How students are clicking with their cyber-teachers
If it succeeds it could revolutionise the delivery of Irish grinds and turn an elite group of teachers into high-earning celebrities.
This week, CVS Learning, the company behind Eircom's StudyHub and Examsupport.ie, launched a new website offering live online tuition to Junior and Leaving Cert students.
At ExamVillage.com, students and teachers are able to interact with each other at a live class using web cameras.
Teachers using the site can provide tuition online to single students or a whole class.
Teachers will use the site to promote their classes and will be able to negotiate their own fees. After attending an online class students will be able to give their tutors a rating.
In the same way as a film or a hotel, this new breed of cyber-teacher will be given star ratings.
If the futuristic scheme works, it could be lucrative for popular online teachers. The success of ExamVillage will depend on whether Irish students and parents embrace the technology.
Until now, online tuition for school exams has tended to come in the form of videos that are posted online.
At sites such as examsupport.ie students pay a fee to watch the videos and are also provided with study notes on the site. While students can stop and start the video, they usually cannot interact with the teacher and ask questions.
At ExamVillage, teachers and students can see and hear each other during classes.
John McDonnell, one of the creators of the site, says: "We hope to have 300 teachers signed up to this.
"From the tutor's point of view there are many advantages. They will be able to work from home and have an opportunity to promote themselves to a wide audience of students.
"You may have teachers who are on a career break. They can provide tutoring at a time that suits them without wasting time travelling to students."
In order to set themselves up as ExamVillage tutors, teachers need a computer with broadband, a web-camera costing around €25, and headset costing around €15. The tutors are also advised to use a graphics tablet.
Teachers simply register on the site and post a profile. Students find a teacher by keying in details of their required subject and are given a list of tutors.
Through examsupport.ie and Eircom Study Hub, a service available to Eircom broadband subscribers, CVS Learning has already built up a client base of nearly 20,000 users.
Operating from a base in Maynooth Business Park, the company plans to extend ExamVillage to Britain if it succeeds here.
"There is huge potential in this type of learning," says John McDonnell. "In the future we hope to provide online tuition for British exams such as GCSEs and A Levels."
In South Korea online cramming classes are all the rage. Megastudy, an online tuition firm, was recently reported to be the Asian country's fastest growing technology company with 2.8 million members signed up.
A recent report in The New York Times told how some cyber-teachers in Korea now have followings that rival those of pop stars. Last year, one Megastudy teacher generated nearly $8 million in online sales of his classes.
Many offline teachers are likely to treat the new online grinds with disdain, seeing it as another example of the points race gone mad. Because it requires extra fees some educationists may see it as another development that can only reinforce inequality education.
On the other hand it may open up access to high quality teaching to parents who may not be able to afford the fees in private schools.
Some teachers may see ExamVillage as an opportunity to earn extra income at a time when their salaries are dropping.
Online tuition is already popular among young hospital patients. "There are certain parts of the country where it may be difficult to do revision classes or find a tutor,'' says John McDonnell.
Technologically, sites such as Megastudy and ExamVillage offer pointers to the future of education. Some soothsayers believe that the Internet will eventually supercede the actual school.
Son Joo-eun, the founder of Megastudy, predicted recently: ""Offline schools will become supplemental to online education. Students will go to school, perhaps once a week, for group activities like sports."