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Refurbished computers are key to success of growing online tutoring program

Online tutoring is an effective way to get students back on track. But in poor districts, home computers can be a scarce commodity.


Baltimore-based Educate Online has come up with an innovative solution to that problem. It provides a free computer, Internet access and an individually tailored study plan for students—typically 24 one-hour sessions with a live tutor. Once the course is successfully completed, the student gets to keep the computer.


The online tutoring program—funded through government grants from the No Child Le Behind Act—has proven to be effective, raising scores on a number of standardized tests. The pupil-to-tutor ratio is 3-to-1, although students can only interact with the instructor.

"It's dynamic, so as the student performs better it gets harder," said Joe Poling, a spokesman for Educate Online. Tutoring is available seven days a week, including 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on school nights. All teachers are certified and go through background checks.

"We have more instructors than we ever thought we'd need," Poling said. "We've got teachers from around the country."

The company uses secondhand computers from CDI of Toronto because refurbished equipment is less expensive and CDI is able to preload all the necessary software. CDI was also chosen because it can handle orders for thousands of units.

Once a district signs up for services, students are assessed and individual lesson plans are put together. Computers are shipped directly to a student's home by CDI, with Internet connectivity provided through either dial-up service or a wireless card.

The computers have security programs to ensure that students only access Educate Online materials during the balance of the course. Parents can sign on, too, to contact the company or check progress reports. Once the course is completed, the company sends an access code that permits unlimited use of the computer.

"At the end of the program, we unlock it and give it to them," Poling said.

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