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Part online education platform, part social networking site, EduFire seeks to “revolutionize education” by providing an environment for teachers to meet and teach students.
Reviewed for TEFL.net by Christine Story

A few years ago, a group of fourteen Bangladeshi engineers contacted me about the possibility of teaching them English. The engineers, who all worked together, had become fed up with the local EFL institutes and wanted to hire an English teacher directly. While I was eager to teach them, I couldn’t figure out a way to accommodate a large group without using an institute as the middleman. Renting and outfitting a teaching space was a headache and expense I didn’t want to deal with, and the engineers didn’t want to pay for a space that they would only use a few hours a week. I wish EduFire had been around back then.

EduFire is a website that enables teachers to teach or tutor over the Internet. The site handles the technology and payment side of things, making it something of a virtual school with rooms for rent. With EduFire, I could have conducted tailor-made classes for the engineers without worrying about the added overheads and hassles of maintaining a physical space.

Here’s how EduFire works: First of all, membership for both teachers and students is free. Teachers set up a homepage on the site with their picture, qualifications, and a video clip of themselves teaching. They then use the site to meet potential students and conduct classes or tutoring sessions. Payment is refreshingly straightforward: Teachers set their own rates; students pay EduFire; EduFire skims 15% off the top.

An EduFire class looks almost like an Elluminate class. The computer screen is divided into several areas. To the left is a list of students. In the middle is a chat box. To the right is a video where students can see the teacher. Under the teacher, a small box functions similar to a whiteboard. The teacher can open an additional window to show documents or presentations. In one to one tutoring sessions, there is also a dedicated video screen for the student. For homework and study materials, there’s a place on the site where teachers can upload printable handouts.

Although its main focus is on teaching and learning, EduFire also offers several avenues for social networking. Active message board forums give the site an energetic, real-world vibe, and there are Facebook-style groups that allow teachers and students to get together around common interests. Another networking possibility is the “Content” section. In this section, teachers are free to post articles on their subject matter-a good way to attract potential students.

Despite the opportunities that teachers have to market themselves on the site, I noticed a common complaint on the teacher forums: lack of paying students. It seems that a large number of students enroll only in free classes (offered by teachers for the purpose of advertising themselves). While this is a valid concern, it should probably be kept in mind that sites like EduFire are a relatively new concept. Students seeking private tutors or independently run classes may still be more likely to check their local community bulletin board than Google. In any event, teachers who are able to bring in/recruit their own students will obviously fare better than those who depend solely on the site’s networking features to acquire a paying base of students.

While use of Edufire does not require a high level of technological prowess for either teacher or student, it does require a certain comfort level with online learning. Teachers already using Skype or other online communication tools to tutor might find it beneficial to migrate over to EduFire. By doing so, they can still maintain their independence, and they are likely to attract some new students. Additionally, the technology that fires EduFire’s classrooms helps to create a more pleasurable and professional classroom experience than the typical free voice/video chat client is able to provide.

Teachers who don’t have any prior experience teaching online will find EduFire extremely easy to use. Thus, EduFire is an ideal entry point for teachers who want to get started teaching online but are not sure how to get their feet wet. However, teachers without a base of students that they can bring with them should be prepared to spend some time writing articles, making promotional videos of themselves teaching, and offering free classes in order to drum up business through the site.

In summary, EduFire is a great platform for online teaching and educational networking. Online learning is far from a new thing, but there are still relatively few sites like EduFire, and almost none which offer such a high degree of uncomplicated user control. In their promotional literature, EduFire’s creators claim that they are revolutionizing education, and I think they just may be.

Reviewed for TEFL.net by Christine Story
June 2009 | Filed under Websites
Christine Story is an EFL teacher currently based in Muscat, Oman. She has been teaching academic English, with and without the NorthStar series, since 2003.

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