Smarthinking Reviews

Updated December 9, 2014
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2.4
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Christa Ehmann Powers, Ph.D
4 Ratings

Employee Reviews

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  1. Helpful (2)

    Tutors with PhDs treated like outsourced Customer Service representatives living in India

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Contractor - Tutor in Washington, DC
    Former Contractor - Tutor in Washington, DC

    I worked at Smarthinking as a contractor (More than 8 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook

    Pros

    Work in home office with wonderful college students.

    Cons

    Since Pearson bought Smarthinking.com, there is no direct communication between managers and tutors. Leads evaluate tutors scoring them on changes that were not publicly announced by management to tutors directly; consequently, scores are always low regardless of how competent the tutors are. The managers don't communicate with tutors directly, only through leads. Tech support is in India, so little help is available. Pearson's mission sounds great. In practice, highly educated tutors with masters and doctorate degrees are treated like commercial Customer Service representatives living in India. The communication is terrible now; whereas, in the past, Smarthinking was a collegial and sophisticated work environment.

    Advice to Management

    Sign your emails with real names instead of a group of anonymous individuals to hide your identities. Eliminate the anonymous checkers, the spot checkers and secret fake students who are often baiting, harassing, and creating problems that don't exist causing a huge waste of time and effort with few beneficial results in quality of service by tutors to students. Give incentive raises and other benefits to the large pool of part-time tutors, as well as bonuses for long-service milestones. Choose inspiring, knowledgeable, and collegial Leads, the only ones tutors can communicate with now, who don't withhold changes in the new requirements for markups so they have something to discuss when reviewing markups. This system is not fair to the largest group of employees, those who have direct contact with students. Once the economy picks up, these disrespectful tactics will backfire as the qualified individuals leave in droves.

  2. Helpful (2)

    Great job for agoraphobes!

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Online Writing Tutor
    Current Employee - Online Writing Tutor

    I have been working at Smarthinking part-time (More than a year)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    If you do NOT need to make much money and you are wedded to the idea of never leaving the house or taking a phone call, this is the job for you.

    Cons

    They sure do want a lot for eleven dollars an hour. Smarthinking has a formula for tutoring students in writing that they think works really well. In fact, it is time consuming and counter-intuitive. Tutors are required to pointlessly quote the student's writing back to him at several points in the review, no matter how little is to be gained from doing so. Because apparently the student doesn't know what he wrote.

    The formula for reviewing is so repetitive that tutors end up making comments like "Well, this needs improvement because it is crappy writing, and crappy writing is a bad thing because it's crappy. Here's an example of your crappy writing and here's how to fix it. Now, please fix your crappy writing." As a student, I would find this kind of repetition deeply insulting, but if I fail to follow the formula, I get a poor evaluation. If I am honest with the student that his writing is kind of lifeless, I get an evaluation that says my comments are "hurtful."

    Oh, and we are REQUIRED to praise something in the paper--even when the paper is a total train wreck and there's absolutely not one good sentence in it to isolate as better than the rest. So, if I say something like, "Well, I can see that you have a lot of enthusiasm," the lead tutor accuses me of being insincere.

    Lead tutors make a big fuss about formatting, at least if mine is any indication. I mean, she really CARES about Verdana 10 point.

    Advice to Management

    At the end of the day, all the above would probably be tolerable if it paid better.

  3. Helpful (2)

    A disgrace to the profession

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor

    I worked at Smarthinking part-time (Less than a year)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    The only positive aspect is that you can work from home.

    Cons

    Not only are you expected to respond completely to student papers in a short amount of time, they have a rigid, formulaic standard that must be adhered to regardless of the needs of the student. The computer interface is archaic. The trainers are impersonal, and you are expected to behave like a robot -- just fill in the blanks and don't ask any tough questions.

    Advice to Management

    Fire all your trainers, design a more personalized system, and redesign the computer interface.

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  5. Helpful (1)

    Ups and downs

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor in Minneapolis, MN
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor in Minneapolis, MN

    I worked at Smarthinking part-time (More than 5 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    I loved the interactions with students. Not only did I feel great helping students better their writing, I loved catching glimpses into the lives of people around the world. Working with really earnest students made me feel good about my contributions.

