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11/13/02 Deborah McGrath of Santa Maria is a true believer in the value of "Smarthinking." She/s one of many Allan Hancock College students who use the new online tutoring system, which has added another useful dimension to the college/s busy tutorial center.

"It/s quick, and you don/t need to make an appointment," said McGrath. In her third year at Allan Hancock College, and on her way to earning liberal arts and English degrees before becoming an elementary school teacher, McGrath uses both the Smarthinking tutoring and traditional tutoring systems.

Smarthinking online tutoring is for distance learning students who are studying at home or away from the college, or when the tutorial center is closed, or when a student faces a deadline for a term paper or other project and doesn/t have time to make an appointment with an on-campus tutor to get needed help.

More and more students at the college are using the online program, said Donna Bishop, coordinator of the college/s tutoring center.

The online tutoring service is free for students enrolled in credit courses at Allan Hancock College. Students set up accounts at the tutorial center to be eligible to use the service at no cost. To access it, they dial up the program through the Smarthinking Web site, enter their names and passwords, and connect with tutors online or submit questions that are answered later.

"Smarthinking is the place to go if you have a question at 2 a.m. the night before a big exam," Bishop said. Online tutors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer math questions. Hours and days when tutors for other subjects are available for live online questioning are listed on the Smarthinking Web site. Students can get answers they need from "live" tutors in minutes, or submit questions any time of day or night that are usually answered by the next day.

Subjects tutored by Smarthinking include mathematics (basic math through calculus), writing (essays in all subjects and career writing), grammar and pre-writing brainstorming, statistics, accounting, economics (macro and micro), chemistry, and Spanish.

"We/re working with Smarthinking to provide a full spectrum of tutoring services for our students," said Bishop. "Online tutoring is becoming a very important part of learning."

As many as 90 tutors provide assistance to students at tutorial centers located in the Learning Resources Center on the Santa Maria campus and at the Lompoc Valley Center. Many in-house tutors participate in training and earn international tutoring certificates granted by the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA).

The college/s two tutorial centers are not open 24-7, so Smarthinking was chosen to help fill the gap and complement the college/s in-house tutoring program.

"They don/t just give you the answer," Bishop said of the online tutoring system. "They teach you, just like our in-house tutors do, how to teach yourself."

McGrath, who also has tutored English and reading in the college/s tutorial center, said tutoring, whether in person or online, is "very important. Instead of struggling to get the answer you need, you can get help from a tutor."

McGrath, who was tutored in math, said the result is simple and effective: "you get better grades."

"We like the service," Bishop said, adding, "We are now able to accommodate the number of students who need it."

Bishop emphasized that the value of tutoring, whether it/s received at the tutorial center or through the online tutoring service, is reflected in the success of the students who seek it out. Bishop said it is common for tutored students/ grades to bump up from a "C" to a "B" or even from a "D" to an "A."

"It/s a wonderful evaluation of tutorial experience," Bishop said of surveys conducted of students receiving tutorial service. Almost 78 percent of 451 students who were tutored in the fall of 2001 completed their courses successfully, getting "C" or better grades. The success rate for the spring 2002 semester was almost as good-75.8 percent, Bishop said.

Business at the tutorial center at the Lompoc Valley Center has nearly tripled in the three years that the Lompoc Valley Center has been open, she said. Altogether, the college provided 7,770 hours of tutoring for the 2001-2002 school year-apart from any online tutoring that was done, Bishop said.

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