. So, if for example, a tutor was working with a student on fractions during an online tutoring session, he could assign the student problems using the APPM and then subsequent tutors would know exactly how many problems were solved by that student in the previous session, how many were answered correctly, and how long it took them to answer these questions. This would instantly improve the quality of the session because the tutor need not rely on only the student to diagnose problem areas.

Ultimately, the goal is to close achievement gaps and this can be done when fundamental deficiencies in core subjects are addressed. And once we address these deficiencies, attitudes towards learning improve and students are able to thrive in school, leading to higher scores and ultimately to higher graduation rates.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

  • 20,000 one-on-one tutoring requests and over 11,000 hours of free tutoring
  • Over 600 tutors in 49 states
  • Partnerships in Los Angeles: Dorris Place Elementary, School On Wheels, UCLA Community School, Sixth Avenue Elementary, Pio Pico Elementary
  • Partnerships around the nation: Fox Tech High School (Texas), Say Yes (New York), PS161 (New York), Harmony Elementary (Texas), Clintondale High School (Michigan), Manistee High School (Michigan)
  • Launched Hulu Commercial in September of 2009
  • 17 Learn To Be University Chapters: Boston University, Cornell University, Emory University, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, Syracuse University, Texas A&M University, University of Arizona, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at San Diego, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Dallas, Wellesley College, University of Michigan
  • Winner of Harvard Business School Social Entrepreneurship Award
  • Winner of Bannerman Foundation Award
  • </ul>

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Harvard Business School
  • School On Wheels
  • Hulu
  • Microsoft
  • University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • University of California at San Diego
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Michigan
  • Fox Tech High School
  • Bannerman Foundation

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Learn To Be is currently working with its flagship program at Dorris Place Elementary, located in East Los Angeles. LTB tutors work with struggling 6th graders 3 times a week in core math concepts. Prior to beginning, students had taken a state-mandated periodic assessment exam and after 8 weeks of tutoring, they were given another periodic assessment. In that time, no other additional academic service was provided other than Learn To Be and as a result, students saw an average increase of 22% on their exams. With the implementation of the APPM, we hope that further increases will be attained as tutors are able to better tailor their sessions to the direct needs of the students.

After completion of the APPM, Learn To Be will have a core set of problems solved for various students across multiple academic subjects. This data can be analyzed both in the short term and the long term.

Immediate assessment post-session as tutors can recall stored data to confirm whether a student understood concepts or not based on number of questions answered correctly and time needed to complete each question. Learn To Be administrators can also evaluate how effective the tutor was in delivering content based on the problems solved by the student before, during and immediately after the session.

Long term internal assessments conducted by Learn to Be will measure both the accuracy AND speed with which students answer questions in different subject area over a period of time as data of all problems solved is stored on Learn To Be servers. For example, over a 6 month period, Learn To Be administrators can view progress on a students arithmetic knowledge or algebra knowledge.

With increased scores comes increased confidence and because Learn To Be focuses on fundamental concepts, students will be put on a more firm footing in school, enabling them to thrive as they grow older and coursework becomes more challenging. Attitudes towards learning will improve and ultimately, the hope is that graduation rates will as well.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

<p>To date, we have held partnerships with several schools in Los Angeles including Pio Pico Elementary, Sixth Avenue Elementary, the UCLA Community school and Dorris Place Elementary. Our flagship partnership is at Dorris Place Elementary.  Dorris Place has worked very closely with us to isolate students struggling the most and place them in an after-school program. With our tutors working with their students, we have found major improvements not only in test scores, but in attitude as well. Dorris Place represents the model we hope to replicate in every school in the district that is home to underserved communities.  Outside of schools, we have also partnered with School On Wheels, whose mission is to enhance educational opportunities for homeless children in grades K-12 in the Los Angeles area.  Our platform has enabled their volunteer tutors from around the nation to continue to tutor students who have been forced to move to new homeless shelters. </p>
<p>All of our partners have benefitted from our services and will see those benefits increased many times from an enhanced focus on the individual needs of the student. This is what the APPM provides.  The individual experience will help teachers and administrators identify problem areas for students and fix them with Learn To Be tutors at their side. </p>
<p>Ultimately, the true benefit for Los Angeles will come when all struggling students are provided the individualized attention they deserve and the APPM combined with Learn To Be tutoring can serve that function. </p>

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

<p>Success in 2050 would manifest itself through the elimination of an achievement gap. No longer would underserved communities be held captive by their lack of academic resources. Students would be able to receive help as they need it and would be able to thrive to their greatest potential.  By 2050, technological advances will pave the way to a new style of learning for students. Things like adaptive learning will play an integral part in a student’s education. Students will have real-time data of their progress in all subjects and be able to track their progress throughout their entire academic career. </p>

Because of the widespread availability of quality online resources, the excellence of education that a student receives will no longer be based on the neighborhood in which a student lives or how wealthy his family is. Struggling students will always have extra problems to complete and can work as many as it takes to fully understand the concept; similarly, gifted students will have greater opportunities to challenge themselves with enriched material. Peer-to-peer learning will become an established method of learning through the use of programs like LTB, which allow students to record themselves and teach their peers. It will be the ultimate crowd-sourcing solution to education. Pairing people who want to learn with people who want to teach.

All of these methods will contribute to a more effective future “classroom” environment. And ultimately, Learn To Be hopes that dropout rates will plummet, graduation rates will rise, and the education divide between privileged communities and underserved communities will bridge.