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College of Marin Students' testimonials

These are some feedback memos submitted by students in the on-line Introduction to Probability and Statistics class taught by Ira Lansing at College of Marin. The students who wrote these memos all participated in the study group and tutoring sessions conducted by Virtual Classrooms' tutor, Helen Mesheryakova. This program was supported by the California Virtual Campus.

Feedback from: Prof. Lansing, Probability and Statistics class instructor:

"Establishing a sense of classroom and community in an Internet course is very difficult. The services provided by Ray Kronquist and his tutors goes a long way to creating and maintaining the feeling of belong to a class. 

Just as important, from my observation, every student that actively participated in the tutoring finished in the top 20% of the course. Perhaps they would have done so without the assistance, but those who did not pass did not engage in the tutoring sessions. It is definitely a positive benefit and I encourage all of my students to participate. 

Ira Lansing, Ph.D. 

Professor of Mathematics"



Fall semester 2001:

From: Munther H.

"Hey Ray, 
I really enjoyed working with the software and having a tutor to help me out 
with my problems. I think it was a real help in learning the material and 
getting feedback from an expert. The software itself was very goo because it 
allowed us to talk and write to each other as well as do visual diagrams. My 
tutor Helen was fantastic and I really appreciate all her work and everything 
that she has done for me. Helen should get a raise :) She's awsome. The only 
thing I had problems with was that software logon. At some sessions, the 
logon process took 20 min because it wouldn't or couldn't connect to the 
server. That's about it. I really enjoyed it and I look forward to using the 
software myself for personal use. By the way, you said the software was free 
to use..........can you send me the site where I can download the software or 
refer people to download the software?......Thanks 
Munther H."

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From: Aldren B.

"Dear Ray Kronquist and Helen, 

It's sad to find out we will not have online tutoring anymore. I was really looking forward to having the "extra help", especially now when finals are just around the corner. If you guys get more funding, please let me know and I would be more than happy to participate and learn more from Centra and the discussions. 

About the software: I was very impressed! At first, I thought it was too much of a pain in the butt, but from the second meeting on, I felt very comfortable and able to learn, ask questions, have discussions and even get the sympathy from other students who were struggling with Math. I really like the fact that it's so simple to verbally ask questions and get a voice response back instantaneously. The only thing I wish it could be different is the fact that I thought it was kind of hard to write on the board, using a mouse, but I also got a lot better at that as I practiced more and more.... Helen seemed like a pro at it. 

About Helen: She is great! I really thought she was awesome and really focused trying really hard to explain and answer all questions asked and more! She was very objective and seemed very prepared to deal with her students on line. It must be extra difficult to teach a class over the internet, but Helen successfully accomplished it. I am forever thankful to her help. 

My special request is that you guys gives us at least 4 more tutoring sessions to get us by the finals "safely". That would be great. 
thanks again, 

Aldren S. B."

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From: Steven L.

"Dear Ray Kronquist, 

It is very unfortunate that the online tutoring for this semester has come to end. Thank you for setting it up. 

For me, the tutoring was mostly a very positive experience. Helen's a capable tutor, and she helped me understand some pretty difficult concepts. She was always committed and enthusiastic while assisting me with my various problems. Even when the allotted two hour session expired, Helen would gladly stay until I finished asking my questions. 

My only complaint is with the Centranow software. I realize it's a new software that's still being developed, so I'm sure some of its problems will be corrected soon. These problems included lengthy downloading times, computer freeze-ups that prompted Helen or myself to reboot our computers, and delayed audio system that would often cutoff Helen's last words. However, the use of the whiteboard, which allowed us to draw our problems, made the learning experience invaluable. It wouldn't have been the same without it. 

I never shared my tutoring time with anyone, so fortunately I got one-on-one time with Helen, but unfortunately I didn't get the chance to interact with my classmates, hear their questions, and possibly learn something I had overlooked in the text. 

My only suggestion is I actually would have enjoyed our conversations to be done strictly through text(chat), rather than with the microphone. It was just too difficult to communicate through Centranow's audio-system. The other technical problems with the software, I realize, are out of your control. 

Thanks again for the service! I hope my thoughts are helpful. 

