Linchpin Laurie aka “Dr Math”


I have just finished reading Seth Godin’s book: Linchpin.  In it he tries to encourage people to not be cogs in machines, but to make a difference, be an “artist” in whatever you do. Like all of Godin’s books it is full of thought provoking ideas.  Certainly it made me think about the linchpins I know. I have decided to in future share some thought regards Linchpins with you.

So may I introduce you to linchpin Laurie.


Laurie Butgereit is a programmer at the Meraka Institute, South Africa. South Africa, unfortunately, has a bad record as far as kids mathematics competencies is concerned. In 2007 Laurie started providing mathematics tutoring to some kids at her son’s high school. She, however, did not do this the “normal face-to-face way”, but instead opted for using Mxit, a mobile instant messaging client very popular with younger generations in South Africa. Her employer, Meraka Institute, were so kind as to avail some of her time for this. Of course this she does for free – Godin refers to linchpins giving a “gift”: well this is a gift indeed.

Turns out that her gift was well received.  Soon the message of Dr Math spread virally and had she to look at different ways in which to give the help. An initial expectation of approximately 50 participants grew significantly and a software system had to be developed to manage the interactions, and some tutors had to be found.  Laurie again did what was necessary, drew her own map: a research project was formulated and she continued offering math tutoring with the help of University of Pretoria student volunteers (probably linchpins in their own way!).

The load continued and technical scalability issues arose.  This is the stage where I met Linchpin Laurie.  Currently she is doing her masters degree under my supervision, re-architecting the platform dubbed Chatter-based Call Center for Tutoring Online (C3TO) with a specific view of achieving better scalability.

Does the tutoring work? Well we do not know how much learning takes place – remember we are both techies/programmers…  However what we do know is that Laurie’s platform are being used. I had the privilege of spending Thursday and Friday at Meraka with Laurie and we collected some “stats”.  As of 13 May 2010  the C3TO platform has 10074 registered users (some are historic records of pupils who probably have left school since and is not using the system. There was 1999 users that appeared “active” on the system.  The majority hereof belonged to the “Dr Math” tutoring service (1557), but of course Laurie’s platform are now hosting 5 tutoring services, including “Dr Lols”,an Mlearning Life Orientation project undertaken by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as part of her PhD studies at Warwick University in the UK.

During April 2010 the C3TO platform handled 190512 messages…  Anybody want to suggest that this would be the case if it did not make difference?

However, to realise the real linchpin effect Laurie had consider the following remark made in the 20 April budget Speech by Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology: “One of the innovative ways in which we hope to assist learners is through the Dr Math project, an initiative of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Meraka Institute”. It could (maybe should?) have said “… Dr Math project, an initiative of Linchpin Laurie Butgereit.”  As linchpin of course Laurie is already one step ahead — note the generic architecture that moves this much further than just Dr Math!

Well done Laurie, you are indeed remarkable and in true linchpin fashion are building “a remarkable future”.

PS. Anybody reading this wishing to help Laurie with Dr Math tutoring can leave a note in the comment and I will gladly pass your information on. I dare you, use your chance… be a linchpin!

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8 Responses to Linchpin Laurie aka “Dr Math”

  1. Norma Butgereit says:

    It was such fun “raising” Laurie! Her father and I are proud to know she is as generous as she is intelligent.

    She made short jaunts to South Africa in her youth but at
    some point chose to live there. Your gain is our loss.

    We hope your association with Laurie will continue.

    Norma & Lee Butgereit (Laurie’s Parents}

    • rabotha says:

      @Norma and Lee. Indeed it is South Africa’s gain! I too hope that my association with Laurie can continue, and I truly hope that her efforts has the effect we all hope for.

  2. Laurie says:

    This is beginning to sound like parents day at school! 😉 But thanks for the votes of confidence in the project.

  3. Michael Shreckengost says:

    Sounds fascinating, great work cousin.
    Oh and hello from NC!

  4. Maggie says:

    Hi Reinhardt!!!

    You taught me a new word, but it definitely does reflect how I look at Laurie as well! And what makes her work so much more remarkable is that she does it quietly and make a not-so-quiet difference!

    For those reading this blogpost, I have created a page for Laurie explaining how exactly Dr maths work and how to use it here: http://mathsliteracy.wordpress.com/dr-maths/

  5. […] Linchpin Laurie has sent me these videos that some Dr Math tutors from the University of Pretoria has made.  Well done!! Its an excellent example how one can do something small, yet possibly make a huge difference. And all it took was to ask some tutors “make up some short cute funny videos for kids that are suitable for cell phones”. […]

  6. […] No-one can do post-graduate studies without passion for the topic/field. All four had passion, but Laurie’s passion for helping kids with mathematics cannot be ignored. Gary’s passion for his business, […]

  7. […] Laurie Butgereit, one of my 2011 M graduates who is continuing with her PhD, not only got the award for the best masters in technology by dissertation, but also the very prestigious Rupert Family Trust Award. […]

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