Tag: technology

What does OWL mean to you?: Creating New Web-Based Resources for the Writing Center

Cassie Book, Associate Director

The University Writing Center is always open to improving our online resources and services for on campus and at-a-distance students, faculty, and staff. Currently, we offer virtual tutoring, a robust website, social media, (this) blog, and several online resources such as our Writing FAQs, but we understand that technology and student-needs push us to revise and add. I recently had an opportunity to research Online Writing Labs (OWLs) and reflect on our center’s online resources for a graduate course in Online Writing Instruction (OWI). Moreover, as a project for the course, I developed a new resource, a video workshop, “Writing a Literature Review,” to add to our current collection of six video workshops. This blog describes my development process and briefly connects it to research on OWI and OWLs.

I choose to create a video workshop on literature reviews because it is a logical need for graduate students. Moreover, the Writing Center already has an established in-person workshop on Literature Reviews, co-hosted with the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS). While we (humbly) think our in-person workshops are great, it is inevitable that some students are unable to attend due to timing or access to campus. Some students’ learning styles may also be better suited to a video with pause, rewind, and captioning tools. So, it makes sense to create online, access-anytime video workshops. However, creating online resources that also are accessible and not just a one-way stream of information (imagine: videos with talking heads or a 100% lecture-based course), is not the easiest task. I’d like to share how pedagogical goals, technology, and accessibility needs shaped the final product of the video workshop I created.

The original workshop I created used Zaption (an open access video platform, which is now defunct); the video is now on YouTube. The video is approximately ten minutes of video-recorded PowerPoint slides defining a literature review and offering strategies for research and writing. As you might expect, it has an audio voice-over. The visual components are are text, images, animation, and captioning. An interactive component is multiple-choice and open-ended questions that appear on the screen periodically. These questions do not have correct answers; instead, they ask the audience to connect a concept to their own context, provide customized suggestions, or jump to a more relevant section of the video. I also created a text-only script to accompany the video link on our website.

Though the learning outcome for the workshop is fairly straightforward, that the audience understand the conventions and components of a literature review as part of a larger project, simply presenting decontextualized information is not a good teaching strategy, regardless of the setting—an on campus or online classroom. Kelli Cargile-Cook, professor of English and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech, argues for pedagogy-driven online education in contrast to technology-driven. Even in an online space, content delivery should be more interactive, “similar to dialogic onsite classrooms” where “instructor and students provide course content” (59). Our Writing Center staff present in-person workshops with interactive delivery, but the nature of the online, accessible by anyone at any time, video workshops makes the issue of real-time response, impossible for the medium. Originally, hosting the video on Zaption allowed us to insert interactive questions into the video. Although Zaption was intended as a venue for self-paced quiz-based courses, I created more of an interactive space by creating questions without “correct” answers.

Because it was important to have a script as a component of my final project, I began drafting and story-boarding in a Google Doc. After I completed a draft, I moved to PowerPoint because I was preparing to create the video with audio voice-over. I thought I had a good script draft before moving to PowerPoint, but I encountered issues such as repetition and text-heavy explanations. I wrote as I would informally speak, not as I would present key words and concepts on slides, ideally using movement, images, and figures to demonstrate concepts. I moved back and forth between the PowerPoint and the script, making sure that both covered the same material. For example, the description of the purpose of literature reviews, in the script was: “A literature review has two related purposes. First, to evaluate existing research related to your topic and second to position your argument within the existing research.” Adapting this to PowerPoint, I employed a “SmartArt” graphic and an animation to show the relationship between the two purposes. A balance with several citations appears with the first purpose as the slide’s title. Then, the second purpose appears in the gap between citations (fig. 1).

slide owl

Figure 1. PowerPoint slide four. The slide first appears without the box “2. To position your argument within the existing research.” The arrow indicates how the text moves onto the screen.

I tried to build in access into the design from the beginning, as Sushil Oswal, in “Physical and Learning Disabilities in OWI,” recommends. Oswal directs teachers and course designers to, “Always place accessibility at the beginning of all planning; it should remain an integral part of all subsequent course design and delivery processes” (282). I created a text-only script to include as a link next to the link to the Zaption video on our website, but I adapted the text script to exclude references to what the audience might be “seeing” on screen. I also used YouTube’s closed captioning feature, which allows me to type the audio and auto-sync the timing. For the ten minute video, it took me about 45 minutes to create captions. I also had multilingual users in mind because there are many international graduate students at the University of Louisville who visit the Writing Center.  In “Multilingual Writers and OWI,” Susan Miller-Cochran recommends “that instruction in writing should be clear, and that oral and/or video supplements also should be provided” (298). I explained the purpose and objectives clearly at the beginning and summarized them at the end, which should be helpful to most all learners.

Although I designed my video workshop, “Writing a Literature Review,” with the tools and intentions I outlined here, that does not mean that the outcomes will be as I anticipated and carefully planned. Usability studies with OWLs, such as Allen Brizee, Morgan Sousa, and Dana Driscoll’s in their research with the well-liked Purdue OWL, remind OWL developers that users are the ultimate authority to the effectiveness of a learning object, tool, or lesson. To complicate matters further right after I completed the project, Zaption announced that it was bought out and was shutting down. The availability of tools, especially free open-access tools, is a reality for OWI and OWL. Losing Zaption is not good news for us if it happens that the Writing a Literature Review workshop is well-liked, but, as I mentioned, we now host it on You Tube and preserve most of the dialogic nature of the video.

