For students using TutorChatLive.org, instant messaging and online chats have become more than just a procrastination device.

Founded by Wharton sophomores Diana Kattan and Matt Capeletti, TutorChatLive.org is a nonprofit organization that connects students with tutors in more than 20 subject areas.

Integrated with a live-chat system, TutorChatLive.org allows tutors to use instant messaging and a virtual whiteboard to communicate with students, explained Kattan. “We provide free online tutoring and we have volunteer tutors who get service hours for working.”

Capeletti developed the business plan during his junior year in high school, when he was struggling with calculus.

“We could ask the teacher for help, but there were absolutely no free resources for us when we got home,” Capeletti said. “I thought a free, online, live-tutoring web site staffed by volunteer tutors would be the best solution, and that’s when TCL was born.”

The business officially launches Jan. 18. For now, the group is working on marketing the site.

So far, of the more-than-40 applicants who applied to be tutors, 11 were accepted, Kattan said. Tutors must be at least 14 years old and are accepted after a rigorous application process that includes a LexisNexis background check.

“We’ve denied a lot of applications because we want to make sure that we have good tutors,” Kattan said.

An unprofessional username can also be a factor. For example, an applicant with username “ExpertGamer08” was denied.

But not all students are sold on the idea of online tutoring.

Wharton senior Josh Lehrman, who has tutored math through the Penn Tutoring Center since his sophomore year.

“Live interaction is a key part of tutoring, and that is completely missing in online tutoring,” he said. “Subconsciously, I think there is something very reassuring in hearing confidence or satisfaction in your tutor’s voice and in seeing your tutor smile or nod his head.”

Capeletti agreed that TutorChatLive.org “cannot substitute for a live tutor, but given the nature of the program, we believe it is the next best thing,” he said.

“Since we tutor on a national scale, we cannot have our tutors instantly in the homes of the students,” he added. “But allowing the tutors to tutor online gives them great flexibility, … and online tutoring is also extremely accessible for students.”

In the long run, the group hopes to partner with schools and incorporate more technology, like video chats and interactive educational games.

“We want to help as many people as possible,” Kattan said.

Elisabeth Flannagan, a 2009 Ohio University graduate, applied to become a tutor because she thought “tutoring online would give me some great experience without being too demanding on my schedule,” she said.

“We need to take advantage of technology and teach students to use it for the valuable tool that it is,” she added. “This site is a step in the right direction.”

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