Best regards, 
Steven L."

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Spring semester 2002:

From: Micheline M.

"Software evaluation:
Centra performed well for me all along. I had a few crashes, but only in one
session out of the numerous ones I attended.
The software was very easy to install and learn (less than 2 hours all
together), and allows a very good communication with the teacher and the
other students. The system checks before the session allowed me to fix
things before hand.
On the tutoring side, I got great help to get started, with technical
support 24hours/day, 7 days a week, even in French!

Contribution of our classmates:
It was very nice to meet students, and I wish I would have met more of them.
That was one of the part I liked the most, even though, I learned more
academically when I was the only student. It was very comforting not to feel
alone, and to hear how others overcame academical challenges, or practical
matters, such as calculators, software, etc....

Tutor Helen:
Helen was outstanding in every way I can think of!
She masters totally the subject she tutors, and the tools she is using to
tutor.
She is incredibly patient, and efficient. Her directions are very clear, and
she always makes sure everybody understands before going further. She is
very kind and respectful, and are not afraid to show your weaknesses, lack
of knowledge, or of understanding.
She is very thorough about the concepts, and the wordings. She made me aware
of the importance of every mandatory fact or technique required to get
meaningful results in statistics.
She is very organized, and I still remember the way she organized data and
statistical procedures on the white board. I used it on the tests.
Her contribution to my success to this class was tremendous. It made it
human (with a real voice), and kept me on tracks with the calendar. She gave
me confidence in my skills, and showed me all the pitfalls...
I was looking forward to Tuesday night to get some feedback about where I
was in my studies.

How to keep this program a success and improve it:
In my opinion a quality tutor, knowledgeable and patient is essential.
The flexibility of the schedule is a major condition though. Late at night,
or weekends are my only availability, (most workers are the same) and the
program was well adapted from start.
I wish I could have started earlier in the semester with Helen. The first
weeks until the first test were the hardest.
A good connection between the teacher of the class and the tutor is
important, and I could feel we had that in the last program.
I think the students need to have earphones and microphone to take full
advantage of a session. It was boring to wait for students to write
everything they wanted to say, and it looses a dimension. But I understand
that not everybody can afford it.
Having the same material (books and CDs) helped a lot.

GREAT PROGRAM. ***** 5 stars."

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From: Aileen P.

"The tutoring sessions were very helpful . The flexible scheduling 
options assisted me in setting aside time to work with the tutor and 
other classmates, which without this service I would not have been able 
to do for this internet-based class. I participated in sessions that had 
at most 3 students, and the session time of 2 hours gave enough time for 
students questions to be answered. The tutor was knowledgeable in the 
subject matter and easy to understand; gave enough instruction to 
students to help them think about how to solve the problems themselves; 
and she also made herself available by email outside of tutoring hours 
to answer further questions. It might be helpful to ask students to 
participate by providing their problems and issues ahead of time in some 
sort of forum or simple email so all students know what to help each 
other with, and what will be covered in the session. If I take another 
internet-based class, I will definitely want the same sort of tutoring 
service available. The Centra software was fairly easy to use, but I 
noticed that some people lost the ability to communicate through their 
microphones, and I was never sure why this happened. The whiteboard was 
a little clunky in that it did not have scroll bars - I had to drag my 
mouse outside the margins of the available screen, and only then would 
scroll bars appear.

Thank you again for all your help!
- Aileen P."

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Fall semester 2002:

From: Todd A.

"Hello Helen, 

I would be most happy in thanking you personally for your assistance and guidance throughout this course study group. However, with the large distance between us, I am going to have to settle for the quick and easy method presented here. 

The Tutor:
Helen was excellent. She was knowledgeable, and supportive. She provided excellent feedback, and was thoroughly knowledgeable of the material being covered. I looked forward to our meetings as an opportunity to really grasp the material. 

The Software:
For the most part the software worked well. I experienced excellent performance from the audio piece. I did find the whiteboard/mouse combination to be somewhat cumbersome for doing the math notation and formulas. I believe this to be inherent to drawing with a mouse. Otherwise, logging in and out, connectivity, and performance all met or exceeded my expectations. 

