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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Making a Difference with Media and Games: Bringing Writing Instruction to Life in an Open Source OWL

Michelle Abeyta (Excelsior College, USA)
Additional Authors
Crystal Sands (Excelsior College, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 11:45am
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Oceanic 2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 1

The Excelsior College OWL is a media-rich, award-winning, open-source writing resource. This presentation will highlight the OWL, national research, and offer audience interaction.

Extended Abstract

National research indicates that writing continues to be a struggle for most college students. Students are entering college with little writing experience in the kinds of writing they will be expected to create in college, and college graduates are graduating without the writing skills the need. The National Commission on Writing has shown American companies see writing as a "threshold skill" for many positions, yet college graduates are not prepared. In fact, American companies spend more than $3 billion each year providing their employees with additional writing training.

In early 2014, Excelsior College released a grant-funded, open-source Online Writing Lab that would serve as a "game-changer" for online writing support. The Excelsior College Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a new kind of OWL that helps meet writers where they are and helps them prepared for college-level writing. Featuring videos, mini-games, Prezis, interactions, and even a full writing process video game, the Excelsior College OWL has been proven to provide writing students with the support they need to be successful in college.

Working with three major grants from FIPSE, the Kresge Foundation, and New York State College Access, the Excelsior College OWL team has developed a new OWL site, which has been integrated into writing courses across the country and studied for its effectiveness. It is now an award-winning resource and has garnered six national awards in the two short years since it has been available to the public.

The Excelsior OWL provides content areas to support beginning writers: The Writing Process, Locating Information & Writing with Sources, The Essay Zone, Grammar Essentials, Argument & Critical Thinking, Avoiding Plagiarism, the ESL Writing Online Workshop, and Digital Writing. In each area, students are provided with access to writing content, student videos, video casts of writing process, sample essays from across the disciplines, and interactive grammar activities in context longer texts, as opposed to short, simple grammar exercises. Moreover, the OWL was designed to be a user-friendly site with clean spaces, clear instructions, and student-centered content.

This presentation will describe the background, design, and operation of a highly-interactive, media-rich online writing lab designed to serve the needs of struggling writers and review national research on the effectiveness of the OWL. An independent research study found that the OWL helped improve students' grades in writing courses by over half a letter grade and helped students improve in their attitudes toward writing, in their metacognitive awareness of writing concepts, and in their final product writing. This presentation would highlight this national research, overview each area of the OWL, and include an interactive session for audience members with cell phone, tablets, or laptops, complete with an OWL scavenger hunt and prizes.

After the scavenger hunt, the team will be available to answer questions and show audience members how they can use this free resource at their own institutions in a variety of ways.