Online study seminars help create a level playing field

Newest study tool: Students attend an hscLIVE seminar that is streamed live to as many as 1000 other students from as far afield as Singapore. Photo: Wolter PeetersEvery weekend a small group of students meets a teacher in a swanky Sydney apartment for a marathon study seminar.

The scenario would be unremarkable except that they are seated under harsh studio lights, being watched by three cameras and streamed live to up to 1000 students, who tune in from places as far away as Singapore.

The web seminars, or webinars, are run by hscLIVE, one of a number of new online companies that say they are ”democratising” the Higher School Certificate.

The company, launched in March, says about 10,000 of the state’s high school students have signed up to watch the free live workshops, which are broadcast between 9am and 5pm every Saturday and Sunday.

”We are trying to break down every geographic and socioeconomic boundary to education,” co-founder Paul Bennetts said.

Scott Hekking, from Gosford High School, caught the train to Sydney to be in the ”live audience” and plans to watch future seminars from his home. ”The good thing about it is you can watch it in your own home where you’re comfortable and take notes and be a part of it,” he said.

Students watching remotely on their laptop, tablet or mobile phone can submit questions to the teachers, who are all experienced exam markers.

Danielle Vandenberg, the head teacher of English at a public school in south-west Sydney, said teaching in the studio was quite challenging at first.

”You’ve only got five students, it’s quite an artificial environment, and you’re a bit nervous because the camera’s looking at you,” she said. ”But two minutes in, it’s just like you’re back in the classroom, answering questions and interacting.”

hscLIVE claims to reach students from more than 395 metropolitan and regional high schools, the furthest being the Australian International School in Singapore.

The company charges a $19-a-month subscription fee for students who want to revisit past workshop videos.

Another website, HSC Study Buddy, which was launched last year, has had more than 40,000 views on its pre-recorded webinars, which are run by recently graduated high school students.

Ian Fagan, who set up the company with his twin brother, Julian, said they wanted to ”level the playing field and make top quality resources available to all”.

”We were privileged enough to be basically spoon-fed all these resources,” said the university student, who graduated from Scots College in 2009. ”But I wanted to tutor and you speak to some of the kids and there’s real basics that they aren’t being taught. You can be hugely disadvantaged from school to school.”

Their videos are free but they charge a $20 fee to access study notes, a cost Fagan said was deliberately low. ”A lot of HSC tutoring companies charge through the teeth, and that, too, is favouring a select group of people who can afford that,” he said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.