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SPOT provides online option for writing requirement

Fresno State is launching its new online pilot program aimed at improving students’ upper-division writing skills. Directors call the program SPOT, a self-paced online tutorial. Enrollment is free, though the tutorial has aspects of an online class.

Fresno State has two options available for students who need to complete their upper-division writing requirements. They may take a W course or the writing exam. SPOT was developed to help students achieve desired results from whatever option they choose.

The majority of students takes the upper-division writing course, but for some, the writing exam seems to be their best option.  Junior Andrea Kelly, tried to get into a W course, but enrollment was full. She has decided it may be easier for her to take the test.

“SPOT sounds great, and it would help to be reminded. Sure, there is writing in the classes I take right now, but it’s not crazy academic writing. I want to make sure I am refreshed, for not just the test, but applying for my master’s,” she said.

According to Asao Inoue, the lead mentor and developer of SPOT, the pass rate for the upper-division writing exam is approximately 50 percent and has a time limit. Inoue believes that this time constriction may contribute to the low pass rate.

“It’s reasonable to think a good number of our students need time to produce quality writing,” he said.

Inoue is an English professor, a Provost’s Award winner and head of the university’s Writing Across the Curriculum initiative. In SPOT, he will work with students to develop individual goals and monitor their progress.

SPOT will give students who struggle with tests another option. SPOT allows students to create online portfolios of their writing assignments. When students feel they are ready, their mentor can submit the portfolio in place of the test, bypassing the time restrictions.

“The test doesn’t simulate real well what happens in classrooms and in real life when it comes to writing,” Inoue said. “People usually aren’t timed when they write, and they usually get a lot of instruction and help. There are peers and colleagues that get together and give feedback. It is all a part of the writing process.”

Students who decide to use SPOT will not receive units for completing the course. SPOT is intended to be an extra resource to help students who are struggling in their writing courses or students who want to improve their writing skills.

Inoue and the student will determine when a student is ready to either submit the portfolio for upper-division writing exam evaluation or better equipped to take a writing course to fulfill the graduation requirement.

For students like senior Elisa Huerta, who completed her W course and is set to graduate this semester, SPOT would have been an ideal resource.

“Where was this program two years ago? I visited tutors and went the extra mile to improve my writing. In fact, this program will be perfect for me if I decide to do my master’s. I want an instructor to criticize my work and help me to be a better writer,” she said.

Huerta is a commuter student and felt this program may optimize performance for students who may not be able to drive to campus when they need help with a writing assignment.

For other students, SPOT could be a last resort option.

Kayla Gilmore, a student majoring in biology, is confident in her writing skills and is planning to take the test to complete the requirement.

“If I don’t pass the test the first time, I am definitely going to do SPOT,” she said.

The delivery platform for SPOT was developed on-campus by the Technology Innovations for Learning and Teaching team.

Duane Roen, president of the national Council of Writing Program Administrators, praised Fresno State’s innovation.

“SPOT represents the best kind of innovation because it uses digital technologies wisely and because it is based on well-established theory, research and practice,” he said. “By drawing on highly regarded work such as ‘The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing,’ SPOT stands as a model for other post-secondary institutions.”

SPOT will help students to develop a range of skills and knowledge that writers need to be successful in the academic, professional, civic and personal arenas of life, Roen said.

At Fresno State, SPOT is managed through the Division of Continuing and Global Education. The pilot program has drawn interest from learners around the world. Twenty participants were just admitted; 10 more will be added next month; and 10 more in April.

Students will engage in various reading, reflective, feedback and drafting practices, some done with Inoue and some with fellow SPOT students.

The program can last from a few weeks to six months, but students have the opportunity to stop their involvement in SPOT at any point.  It is up to the students to determine their end dates. More information about SPOT can be found on its website.

Inoue will share the development and progress of SPOT at two national conferences this spring.

A portion of this report is courtesy of University Communications.