The Classmates:
Well I really only had one, and she was fantastic. Ingrid was an excellent partner, and challenged me to be prepared for the classes. 

Other:
I was really not expecting to have tutoring available for this course. I found this to be a pleasant and welcomed surprise. At first I was skeptical with both the software and the method. I am so glad I participated. 

I would like to thank you again Helen, for a job well done. 
Thank You, 
Todd A."

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From: Ingrid P.

"Dear Helen, 

I am sorry for the delay, but I am finally sending feedback, and unfortunately too late for credit, but that is ok. I figure it is better late than never. 

In regards to the tutoring sessions, I felt they were extremely valuable to my success in this class. I was feeling at a loss without the normal classroom setting, without the interaction of students and instructor, the question and answer rhetoric. The tutoring sessions helped me open up, focus on keeping up (one week ahead) with my homework, and the obvious benefit of being to ask a human being a question "live". There are downfalls, the normal internet problems, being kicked off an ISP, but those are not the fault of the tutor or Centra. 

The Centra program was interesting to use, and the multimedia arena was ideal for statistics. It was a comfortable environment for learning. Overall, I would have felt better had there been a structured set of study questions (other than those assigned by the instructor). Questions that would challenge the skills we had learned. I felt the questions the instructor posed in the exams and essay tests were sometimes more challenging than the homework, and I felt very unprepared for the exam. It could have been a matter of wording a question in a way I wasn't familiar with, etc. In any case, all in all I felt this online tutoring was very valuable to my learning statistics well. 

Thank you again. 

Ingrid Parker "

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From: Matthias Z.

"The one time that I used online tutoring I was very impressed by the fact that you could sit at home in front of your computer and still had personal attention from a real person. Helen was very helpful and unlike many tutors made sure that every single step was clear to all the participants of the tutoring session. 

It took me some time to get used to the software and especially most of the writing on the blackboard was a little clumsy, but I guess it just takes time to get used to it. 

Even though I did not attend the tutoring sessions regularly, I found it incredibly helpful that I could contact Helen via AOL Instant Messenger or email, if I had specific questions. 

This internet course gives students a lot of independence, but sometimes it is just very important to be able to have a real person to ask if something is unclear. 

I personally think online tutoring is very helpful and a good extra for any internet course. 

Matthias Z. "

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Spring semester 2003:

From: Navid Z.

" The online tutoring sessions made the difference between an A or a B/C for me. Helen is very good at explaining, and she makes sure that everyone in the class gets everything before she moves on. I was originally very reluctant to attend class because I'm very technologically primitive, and I also didn't think it would be very practical. But it is the most practical type of tutoring I've had! In fact, I honestly think this works better than sitting next to an actual person and being tutored that way. It takes a little time to get used to writing on the board, but it's very fun when you do. Overall, it takes a little effort to get started, but it really pays off once you start using the virtual classroom on a regular basis, or every occasionally. I strongly recommend it to anyone. 

The software is great, but I wish that it would sometime make it available for the Macintosh. My biggest problem was having to borrow someone else's PC because the software didn't work on Macs. I don't know how much money they have to spend to write a Mac version, but I hope they choose to do so. Additionally, the sessions ended towards the end of the semester, but not at the very end. I hope they can arrange it somehow from the beginning so as to have enough sessions to go all the way to end of the semester. Otherwise, this class is an absolute must for anyone taking a math course for which they have tutoring available. 

Navid "

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From: Ned D.

"Hi Helen, 

Thanks for all your hard work tutoring us this semester. I'm disappointed that we won't get to continue the sessions, they have been indispensable. You are an outstanding tutor. You have a real gift for knowing where everyone is and working with them simultaneously at their respective levels. Since this was an online class it was great to have a place to get questions answered in detail while doing the problems. You're obviously a very competent mathematician and you're also fun to work with. 

As far as the software and some of the mechanics are concerned I have to say that I was quite impressed. It's amazing that we can be communicating so effectively over such vast distances. I suppose it would be nice to be able to talk simultaneously instead of one at a time, but overall I'd say the software and structure of the sessions is great. 

I hope that was useful feedback. Take care and thanks a lot. Your work really made a difference for me. 

Sincerely, 

Ned D. "

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