Thursday, September 23, 2010

Online Education Portals : The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I first bought an online education portal (with a very cheerful bee as its mascot!) for the use of my nephews end of August 2009.  One was in Year Five (he's sitting for his UPSR government exam this week) and the other was in Year Two.  Never said much about it before, as I like to try something out and suss out the good, the bad and the ugly for myself.

Well, it's been a year and a handful of months since then.  So here goes.

The Good

1.  Instant Feedback.
Do the questions and you get instant evaluation.  70%?  Try again.  98% Very good... on to the next level.  There is also evaluation in the form of statistical data; subject tests and marks, frequency, list of questions answered wrongly, that sort of thing.  I remember discovering something interesting.  My nephew got one science question wrong.  

Question : Which of the following is a satellite?
 
First Attempt : MEASAT I.
Second Attempt : MEASAT II
Third Attempt : TAN SAT (forgot the real answer)

There were only four options and the last option was the moon.  

I realised in horror that the poor boy didn't know the meaning of 'natural'.  To him, satellite had to be something people rocket up into space.  The idea of a moon being a satellite was alien to him.  But thankfully, he's come a long way since then and has now been identified as one of the school's hopes in scoring an A for Science.  

This instant feedback is also a godsend for a kid who doesn't like to tot up his marks and a dragon auntie who checks on his progress from the office and sends demanding smses.  I was quite worried over his preparation for his govt exam.

2.  Colourful and Interesting Visuals

The notes are arranged in colourful charts and tables.  So studying is easier.  Plus this particular online education portal now has interaction in the form of an intelligent tutor.  Although it was just implemented recently and I haven't had the chance to ask my nephew about it yet.  However in the last few months, his focus had been mostly on the past year papers in the portal.

3.  Practice In Answering Exam Questions

The secret of every top scorer is to get as much practice in answering exam format questions as possible.  The online education portal had many years of past year papers all equipped with instant feedback.  My nephew couldn't hide the results of his practice from auntie.

The Bad

1.  Of course, the cost.  

Buying the portal and keeping it going is pretty taxing on the wallet.  But I thought it was something worthwhile investing in.  So far, it has proved its worth in terms of re-igniting my nephew's interest in learning and helping him (and his grandma, mum and aunt!) keep track of his progress.

I was very fortunate that earlier in the year, the company had a promotion where if you buy three months' access, you'd get three months extra free of charge.  And recently they restructured the fees.. phew! much better for me as I plan to keep the portal active until my nephews leave school.  My son has a portal to himself too :)

The Ugly

1.  No normal kid sits at a computer for hours and does questions without sneaking open an extra tab for Facebook or Habbo.  At the same time, auntie couldn't sit with him for hours and 'guard' him either.  Sigh.  Yet I couldn't disconnect him from the internet either.  So my solution was to check on his progress of doing the tests (although I couldn't check on the progress of his doing his studying online).  Other times, I stalked his Facebook wall.  Confrontations with him were not pretty.

2.  No computer can teach you mathematics concepts you don't understand.  And my nephew 
had a mental block about mathematics.  That required psychological treatment more than academic 'medicine'. 

We had to 'work' on him, shoring up his confidence in himself and telling him that he is what he thinks he is and the sky's the limit for him... you get the picture.  We tried teaching him ourselves but we came up against the problem that surfaces whenever a parent tries to teach his or her own child.  My sister and mother weren't patient and couldn't understand why the kid just couldn't retain information.  As an experienced teacher, I explained to them that psychologically they couldn't accept that the kid wasn't a genius as his genes should make him (*cough cough*).  Especially when maths came very easily to my mother, sister.  And me  (*cough cough*).

In the end, his mom hired a tutor just for him.  The tutor Jessica was one of those with pretty looks, razor sharp brains and a clever way of dealing with a kid who had lots of escape tricks up his sleeve.  Much to my nephew's amazement, maths was easy for him too!  

Conclusion

In the end, buying that online education portal was a good decision.  But a word of warning, if you think you can buy one and let the computer babysit your child, without any input or monitoring from you, then keep your money.  As in anything to do with ICT, the human touch is still indispensable.

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