Online Tutoring Options Growing

By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (March 15, 2010) – Distance is less of a barrier than ever to extra help with subjects of all kinds – and will become even less so – as the University of South Florida’s Learning Commons Online expands its presence. The growth of this service is the result of a joint partnership between the USF Tampa Library and Tutoring and Learning Services (TLS), thanks to funds accumulated from the Student Tech Fee. New services for students, faculty, and staff, available to USF system-wide, now offer enhanced options and more resources will continue to be added. All are urged to check in frequently to discover what’s new. Because this site is interactive with several ways to communicate, users can weigh in on what they like, don’t like and make suggestions. 


The first of the two new contracted services now available is Atomic Learning. It offers an extensive data base of tutorials for a long list of software packages. The tutorials are broken up into easy-to-use segments users can plug into for the specific instructions they need on-the-spot without having to wade through extraneous material. This service includes tutorials designed for students with disabilities.


“The whole USF community can now draw on all those great features available in software package that so often go unused, without waiting for a special class and they can learn at their own pace,” said Patricia A. Maher, director of USF’s Tutoring and Learning Services. 


Smarthinking, the second new service is offered as a Web-based supplement to the face-to-face help offered by TLS. Users receive live assistance though not in real time. Questions and papers submitted for feedback and comments will take several hours to a full day for a personal response. The university has purchased a block of hours and is charged by the minute as students make use of this service. Maher and her staff will analyze use patterns and evaluate the effectiveness and popularity of this approach. 


Other new services are on the way. Study Skills workshops offered by TLS through USF e-Campus are being recorded and will be posted online. Students will also be able to also get research help from librarians through online tutorials and videos. Those who were unable to attend as well as those who did will be able to download the workshops and review the material at their convenience. 


“We are looking to build upon these services,” Maher said. “Our aim is to offer a wider variety of ways to access, download or interact with resources and connect students with one another in the Web environment.  We are also investigating linking to some of the many other services out there.”


While remote access is convenient, services offered on-site by both the Tampa Library and TLS are very helpful and continue to grow. Available by appointment and on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis, both tutoring services and assistance at the Writing Center are free to students with valid IDs. Tutoring is available in math, the sciences, foreign languages and for test preparation. The Writing Center is a place where students can come to for help honing their all-important writing skills. 


“Skill level doesn’t matter,” Maher said. “Whether students are struggling or just trying to get better at writing, we provide a nurturing atmosphere where users can ask questions and take risks without being afraid of being judged.”


In addition TLS teaches study skills and strategies for mastering college level work overall.


“Learning support can help students who are struggling as well as students who simply need to fine-tune their approach,” Maher said. “There are so many ways to tackle learning inside and outside of the classroom, and USF now offers many opportunities for help.”


Learning support courses are also offered for credit.


“We have a range of courses from one-credit to three-credit courses that are the best investments students can make,” said Maher. “They teach what it takes to become a better reader and a strategic learner. They are for undergraduate and graduate students. Everyone has room for improvement in these areas. One of the best things we can do to help our students be successful is to teach them how to learn more effectively so they will be adaptable to the fast pace of change ahead of them.”


To access the Learning Commons visit: and to access Tutoring & Learning Services visit To access the USF Libraries’ home page visit:




The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.