Online tutors blast off from Houston

Houston tutors have an answer to your student’s problems: online homework help service blasts off from Texas.

It’s a too common occurrence when a teenage child comes home and asks for help with his Algebra II homework. Unsurprisingly, not many adults remember how to translate a parabola. It’s of no consolation to parents that not many private tutors are willing to rush to a family’s rescue with ten minutes notice, and certainly not for an affordable fee.

Fortunately, a Houston based academic consulting firm is trying to change that ever recurring evening nightmare with a new on-demand, online homework help service called GAQNA, short for General Academic Questions and Answers*.

GAQNA.com, pronounced ghack-nuh, provides students with on-demand, live, face-to-face support from the company’s tutors based in its Houston and Dallas offices. Tutoring sessions occur in a virtual classroom powered by Cisco’s WebEx, the “grand dame” of corporate web conference providers.

The virtual classrooms work on just about any computer with minimum fuss and even work on mobile devices powered by iOS and Android. Students are able to communicate with tutors using video and audio, and tutors have a number of teaching tools at their disposal including a digital whiteboard and screen sharing capabilities.

From Left - Tutor Jaime Martinez and GAQNA Manager James Mazzo

From Left – Tutor Jaime Martinez and GAQNA Manager James Mazzo

The cost of GAQNA is a lot easier to stomach for many families compared to a private tutor. At just $39 a day for unlimited access, students could hang around for a few hours for less than the amount a typical in-home tutor charges for one hour. What’s more, the company says it won’t charge more than $390 a month per student, meaning that students get a great deal when they log in more than ten times.

General Academic’s founder and President, Shelby Joe, is very proud of the face-to-face interaction that his service provides.  He talks about it as one of the key differentiators between his company’s product and the competition.

“Because our tutors are physically located in our offices using our equipment and software, we’re able to utilize both audio and video. If tutors were working remotely, such as from a dorm room or a coffee house, you couldn’t allow such level of communication because you couldn’t control the environment.”

“Imagine how parents would respond if a tutor’s roommate suddenly streaked across the screen or an angry coffee house patron started cursing up a storm!  We don’t have to worry about that.  Our model requires more expense and management oversight, but we think our clients will value the quality,” says Joe.

James Mazzo, the General Academic “brilliant, charismatic, and professional” manager charged with ensuring GAQNA operates smoothly, talks up the company’s talent.  Mazzo himself represents the company’s mantra.  A 2010 graduate from the University of Texas, Mazzo recently finished a three month round-the-world backpacking trip.

“Our tutors are a bunch of really smart people who go on to be doctors, engineers, and leaders in academia. They have great personalities and are always full of ideas and energy. It’s really a pleasure to work with them,” says Mazzo.

Monday’s launch isn’t the first time that Joe has dallied with online tutoring. He said he first gave it a run in 2004 with a purely text-based service based out of Rice University dorm rooms.

“It’s not our first rodeo. We first tried online tutoring ten years ago in 2004 with a purely text-based service staffed by undergrads working from their dorm rooms at Rice University. We’ve since learned our lessons and will be offering a much more comprehensive service.”

GAQNA enters an increasingly crowded market for online tutoring. The segment’s biggest player is Tutor.com, which was founded in 1998 to great fanfare and recently purchased by internet media giant IAC for a rumored $40 million. However, unlike GAQNA, Tutor.com bills parents by the hour and tutors can only communicate with students via text; they don’t have audio and video capability.

Tutoring isn’t immune to offshoring either. Providers such as GrowingStars.com and TutorVista.com are based in India. They offer unbelievably low prices that provide nearly unlimited access to their tutors for about $100 a month.

GAQNA.com opens for general registration on Monday, February 3rd at 2pm US central time.

* General Academic owns Thesis Magazine

2 Comments

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