Not All Homework Help Websites Are Created Equal
There is a lot of criticism about sites that help you solve math and stats problems. Students use them to get unfair advantage, it is against the rules, and there is a strong foundation for those statements, but in time I have reached to the point of believing that it really depends on how students use those sites.
I have been in both sides of the trenches: I have been a college instructor and I have helped students through online tutoring, and I can see the point of view of instructors, where they want students to complete their math coursework on their own. For a good reason, because when it is time to show up for the test, doing their homework is the best way to be properly prepared.
Completing work on their own is crucial for students to reach proficiency and the do well in tests and exams, and that tend to be the objective of completing homework: the preparation for the higher instances at which the grade is at the stake. The problem is that homework is completion is rewarded based on exactly completion, by merely providing answers, and not necessarily understanding or proficiency.
Why Online Services Exist
In the past (and in these vertiginous times the past means 10 years ago), students would have other options available. Not fewer options, just different options. If someone did not know how to complete their stats homework, they would call a tutor, they would gather at the dorms or library and the tutor would work in person with the student. Naturally, the student would ask the tutor to complete those homework problems that he or she was not able to do.
So, from my own experience, the one-on-one tutor does not differ too much from that online stats tutor who will complete work at the request of someone. The big question is what will student do with that work. In my own practice, I see how students gain great understanding from seeing a set of problems that is solved showing all the steps.
So working with either a presential tutor or an online tutor could be equally productive if used in an appropriate manner. As I have discussed already, I believe that it is a manner of providing the proper rewards for the task. Homework is rewarded for completion and not for gaining understanding. The challenge for math education is to be able to give the right rewards: How do we grade so that students focus on understanding first?
Not All Services Are Equal
Having already discussed (even so lightly) of how online services have a space in the super connected micro cosmos, one problem I see is that students in need of help do not do due diligence about who they are hiring. It is really about common sense to be applied at the time you hire an online stats tutor, pretty much the same due diligence you would have for a presential tutor.
We at MGT get a lot of people who have been burned out by a bad service. When we ask a couple of questions about the other service, the signals were pretty clear that things could go wrong: poor use of English, lack of contact information, unrealistic cheap prices, and the list goes on and on. There are some clear early signs to check early enough before wasting too much time (and money).
It is understandable though. Students tend to have a hectic schedule. They are thrown into college life and sometimes let's say they do not know how to handle and manage their time. Homework and tests appears to be ages ahead, and they get over confident, feel they have plenty of time to catch up but then, bang! The HW is due tomorrow and panic mode kicks in.
What Should be the Ideal Role of an Online Stats Service
I believe that having an online stats tutor could be great use. Both the tutor and student save a lot in overhead costs: transportation, commuting time, parking, etc. Way more convenient. And since there are lots of people with internet connection (billions), there is a market for those offering their services and those wanting to hire those services. That with a strong supply function, prices could be much more convenient than the in-person tutor would be.
So, with those cheap prices, and assuming good quality in their services, what should be their role? I believe a student should send a list of problems similar to those him or her will get tested about, and get solutions by an expert. Use those step-by-step solutions to LEARN how to solve those questions. Use that knowledge to solve their own assigned set.
We still have a long way to coexist with the technology and connectivity of these days. And the way math and stats are taught is not the exception. We need to reassess our priorities of how we grade, and what do we reward. Rewarding the acquisition of skills instead of the completion of tasks could be the way to go.
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