Skip to main content
game changer

Gil Silberstein’s MyBlueprint service offers an online tool for coaches, teachers and guidance counsellors to work with students on their academic plans.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

When Kate Lloyd founded Evoke Learning in 2009, she knew the academic coaching service would involve lots of personal contact with her clients. Ms. Lloyd has learned a lot herself since then – about how that also means working with technology to take the service to another level.

"We specialize in working with students with exceptionalities, students undergoing transitions and students who are trying to manage an athletic-academic balance," says Ms. Lloyd, 41.

It's a burgeoning field, as students of all ages seek to cope with pressures ranging from exam stress to dealing with learning disabilities to deciding which high school courses to take or how to ace a PhD dissertation.

Ms. Lloyd runs a network of 15 tutors and independent coaches in the Greater Toronto Area; together they see about 80 clients a week. Technology has come into play to help the consultants at Evoke, headquartered in Toronto, provide help more effectively. Clients benefit more, too.

"We use it to connect to our clients as well as a tool to connect the client to the curriculum," Ms. Lloyd explains. "We also use technology to promote accountability and check-ins with clients during the week, when we don't see them. And Evoke also encourages students to organize themselves using technology."

Using technology as an organizational tool to help students meet pressures and challenges is another growing aspect of the business side of education.

After graduating from the University of Western University's Richard Ivey Business School in London, Ont., Gil Silberstein founded MyBlueprint seven years ago in Toronto. His company offers an online tool for coaches, teachers and guidance counsellors to work with students on their academic plans.

About 50 school boards across Canada have bought MyBlueprint's services; the boards provide the online service to students free, Mr. Silberstein says. His competitors include the larger U.S. firm Naviance, based in Arlington, Va., which boasts that its "student success solutions" reach more than 300,000 educators and 4.5 million students at nearly 5,500 schools in 84 countries.

"Students often get to Grade 12 not having planned enough, and find they missed a requirement or may have taken the wrong courses. What we're trying to do is get students to think about these things earlier on," Mr. Silberstein says.

Online planning tools like those offered by MyBlueprint or Naviance help counsellors and students organize the questions they have about the student's future – what should I do, what should I study, how much will it cost, is it for me?

Ms. Lloyd's and Evoke's use of technology to tutor and coach covers a wider range.

"We've just entered a partnership with the Virtual High School in Bayfield, Ont., the only online private high school in the province. The partnership enables us to offer tutoring and coaching online ‑ it's one of the ways we use technology to expand our connection to clients, so they don't need to live near our offices," she says.

"We can work around their travel needs and build support for clients who may not get it otherwise."

Ms. Lloyd says Evoke also uses technology during sessions to create online video lessons that can be archived, so students can go over them again. Students who have organizational challenges also use mind-mapping software, while others use new flashcard apps to experience an electronic version of old-time drilling, and group sessions can be held using an online whiteboard.

"We're working with millennium students [students who have come of age in the 21st century] so we want to use technology to create buy-in. You want to keep everything interesting and relevant," Ms. Lloyd says.

It's cheaper and easier than ever to deploy up-to-date technology for academic coaching and tutoring, she adds: "You used to have to buy specialized software or hardware, but there's less of that these days. For example, text-to-speech is built in to a lot of computers."

Evoke uses the cloud to store student materials. "Once their notes are dropped into the cloud, they don't get lost, and they don't have memory keys that can get lost either," Ms. Lloyd says.

Looking ahead, Evoke aims to make its Web presence more robust. "We want to develop our own videos, to help students understand various disabilities or exceptionalities and find strong ways to study for tests or exams," she explains.

Anyone who has studied anything for an exam will know that the key question is: How do I know when I know it? "We find that we remember information much longer when it's presented with video or audio," Ms. Lloyd says.

It's important to treat technology in education as a valuable tool, but not a panacea, Ms. Lloyd warns.

"We help our clients figure out how to manage it, too. While technology can be a fabulous thing, it can also can also be overwhelming or a distraction. We help them learn: How do I go online and log on to my YouTube tutorial that I need and not get sucked in to something else?"