Senior Yash Nigam, an Observer staff writer and online opinions editor, recently developed an e-learning system called VolunteerTutor that enables high school students to collaborate with peers using an online collaborative system.
The conferencing happens through digital whiteboards with file and screen sharing capabilities, webcams, microphones, and chat messengers. The sessions are recorded in the accounts of students so that they can be played back for review at a later time.
Nigam developed VolunteerTutor to enable students to earn student service learning (SSL) hours by tutoring struggling students virtually. He realized the need for such a website dedicated solely to student-to-student collaboration after he tried unsuccessfully to become a tutor for online tutoring companies.
“I applied to be an online math tutor to Tutor.com and TutorVista, but was either rejected or ignored because I am too young,” Nigam said. “I could not believe that there was no avenue for academically strong students to help other kids. That’s when I decided to start VolunteerTutor.”
Nigam spent most of the summer developing VolunteerTutor. In order to create his website, he had to learn how to operate WordPress and Moodle, two open source web software that can be combined into an e-learning system. The flexibilty of open source software enabled Nigam to create a professional, user-friendly platform.
“I watched many YouTube videos to orient myself with WordPress, and tinkered with the program until I understood its various functions,” Nigam said. “I also reached out to an e-learning systems specialist to help me create parallel whiteboard sessions and keep a live record of student hours.”
After receiving non-profit 501(c)(3) status, Nigam launched VolunteerTutor at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. He met with the CHS administration to demonstrate VolunteerTutor and discuss the functionality of VolunteerTutor within the CHS community.
“I am grateful for all the support and advice the CHS administration has given me,” Nigam said. “They are really helping me to spread VolunteerTutor.”
According to Nigam, the original purpose of the website was to allow students to earn service hours through online tutoring, but he now sees it more as a student-to-student collaboration center with teacher use.
Given that all VolunteerTutor sessions are recorded, the website will be used by several teachers to help make up for the loss of class time during snow days.
“For snow days, I am going to have a time set so people can watch sessions on VolunteerTutor,” math department head Audrey Phillips said. “It will also be recorded so students will be responsible for the material.”
According to junior Shayan Sadegh, VolunteerTutor is extremely useful to hold large study groups before tests, especially in challenging courses like AP Chemistry.
“VolunteerTutor has the potential to revolutionize education,” senior Gregorio Zimerman said. “It can expand nationally, even to the collegiate level.”