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Sep 9, 2008

Eleutian Technology: Teaching English Around the World

By Brad Devereaux

Eleutian Technology opened an online teaching center in Lovell last week to teach English using Internet video-conferencing to students on the other side of the world.

Brent Stanger, Vice President of Operations, said the original plan for Eleutian was to go to a big city and set up shop next to a college, using students for teachers. Stanger explained the story of how Eleutian got started in Ten Sleep, when CEO Kent Holiday was preparing to move from the town to a larger city in Utah or Idaho.

Ten Sleep school staff members approached Holiday and asked them to stay because his children were an asset to the district.

Holiday agreed to stay, but explained his business idea and told the school staff that he would need resources to open the business - office space, access to teachers and a solid Internet connection. The school set him up inside their facility and Eleutian was born.

The original office has since moved out of the school and into an office building to become the company’s headquarters. An additional regional headquarters/teaching center was established in Powell, and Lovell’s teaching center opened last week.

The Town of Lovell is covering operating costs for the Lovell office for their first year in business and the Office Shop donated cubicles.

“Lovell has set a standard for others to follow,” Stanger said during his presentation at the Lovell area Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting Tuesday.

Stanger said state grants and the availability of qualified teachers make Wyoming attractive for the business. TCT WEST provides a high-speed Internet connection, crucial for Eleutian’s operations. He also said their business, a direct export, will help the local economy.

“There’s no reason not to be able to do this and help small town U.S.A.,” Stanger said.

Eleutian plans to build teaching centers in Cody, Basin/Greybull, Thermopolis, Burlington and Worland by December of 2008 and other Wyoming towns in the future. They currently have about 60 teachers and hope to have 150 employed by December.

Eventually, Eleutian expects their growing business will have to expand outside of Wyoming.

Talking the talk

Eleutian teacher and teaching operations manager Anne Bleicher started working full-time at Eleutian in June. She was formerly a reading specialist at the Ten Sleep school district.

Bleicher said many Koreans understand and read English very well and they mostly need help with pronunciation.  “A lot of them just want to practice conversational English with a native speaker,” Bleicher said.

Students download and complete quizzes that focus on vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and sentence structure. Students have 15-minute sessions with teachers to ask questions about the material from quizzes and practice conversation. Eleutian requires 48 hours between sessions so students have ample time to study new material.

Eleutian has a deal with Seoul Digital University, allowing their students to obtain course credit by taking online speech classes. Bleicher said many of their clients are Korean college students, graduate students and big business employees.

“A lot of companies will pay for their employees to take the course because English is kind of the language of business,” Bleicher said.

Bleicher said most Koreans study English as early as first grade. Eleutian recently started a program for middle-school students and is working on a program for elementary-school students. About 90 percent of their customers are Korean, but Eleutian plans to expand to the huge market of Japanese and Chinese customers in the future (Koreans spend an estimated $15 billion per year learning English; Japan and China spend a combined $100 billion).

The Lovell office is equipped with four teaching stations, each with a dual-monitor setup and a web cam. Eleutian uses Skype for video-conferencing service. Since Korea is 15 hours ahead of the U.S., most teaching sessions take place from 4-8 a.m. and 8 -11 p.m.

Teachers post available session times on the Web and students choose sessions based on preferred teacher or time of day. Sessions are beginning to spill over to the weekend and they eventually expect to be teaching 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Bleicher said.

Currently, Eleutian is hiring only certified teachers, people with an associates degree (or higher) in education, or certified substitute teachers. Eventually, they will open hiring up to people with an associates degree of any kind and later, to anyone who speaks English.

Teachers have to go through an extensive training program before they start, including 10 hours of studying the same course content that their students will learn. Certified teachers start out making $15 per hour.

Mike Moore, Director of Teacher Operations, is actively recruiting new teachers and can be reached at  (307) 754-6255 .