Every day brings new surprises. Today I found the following email in my inbox:
I write articles for OnlineColleges.org, a website dedicated to providing students with the information and tools needed in order to pursue their online degree.
I ran across your site, and I thought that your readers might be interested in the latest article I’ve posted. It’s called Top 25 Websites for Online Tutoring. If it’s something you find interesting and think that your readers would as well, I was wondering if you would possibly consider mentioning it on your site?
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear any feedback you may have, so I can share it with our team. Thank you for your time, and I hope you enjoy the article.
I checked the article that he referred to, and since he asked for feedback, I gave it in a return email:
I'd like to give you some honest feedback on your "article," not meant to be critical, but rather to provide some useful perspective about the online tutoring industry which you are "writing" about. The reason I put the words "article" and "writing" in quotes is that the material you have provided is nothing more than a list of online tutoring companies with a few sentences on each one containing unsubstantiated claims that seem more like company propaganda than researched information. So, I don't consider it to be writing, and if it's not writing, then what you've given your readers is not really an article.
A major flaw in your "article" is that you didn't mention the method(s) used to evaluate the online tutoring companies you listed. For example, did you evaluate the quality of their services using a carefully designed study that involved actual usage by one or more of your staff members who submitted the same request to each company, followed by a critical evaluation of the tutoring session using a set of pre-determined criteria, or did you take the easy way out and rank them based on superficial data like number of visitors per month or page rank?
As another example, you list impressive credentials related to the academic degrees of each companies' tutors. How do you know what degrees are held by their tutors? Did you request that information from each company? And even if you did, how do you know the information provided by these companies is honest and accurate? If you are taking this all on faith, then you are most likely disseminating the same unsubstantiated claims as the companies themselves, and they're doing it because it's easy and it all sounds so good. If I have your attention, keep reading because I think you will find the rest of this email even more interesting.
I have personal experience with several of the tutoring companies on your list (who are highly ranked) because they used to provide online services for me in our early years. When I started 24HourAnswers.com, I used them for my students' online tutoring because I did not have my own tutoring platform or my own tutors. Contrary to the impression given by your "article," the quality of their work was so poor that I was forced to make a decision after two years of student complaints - either get out of the business or do it right by getting my own tutoring platform and hiring my own team of tutors who could actually provide high-quality online tutoring. I've spent the last year creating that team, and I'm still hiring with no end in sight.
I did not depend solely on student complaints to judge the complete lack of quality provided by the companies on your list. I earn a living as a private math and science tutor in the NY tri-state area; in the past, there were occasions when I would get so busy during the school year that I would suggest to some of my private students to use my online tutoring service. A few of these students live close by, so I had a unique opportunity to sit in on these sessions in order to perform my own evaluations. After all, why would I sell a product if I didn't know the quality? The experience turned out to be a real eye-opener. In one case, I had arranged for the student to get tutoring from the "best" chemistry tutor the company had, or so I was told - they assured me he was very competent in freshman college chemistry. The tutor turned out to be grossly incompetent; I couldn't believe the things he was saying during the session. These companies get away with this because students know so little about the material that they are unaware of the tutor's incompetence, blaming their lack of understanding and confusion on their own inadequacies. When they do poorly on their next test, they think it's their own fault.
You know as well as I do that if you have money to throw around, it's easy to get SEO and marketing companies to get you high rank, lots of traffic, and large amounts of great student feedback (phony, of course) on a variety of internet sites. This is big business, and the tutoring companies on your list have large budgets. If you are basing your evaluations of these companies on superficial criteria, you are doing your readers a great disservice. If the people running those online tutoring companies were actually educators instead of businessmen, that list would look very different. It's too bad you didn't do your homework before you created it.
I haven't heard back, but I hope he takes my comments and uses them constructively, as I had no intention of insulting him, it's just that I get tired of seeing junk on the internet every day - I want people to get it right.