    Cons

    I hated the management setup. Everything felt impersonal. For almost the entire time I worked there, we had rotating supervisors. One semester I'd have a supervisor I loved, who seemed to appreciated me, and then the next semester I'd be switched to someone who acted like I was a failure deliberately trying to screw everybody over. And then hit repeat. It was an emotional roller coaster.

    I felt like there was little flexibility, mostly due to not enough working tutors. My last year was constant emails demanding everybody work extra hours. I was fired/quit when, after two weeks, I'd only had time to work half my shifts and hadn't been able to find anyone to cover me as there was already an add hour call out. I got an email from my supervisor's boss claiming I hadn't worked in months and should consider myself fired if I didn't work within the next few hours. Umm, did anyone ask why I couldn't make my shift? No. Did anyone talk to me about the shifts I had done? No.

    While I liked the experience, because you sure do become an expert when it comes to writing, I also disliked that you weren't allowed to ask for references. All the company would do was confirm you worked for them.

    Advice to Management

    It's be nice if there was more interaction between tutors and supervisors. For an online service, why is it impossible for there to be skype discussions? I feel like certain nastier supervisors would've been a little nicer if they weren't typing to a faceless computer.

  6. Helpful (1)

    Good Temporary Position. Not Much Advancement

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Online Writing Tutor
    Current Employee - Online Writing Tutor

    I have been working at Smarthinking part-time (Less than a year)

    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    - Work from home
    - Quick and helpful responses from Lead Tutors and Management
    - Easy to get time off
    - Good training on meeting student needs
    - Friendly coworkers
    - Interesting papers to read and review
    - Useful rubric that helps organize advice

    Cons

    - Communication is done entirely through email
    - Unrealistic expectations (i.e. assisting a student with a 6-10 page paper in 30 minutes)
    - No apparent advancement
    - Low pay for high education requirements

  7. Helpful (2)

    Insufficient pay: Does not value its talent

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Online Tutor
    Former Employee - Online Tutor

    I worked at Smarthinking part-time (Less than a year)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    Because the company is entirely online, you can work from home, in pyjamas. Because they have students all over the world, the hours are very flexible. And you are given a lot of autonomy in choosing your hours.

    Cons

    The pay is abysmal: $8-$13/hour for tutors. In the sciences, tutoring requires a masters at least, and lead tutoring (which pays not much more, ~$18/hour) requires university-level teaching experience to do well, which itself requires a PhD. To pay such skilled workers so little is appalling. As a result, the vast majority of their workers live in countries like India and Argentina where the cost of living is significantly lower. And the tutoring quality suffers since the pool is so limited.

    Advice to Management

    Reevaluate your business model. There is a lot of lip service given to requiring excellence in tutoring, but your product will never be excellent if you pay the front-line talent such low wages. If students only pay $25/hour for the tutoring service, then the business will never be both excellent and self-sustaining. Instead, it should be thought of as an adjunct to the larger Pearson service of providing textbooks to classes, not as an isolated business. IMHO.

  8. Helpful (3)

    Going downhill

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Contractor - Anonymous Contractor
    Current Contractor - Anonymous Contractor

    I have been working at Smarthinking as a contractor

    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    Being able to provide solid feedback and guidance for students to improve their writing. Being able to work from home.

    Cons

    LOTS! You are held to a set schedule despite working from home and don't you dare be late even a minute or you will be penalized, either with a condescending email or having your hours cut. Your pay is low...$10 an hour with a Master's degree. I truly made more in bartending and was treated with more respect. You are expected to adhere to a 30 minute time frame for your writing critiques, follow THEIR guidelines and rubrics (not necessarily what would be beneficial for students) and grade a 2 page paper and a 15 page paper in the same time frame. They are also ever-changing the rules (don't use this for this company, you can say this here but not if you get this type of essay, etc.) and keeping track of all these guidelines for a supposed maximum part time 19 hour a week job is just asinine and truly not possible. I have been here almost two years and am likely about to give notice and return to retail part time. No opportunities for advancement here either really unless you are in one of their overseas branches where they can pay folks $6 a day and get away with it...that is really their goal here it seems. They also cut hours constantly and then end up begging people to work when they realize there is a huge shortage and no one available! If you have a computer running anything higher than Windows XP too, be prepared to struggle to access most of their software, especially their scheduler, since their software is still stuck in the 1990s, as are most of their materials.

