Fresno State's Joseph Castro wants 1,000 tablets in classrooms

The Fresno BeeJanuary 13, 2014 

Fresno State's new president is making good on his promise to boost access to technology on campus.

President Joseph Castro on Monday unveiled more details about his tablet initiative, which he says will include iPads for 1,000 students next school year.

The trial program also will include 40 professors spanning eight Fresno State colleges. The university bought the iPad Air models for the professors, and students will have the option to lease iPads or purchase their own, school officials said. Castro said the goal is to make the digital notebooks affordable for all Fresno State students. He's previously said the university might give out financial aid to students who can't afford the tablet's sticker price.

The new Fresno State leader has showed an interest in adding a tablet program since taking office in August. His plans follow tablet initiatives springing up at school districts across the Valley, including Fresno Unified and Central Unified.

"As you may have noticed, elementary, junior high and high school students throughout the Valley are using iPads and other tablets in their schools," he said. "We must be prepared to serve these students well when they arrive at Fresno State."

Castro said the university is working to upgrade its wireless Internet and classroom technology to make the program a success when it's rolled out next fall.

Military science professor Lt. Col. Lorenzo Rios is one of the professors picked to participate in the inaugural year. Rios, who is already using his personal iPad in his classes, said the device helps students get more engaged in classroom discussions.

"You can only get so much out of a text," he said. "What (a tablet) does is allow us to not confine ourselves to just one way of teaching, it allows students to define it. (Professors) become facilitators as opposed to instructors."

The details came as part of Castro's spring semester address to 425 faculty and staff.

Among his other announcements: The campus plans to break ground this spring on a $24 million 30,000-square-foot research facility. The Jordan Research Center, which is funded through a private gift, will be located on the northeast side of campus. It will house labs and project rooms for faculty in the agriculture, engineering, science and math departments.

The university also plans to start construction on other corners of campus. For example, a $31 million upgrade to the campus' decades-old electrical system is beginning over the summer.

Castro was tight-lipped about future tenants at the Campus Pointe retail and residential project that's underway near the Save Mart Center, but said he expects above-ground construction to also start on that plan in the coming months.

He offered few surprises but did say he plans to spend $900,000 on initiatives geared at getting students to graduate faster. That could include everything from tutoring to experimental programs within each academic department, Castro told reporters after his speech. Part of the goal, he said, is to raise the four-year graduation rate.

The university is also moving forward on three administrative searches. Castro is still looking to fill several top-level slots, including the vice president of student affairs spot vacated in December by longtime administrator Paul Oliaro. Castro said he plans to hold public forums with four candidates over the next two months for that position.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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