The Danish offer of homework help on the net, Homework Online, is targeted older children and young people in residential areas with many socially vulnerable inhabitants including pupils with an ethnic background other than Danish. The Homework helpers are primarily students, and communication with the pupils takes place via both chat and web camera/microphone.
When homework helpers in Home-work Online sit down in front of their PC and open up homework help at 5 o’clock each evening from Sunday to Thursday just a few seconds pass before the pupils clock in and begin to queue up on homework-online.dk
2011 saw a breakthrough for Home-work Online with a growth rate of as much as 460% for visits to the site you have to log into in order to get help. In terms of number of users this means that during November there were about 4,400 unique visitors.
An external evaluation of Homework Online suggests that a major reason for the pupils to seek help on Homework Online is that here they can get exclusive, personal help for 45 minutes without being disturbed. Homework Online differs in this way from the help users can get in physical homework cafÚs or at school, where many other pupils will be wanting the attention of the homework helpers, which makes it that much harder to get the help you need. Some pupils may also find it difficult to concentrate in the company of others.
The evaluation also points out that the anonymity afforded the users on Homework Online can be important. There is a tendency for some boys in the target group not to feel socially acceptable when seeking and using help with their homework. This is often the reason why older boys stop visiting physical homework cafÚs.
For others the most important thing may be the chance offered by Home-work Online to create a neutral place, if one’s academic abilities seem to be ‘discarded’ beforehand by teachers and other pupils at school.
In its present form Homework Online has offered help with homework since the beginning of 2010. The project period has just been prolonged for a 3-year period. The funding of about DK 2.5 mil. annually comes from the government’s special means for socially marginalised. Together with the Ministry for Children and Education and the State and University Library, the Danish Agency for Culture (previously Danish Agency for Libraries and Media) constitutes the steering group for the project.
Project management and implementation of Homework Online is the responsibility of the State and University Library. Apart from being a university library, the library also handles a number of tasks in relation to the public libraries including library service to ethnic minorities.
The homework helpers
The homework helpers are gathered together in a call centre at the State and University Library in Aarhus. Most of them are volunteers, recruited among the students who use the State and University Library. At the moment the daily manning of the call centre amounts to 11 persons, and all in all 140 homework helpers are attached to Homework Online. The State and University Library currently recruits homework helpers, as experience tells you that at every end of term about 25% will leave.
When dealing with voluntary home-work helpers you can only make demands to a certain extent, and the library therefore has to make the job good fun, exciting and stimulating. Volunteers are motivated in different ways: Some want a precise and defined task, while others get their motivation from developing personally by gaining influence and responsibility.
Homework Online must therefore be able to include great diversity among the homework helpers: CV-grubbers, idealists, innovation seekers, fellowship seekers etc.
Homework Online puts great emphasis on equipping the homework helpers as well as possible for handling their job. They all attend courses with focus on for example pedagogy and the pupils’ academic level in the different grades. Altogether Homework Online spends a lot of effort on developing the most optimal processes also in relation to recruiting, communication, administration, involvement, motivation and sustainability, and it is therefore in terms of resources a demanding task to manage a team of more than 100 active homework helpers. The buzzwords in Homework Online’s efforts to keep the homework helpers are dialogue, recognition and responsiveness. In satisfaction surveys among the helpers Homework Online has achieved high marks for this attitude.
By offering the homework helpers the chance to getting properly involved they might well develop a more definite feeling of ownership, which will help sustain the motivation and encourage them to go on for a longer period of time. Homework Online has therefore involved homework helpers in teams dealing with competence development, marketing and social solidarity among the group of homework helpers.
A team of 10 ‘fliers’ has also been recruited among the homework helpers, who are employed to assume an extra responsibility in the call centre. ‘The ‘fliers’ have taken part in a learning process with focus on how in the best possible way to support, help and advise the other homework helpers in the call centre. The philosophy behind homework help is to help the pupils help themselves. The various teams and ‘fliers’ ensure the internal sparring which contributes to the cohesiveness between the project team and the homework helpers in the ever growing organisation.
A common learning precess
The overall aim for Homework Online is therefore that both pupils and home-work helpers participate in a learning process. Through homework help the students acquire teaching experience via the use of new media, and via teamwork many of them also get the opportunity to test some of the competences achieved through their training, for example in relation to communication, PR and marketing
Danish Agency for Culture
apo AT kulturstyrelsen.dk
Translated by Vibeke Cranfield