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The Online Writing Lab at Excelsior College

Overview of the Excelsior College OWL

Crystal Sands

on 12 September 2016

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Transcript of The Online Writing Lab at Excelsior College

The Online Writing Lab
at Excelsior College

Goals within
Our Goals...
Nine Areas of the OWL
Original Goals of the OWL...
With support from FIPSE, the KRESGE Foundation, and a New York State HESC grant, the OWL team at Excelsior College worked with program directors from across the disciplines at Excelsior, as well as a team of writing experts from across the country, to build a media-rich online writing lab, complete with a video game, to help writers transition to college-level writing.
Provides ESL students with step-by-step support through the writing process, from generating ideas to developing a thesis to revision and editing.
Our Studies
We completed a national study in Fall 2013 and a New York State study in Spring 2015 studying the effectiveness of the OWL. Using survey data, the VALUE rubric for writing from the AAC&U and an original writing process rubric, we assessed writing, writing about writing, and students' perceptions of their writing skills.
Find us online at
Takes students through the process of writing a research paper, featuring details on rhetorical approaches to assignments, locating sources, evaluating sources, drafting, revising and editing, and documentation.
"Paper Capers" is s small video game designed to reinforce the research/writing process from the Locating Information & Writing with Sources area of the OWL.
Developed by 1st Playable Productions, the game allows students to play as owners of a writing company who must help their "minions" follow a good writing process.
Using themes of zombies, memes, and other pop culture references, the Grammar Essentials area offers grammar and usage instruction, with a focus on the 20 Most Common Errors and interactions with authentic text.
Provides instruction in the major rhetorical styles of academic writing while making connections across disciplines to show students how these styles exist in different fields.
Features interactions and videos that take students through the basic writing process without a research emphasis. The area features real students talking about what they learned in writing classes and engaging in things like peer review and a writing center visit.
Features coverage for a variety of online writing genres, including discussion board posts, Tweets, presentations, photo essays, and blogs. The area provides video walk-thrus and samples.
Accessible on
tablets and
focus on instruction proven most effective through extensive research (writing process)
build support to aid in transfer of skills (rhetorical instruction)
scaffold instruction and multimedia support to help students who may be working in the OWL on their own
create a warm, engaging environment for students who need support
A New Kind of OWL
features authentic learning activities using multimedia support
provides materials that are clear and comprehensive in order to replace textbooks
creates a warm, engaging environment for students (zombies, memes, practical advice)
Multimedia Content
Using the OWL
helps writers transition to college writing
for online and face-to-face courses
refresher for returning students
foundational support for writing across the curriculum and workplace writing
comprehensive and can be integrated to replace costly textbooks (saves Excelsior 101 students $150,000 per year)
Fall 2016 update features improved design and functionality, additional content, more interaction, and content customization
Takes students through details related to plagiarism, its consequences, and how to avoid it! With pre and post-tests, this area provides interactions and quizzes to reinforce responsible documentation.
Paper Capers
Scaffolding the Curriculum
The multimedia content in the OWL provides students with an opportunity to learn in a variety of ways.
video screen casts of writing process
interactive quizzes to review content
drag and drop punctuation work
interactive PDFs that can also be printed
Prezis with audio support
Each area of the OWL is scaffolded, taking students step by step through each area. Locating Information & Writing with Sources, The Writing Process, Argument & Critical Thinking, and Grammar Essentials provide steps that build upon each other, making the OWL excellent for textbook replacement.
An Open-Source, Multimedia
Resource for Writers

The OWL and the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Education Writing
The OWL can help high school and college students develop the skills and habits of mind outlined in the Framework for Success, the standard for most writing programs in the United States.
Check out one of our sample Prezis in this review of punctuation.
Support for WAC
The OWL was developed with skill transfer to more advanced college writing in mind. Many resources in the OWL, such as the Locating Information learning area, documentation support, rhetorical instruction, and sample papers in the Essay Zone can be used to support upper-level writers in the disciplines. In interviews conducted with program directors from across the disciplines, directors reported writing issues related to documentation, rhetorical flexibility, and writing clarity. The OWL provides extensive support in these areas!
Crystal Sands, PhD
"I found the Excelsior College OWL to be an advantageous resource for the preparation of writing projects and during the writing process itself...I have found this resource to be more 'user-friendly' than similar resources from other universities and have used it exclusively since its recent overhaul. It is an AWESOME resource!"
--Excelsior College student
Support for Writing in the Workplace
Study Structures
In national study, 170 students at six colleges across the U.S. were studied; in state study, nearly 400 Excelsior College students and approximately 50 students from partners were studied.
developed a common curriculum for treatment and control groups
assessed for perceptions of writing skills and of the OWL with surveys, for the articulation of writing concepts with writing about writing samples, and for writing skills as determined by the VALUE rubric from AAC&U with three essays in national study and one essay in the state study
Students in treatment groups in national study scored 6.6 points higher on final grades than students in control groups.
Students in treatment groups in both studies showed greater improvement than students in control groups in writing about writing assessment.
Students in treatment groups reported greater improvements in their perceptions of writing.
Students in treatment groups in national study showed greater improvement in key categories in the essay rubric (purpose for writing and use of sources and evidence).
Students in treatment groups in state study showed significant improvement from rough draft to final draft on argumentative essays.
Study Findings
Perceptions of Writing
Writing about Writing: Treatment vs. Control
Research from the National Commission on Writing shows that writing is a key skill not only in being hired but also being promoted.
Common Workplace Writing Issues
formal/informal tone
clear writing (grammar and usage)
audience awareness
"[T]he OWL invites us to relax. We are safe to have fun AND learn at the same time. This subtle invitation tricks students to click deeper into the site. There is no intimidation here, which frees up the mental capacity to learn." --faculty member from OWL study
Provides extensive support for students developing arguments for college courses with sample papers, logical fallacy interactions, comics, and quizzes--all with a focus on building students rhetorical skills in argument.
Argumentative Writing Assignment
"Unlike other educational resources, it feels like the OWL is on our side."

--student, national study
Full transcript