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Cal State Fresno offers new online writing tutorial program

February 21, 2013 |  5:11 pm

Students who want to improve their writing skills or fulfill graduation requirements can get help through a new online tutorial program offered by Cal State Fresno, officials said Thursday.

With the Self-Paced Online Tutorial program, or SPOT, Cal State Fresno joins a growing movement of public universities entering the world of online instruction, an effort being led in California by Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor has touted technology as a key to expanding student access and increasing the number of college graduates.

Brown’s 2013-14 budget proposal included about $17 million for community colleges and $10 million each for the University of California and Cal State systems to increase online classes.

In January, San Jose State launched a venture with Silicon Valley online education group Udacity to offer remedial and college-level math courses for credit at $150 for each class.

The new tutorial program, the first of its kind at Cal State, is free and open to anyone who needs to improve their writing skills for personal, professional or academic purposes. But college officials also hope to address a perennial hurdle for Cal State students: fulfilling the upper-division writing requirement needed to graduate.

Students can meet the requirement by either taking a class or passing an exam. But the classes are in high demand and can fill up quickly.

At Cal State Fresno, about 3,763 students who are classified as seniors have not yet enrolled in an upper-division writing course or taken the test, officials said.

In the new program, students will be able to develop a portfolio of work that can be submitted for review and, if approved, will fulfill the requirement. The program will charge $30 for the portfolio review, the same as the upper-division exam. Cal State Fresno officials said they are trying to have the work accepted at other campuses.

“There are a lot of negative consequences to putting off the requirement,” said Cal State Fresno Provost William Covino said. “Our goal is to provide an alternative to taking a timed exam and give students flexibility to work at their own pace.”

Students can take up to six months to complete the program and develop an online portfolio. The program, which began a week ago, is starting out as a pilot project with 20 participants and is to add 20 more students by April.

If successful, more students will be added next fall. One of the current participants is from Romania, Covino said.

Students are to be mentored by Asao B. Inoue, an English professor at Cal State Fresno, who will also create short videos to accompany some of the lessons.

“One of things that I wanted to try to develop into the SPOT experience was a truly rigorous and deep academic reading and writing experience, one that helps students to practice the ways academic communities behave when they learn about, discuss and offer ideas and solutions to problems,” Inoue said. “To get the ideal experience, it will take a student some time and effort."

Joshua Blecha had accumulated about 140 units in his health major at Cal State Fresno but still needs to fulfill the writing requirement to earn a bachelor’s degree. He enrolled in the tutorial program as a backup just in case he doesn’t do well on the exam.

Now he can take time to gauge his writing skills and continue working at an after-school program.

“The biggest luxury is pace, but the demand is quite big. It’s not a cakewalk,” said Blecha, 28. “You really can’t get this kind of quality advising for free -- it’s unheard of -- so it’s really a privilege to be a part of the program.”

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-- Carla Rivera

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