    Advice to Management

    Treat us like degreed professionals and with respect! No one wants to be treated like a third grader with endless rules. Also provide incentives for folks who do well (pay raises, acknowledgement, added hours) and update your materials to reflect newer technology and those changes to stay competitive and relevant.

  9. Helpful (2)

    Horrible Experience. Insulting pay. Pressure to work fast. The treat their tutors like children.

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor in Washington, DC
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor in Washington, DC

    I worked at Smarthinking part-time (More than a year)

    Doesn't Recommend
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    You can work from the comfort of your home. I enjoyed working with the students.

    Cons

    I was paid $10 an hour even though I had a master's degree.
    Pay is a joke. Management is disrespectful. They don't care about their employees. They should offer benefits to long-term employees because they require a lot from them. They hire more tutors than they need so they are stingy with hours when you want them but beg you a thousand times when they are caught short.

    Advice to Management

    Be nice to your workers. They are professionals. Pay more money. $10 an hour is a joke considering that you ask for a lot of education and top skills and don't offer benefits even though you put people on your payroll so you can assign set schedules.

  10. Helpful (2)

    Flexibility but going nowhere

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Online Writing Tutor
    Current Employee - Online Writing Tutor

    I have been working at Smarthinking part-time (More than 8 years)

    Pros

    Easy to trade shifts and nice to be able to work anywhere

    Cons

    No pay raises (in over 8 years) and no advancement

    Advice to Management

    Raise pay after a certain number of years

  11. Helpful (3)

    Not so professional to deal with as a tutor

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor
    Former Employee - Online Writing Tutor

    I worked at Smarthinking part-time (More than 3 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    You are an employee, not a contractor.

    Cons

    This is an update to my earlier, very positive, review. Over the course of the first year after the sale of the company to Pearson, the experience of working for Smarthinking as a tutor changed pretty radically. The company seemed pretty squared away prior to the buyout, and my first reaction was that the new structure would be good for tutors (we received a small, but unexpected, Pearson-wide bonus that first year; we received access to the Pearson intranet, which provided some good insights into the work and perhaps future opportunities with the bigger company etc.) But after about 9 months, all began to change. I'm not sure it was Pearson's fault; it could just be the organizational chaos that comes with a transition like this. But the whole thing fell apart, and didn't improve: communications became impersonal; they cracked down on scheduling, making it harder to get hours; the online scheduling tool which had worked flawlessly seemed to be on the fritz every other week, making it hard to even see your schedule, much less try to change it; they were constantly offering new services we were supposed to support, with little training or clarity (don't use the word "Smarthinking" with essays that have this marker; only do these types of reviews for these types of students; do the same thing for these students that you do for other Smarthinking students, but use different headings; hours suddenly cut when they were overbooked, a punitive (out of the blue) reduction in hours for being slightly over the 30-minute average, etc. etc. etc. The pay was minimal to begin with, but now the hassle factor became overwhelming: just not worth all this grief and chaos for the kind of miniscule paycheck this job offered. Where it had once been kind of fun, once I had been trained, to "go with the program" and work with individual student essays, suddenly it was almost a full-time job just trying to keep up with the constant barrage of announcements, about all the changes. And the new attitude of high-pressure on the time limits added a great deal of stress, for only minimal improvements in efficiency (at my hourly rate, completing 3 essays while on the clock for 1:40, rather than 3 essays in one 1:50, shift must have cost them $1.75; that $1.75 savings, in the end, cost them a well-trained, previously contented tutor).

    But ultimately, I decided to throw in the towel because the constant flux and redirection and management/IT problems came with a marked increase in rudeness and officiousness in their dealings with the tutors. I no longer liked being part of such an unpleasant organization.

    My last scheduled hours were in the fall of 2013, and it was kind of fun to see them begging people to pick up hours that term -- paying bonus pay for extra hours worked etc. and then extending that over and over again. First time in three years that I had ever seen this happen for more than a day or two. Clearly, the chickens had come home to roost, and having treated the writing tutors as expendable, they suddenly didn't have enough of them to offer the service.

    Advice to Management

    You know your business model better than I, but I can't imagine it makes either marketing or economic sense to place so little value on tutor retention.

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