Caiming Li embarks on a mission to improve tutoring efficiency

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Caiming Li saw a need for a more efficient wokflow in the tutoring department, and put his computer systems engineering knowledge to use by creating an app that streamlines the process. He hopes that one day, his app will be implemented across the different disciplines to make tutoring easier and more accessible for both tutors and students. Photo credit: Young Kim

Tutoring at UAA is a difficult gig. Though the need is certainly there, the efficiency is often lacking, and for tutors like Caiming Li things don’t run as smoothly as expected.

“When we help a student, we are required to put in a number in a paper sheet,” Li said. “Sometimes, I just don’t have time to record the data. I have a sequence of students who need help, sometimes there are 10 students there, but then sometimes only two are there, so it’s nonstop.”

Li is a UAA junior majoring in computer systems engineering, and he tutors students in a large variety of subjects, primarily in math and science. He is disappointed in the amount of students who don’t complete a degree.

“People tell me there’s more opportunity by being an immigrant,” Li said. “I really feel like there’s a lot of improvement UAA can do to make students’ lives better.”

His solution is to make the most of student tutors and to create an effective system that will allow tutors to become more available to UAA students.

“Somehow, I think tutors might have a bigger impact than professors,” Li said. “I can ask some of my friends, but my friends may or may not know. But if I ask a tutor, he’ll definitely know, and he can give me an answer right away.”

When asked about why tutors have to input data in the first place, Li suspects that most of the numbers are for funding.

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“I guess if you get paid, you can report to the dean or someone when they’re asking for funding, like ‘Hey, how useful is the Math Lab?’ ’We helped like 10,000 in this semester,’ or something. ‘We are really impacting students academically.’ Also, if we have the data, we can make better arrangements,” Li said.

Li came up with the idea of creating an app that will allow tutors and students to automatically clock in tutoring time.

“I added a time stamp feature, so every time you help a student, it will tell you what time it is. We can have more information about students, and we can arrange tutors at certain times, not by days anymore,” Li said.

Li has a running prototype of the app, and, so far, the results are more than satisfactory.. He wants to branch out the application so that it connects into certain “Islands,” which will be tutoring centers throughout UAA.

“This is only for the Math Lab. The app has been running from last semester to today in the Math Lab, and it works really well. The application never crashed, and I successfully stored the data pretty well. We never lost anything. Next semester, we want to expand the application,” Li said. “My goal is for tutors to have more flexible hours.”

He believes that instead of having students look up answers on their own or through Google, a network of tutors who are readily available will be more effective in providing help and support for struggling students.

“A student is always better than a machine,” Li said. “I think if we want to stand out, we need a community of tutors.”

Because his app is so new, it still lacks a proper name, and Li hopes to attract enough attention to create a collaborative effort.

“We are trying to get funding to hire one designer and one programmer to work with me on this app over the summer,” Li said. “We’re hoping to have something really workable and nice in the beginning of fall, so every student can use it. I hope this app can be made just by UAA students because we do have a department for computer science and art.”

Li’s goal is to have his app entirely designed and run by UAA students for UAA students.