Monday, August 3, 2009

Lesson Ettiquette - Dos and Don'ts

Hello all, Before I go into this I just want to say that MOST tutors on Cafetalk are very conscientious and professional, and probably don't need any advice of this kind. But based on feedback I've been receiving from many students, I know that some tutors could do with a few tips on how they can make a better impression, so here we go. DO
  • Show up on lessons on time Punctuality is super duper important. Especially in Japanese culture.
  • Add "value" to the lesson Even when doing casual "freetalk" style lessons, a good tutor will try to probe the student's weaknesses, try to slip in new vocabulary and phrases that the student might not know, etc. It's okay to give the impression that you are simply conversing casually but you should always be calculating and thinking about the best way to execute a lesson. Students will definitely feel the difference. Again, add value. It's simply not enough to ch without thinking.
  • Type out key vocabulary and phrases in the chat window. Student's really do appreciate this. But you should try to do it without breaking the natural flow of the conversation when you type.
  • Send a chat message before pressing the "call" button on skype. A simple "Hello, may I call now?" or "Shall we start the lesson?" would be good. Just pressing the call button may seem a little abrupt.
  • Make comments with sexual overtones whatsoever. If you need to be told this, you don't deserve to teach in the first place. Even if you think you've established a very close relationship with a student NEVER, NEVER cross that line. Don't even ask about boyfriends or girlfriends.
  • Complain to your students about your lessons. In fact, it's best to avoid whining of any sort. Your fees may not be as high as you like; you may not be getting many students; your girlfriend may have left you; and you life may be in shambles, but your student probably doesn't want to heart about it. And don't make any negative comments about other tutors on Cafetalk. That's a serious blow below the belt.
  • SPAM your students with unsolicited messages. One message after you haven't heard from a student in a while may be acceptable. But don't go on pestering the student if she doesn't reply.
  • Try to extend a lesson beyond the requested amount of time. You'd be surprised at the number of tutors who try to do this. If you say on your lesson profile that you're offering the lesson for 15 or however many minutes stick to it. Don't try to prolong the lesson and get that extra charge. You'll most definitely lose the student. However, it is acceptable to ask the student whether she would like to schedule another lesson at a later date. But don't be pushy! Let the student think about it if she wants to.
  • Solicit your students to have lessons outside of Cafetalk. I understand the urge to bypass Cafetalk altogether, but please don't give in to this temptation. Besides that it's morally questionable, many students find such solicitations unacceptable and will likely report you to us.
These are just a few things based on what I've heard from students on what they like and don't like. I may be adding more later on but that's it for now. Happy teaching!

Cafetalk Wish List

Hello all, We've recently received a lot of great feedback from tutors both through this blog and through private email. Many of them have been requests for new or improved functionality, so I'm creating this post specifically for such requests. Please post your suggestions through the comments box. Also please understand that we won't be able to implement all of them. Some of them will not be feasible due to technical reasons (too big a change in the current system). Others will have to be postponed simply because we don't have enough people to work on them. And don't be offended if we don't reply to your comments right away. We'll try very hard to answer each one (irrespective of whether we can do it or not) but we may take a week or more to reply. As for the requests that have already been made, I'll try to migrate all of them them to this post in due time. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Skype 4.1 beta with screensharing.

I actually didn't know this until a week ago but it seems the new version of Skype allows screensharing. For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, screensharing basically allows the person you're calling to see exactly the same thing that's on your screen. It comes in handy when you want to discuss a document online because the presenter can flip through pages, point to relevant parts of the document, etc. This should be good news for some tutors who frequently use their own teaching material. (Check out the original post to download.) I just did a conference call with China this morning using the new feature and it worked *perfectly*. I was quite blown away with the smoothness of graphic transitions. But then again, I have a pretty fast connection so you might want to test it out with friends living overseas before you start using it for your lessons. And I still need to check whether this works if the person you're talking to has an older version of Skype. If you have any ideas as to how you can use this for your lessons you're welcome to share them through comments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letting students know who our most reliable tutors are

I think it would help you guys to know what the most common complaint is on Cafetalk. And that is...
"Tutors don't respond to lesson requests"
That is, quite frequently lesson requests are left unanswered and students are left feeling very disappointed as a result. Imagine you're a student. You just came across Cafetalk and you find all these great tutors. You pick someone you think you might like and request your very first lesson. You're all psyched up and motivated. But then 24 hours later you receive an email saying "Sorry, your tutor could not confirm your lesson request." This is the all too familiar message that is automatically sent out from Cafetalk when a lesson is not confirmed before the expiration time set by the student. If the student is new to Cafetalk we usually lose her at this point. Figures show clearly that students who have a bad first lesson (including unanswered lessons) don't come back. So the gist of this message is ... confirm your lessons promptly and you'll probably be rewarded. The other announcement I'd like to make is that from now on we will be posting a list of tutors who have good response and confirmation rates on our student blog. The confirmation rate shown here is basically the percentage of completed requests to total requests. I know this is a little unfair because some lessons have to be canceled for reasons beyond the tutors' control. So before you start bombarding us with complaints please rest assured that we will try to improve the logic of this indicator to make it more accurate. Anyway, it's just a start. Currently students don't have any means of knowing which tutors are more likely to respond to their requests and which are likely to just ignore them. This kind of list should help them out a little. We'll be posting more of these "top xxx" type lists on both our student blog and in the Cafetalk system in the future. "Tutors who offer unique lessons", "Tutors who can teach concentrated lessons during the Summer" are just a few of the ideas in the pipeline, but if you would like to propose a list topic please send them in through the comments.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Caffeinated Please?

There are some sites and services that look pretty on the outside but offer little in terms of user experience when you actually sign up. I realize that Cafetalk is becoming one of those sites. Don't get me wrong - we have a LOT of users who benefit from our service. Cafetalk has a little over 2000 students registered. I know that's not much, but many of them have taken the trouble to thank us for making it possible for them to find the "perfect" teacher at a reasonable price. That's truly satisfying. I know it probably has little to do with our service (there are many out there just like Cafetalk) but more to do with the fact that many of our tutors really put in the time and effort to provide students with a great learning experience. Nevertheless, it's good to know that at least some people like what we've created. And it's not just the students. Many tutors are now constantly making more than $150 a month on our site, and the most popular folks rake in over $400. Again, that's not much. But for many tutors who are doing this part time it's not such a negligible income after all. But are we doing enough? Probably not. Well, definitely not. As many of you are probably feeling, there's something "decaf" about Cafetalk. For starters, there's the fact that we don't communicate with you enough. The repercussions being that you don't know what we (the little green men who run the site) are thinking or where we intend to take this. And more importantly many of you probably need some guidance in order to get more students. So yes, we admit we've not been doing as much as we should. Not so much because we're lazy, but because there are simply not enough resources to get everything done. Cafetalk has no permanent staff. It's being patched together by a bunch of contributors who work part time to keep things afloat. But that's just an excuse, and that *will* change. Because more people are starting to derive benefit from this service we figure it's time to crank up our engines and get things rolling, so to speak. So this is our first jab at making things better. Firstly, by creating a channel through which we can communicate with all you tutors. And also maybe provide a venue for you to vent through comments (please, please keep the criticism constructive). Secondly we hope to constantly give tips on how you can improve your quality of service. We see a lot of things tutors are doing right that gets them the students and the retention level they deserve. But we also see a lot of tutors who could do a lot better if they did just a few things differently. That's the gist of why we suddenly decide to do this "caffeination" blog after years of silence. So stay tuned and let us know what you want to know, and we'll try our best to answer. PS We have absolutely nothing against decaf in case some were offended :)