So, what do you think? Do you like the interactive questions? Do they get you thinking? Or are they distracting? Your recommendations can be helpful to us as we move forward with refining our online resources, so please comment here or email writing@louisville.edu with suggestions!

Update September 30, 2016: The Zaption workshop was moved to You Tube. The blog as been updated to reflect this change.

Update November 1, 2017: The YouTube video now has over 11,000 views!

Works Cited

Brizee, Allen, Morgan Sousa, Dana Lynn Driscoll. “Writing Centers and Students with Disabilities: The User-centered Approach, Participatory Design, and Empirical Research as Collaborative Methodologies” Computers and Composition 26 (2009): 107-121. Print.

Cargile-Cook, Kelli. “An Argument for Pedagogy-Driven Online Education.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood. 49-66. Print.

“FAQ: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.” Zaption. Zaption, 2016. Web. 16 May 2016. (https://www.zaption.com/faq)

Oswal, Sushil K. “Physical and Learning Disabilities in OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric Depew. Fort Collins, CO: WAC
Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. 253-289. Web.

Miller-Cochran, Susan. “Multilingual Writers and OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online
Writing Instruction
. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew. Fort Collins, CO: WAC
Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. 253-289. Web.

 

What can Shel Silverstein’s “Writer Waiting” teach us about writing?

Haley Petcher, Consultant 

I first read Shel Silverstein’s poetry when I was in elementary school. I loved his doodles, and I loved his rhymes. When I got older, I loved his cleverness. Silverstein could tell a good story in only a few words and could capture the minds and hearts of children and adults alike while doing so.

Maybe you’ve heard that Silverstein’s writing is childish or not up to par with the poetry greats, like Yeats or Shakespeare, but I’m here to show you that he can actually tell us quite a bit about writing. Let’s start by looking at one of his poems about a writer.

Writer Waiting Silverstein

The poem, paired with a sketch of a young child staring at his computer screen and waiting for something to happen, is very clearly about computers and writing. I don’t know about you, but often when I write, this is a pretty accurate representation of me. Even though I’m in grad school, I feel like a kid who has no idea what she’s doing, and sometimes I stare at the screen, hoping for a miracle.

We could go down many rabbit holes about using or not using “standard English” or about all of the rhetorical choices Silverstein makes in his argument that computers are actually not the key to writing, but this time we’re going to focus on the following:

  • What computers can and can’t do
  • Creative license in syntax
  • What the writing center can help you accomplish

The narrator says that he doesn’t “need no writin’ tutor” because the computer can do it all. It can check spelling by showing you the ominous red squiggly line and grammar by showing you the questioning green squiggly line. Sometimes these lines are useful and alert you of typos or sentence fragments. But other times they’re wrong. And sometimes they don’t catch the mistakes. For example, my computer did not use a green squiggly line for my previous two sentences, even though they are technically fragments. Those sentences are examples of using your “creative license” to make a point by putting more emphasis on the sentence.

Silverstein uses his creative license in most of his poetry. A few examples in his poem are, “It can sort and it can spell,/It can punctuate as well,” which the computer doesn’t mark but is a run-on sentence, and “(Just as soon as it can think of what to write),” which the computer does mark as a fragment. Both of these examples rely on their syntax to create the rhythm of the poem, or how we hear and read it. Try reading it aloud while paying close attention to the syntax. (Remember to use longer pauses for periods than for commas.) If Silverstein paid too much attention to the computer, he wouldn’t have been able to create this rhythm or achieve his meaning.

My favorite part of “Writer Waiting” is my second example of Silverstein’s use of creative license. It is the last line, which is in parentheses as if it’s an afterthought or something the narrator doesn’t want to admit. It reads, “(Just as soon as it can think of what to write).” Two words in this line are key: “it” and “what.” “It” puts an emphasis on the computer, while “what” brings our attention to the content of the paper, though the poem mostly focused on the mechanics, like punctuating and spelling. The computer, of course, cannot create the content for us, even though we want it to. Writing is not just about the tools you use; it is about you and your thoughts.

Writing also does not have to be a solitary act. In fact, I think writing is more fun when you talk to other people about it. Here at the University Writing Center, we can help you decide if the squiggly lines offer the best choice, if you should deviate from the computer’s options, and if it’s the best time and place for you to use your creative license in writing to make your point. Most importantly, we can discuss your ideas for your paper. The writing center is here to help you not look and feel like the kid in Silverstein’s drawing.

iPads in the Writing Center

Sam Bowles, Consultant

Just recently our Writing Center added to its technological arsenal a collection of iPads available for consultants to use with clients during sessions.  As technology has always been an area of extreme interest for me, I actually piloted the use of an iPad during consultations last semester.  Here are some of the key areas where I think iPads (or any tablets for that matter) have a lot to offer the kind of work we do in the Writing Center.

Planning

We help writers at all stages of the process, including the brainstorming or planning stage.  The iOS platform has a litany of apps that can be helpful for getting started with writing projects.  One that I like, IdeaSketch, allows users to create concept maps or flow charts and then convert those into a hierarchical outline.  The process can also work in reverse, creating a traditional outline and then converting it to a mind map, both of which can be continually manipulated, moving items around with ease.  IdeaSketch also has a nice iPhone app, so the file created during a session can be emailed to a student with a compatible device, or a PDF can be printed or emailed if needed.

SamReviewing

Tablets can also be a great way to workshop drafts.  Using a program like Notability, users can not only annotate a document in ways that mimic working with an analog document, but additionally, one can zoom in particular parts of the paper, allowing the consultant and client alike to focus on an isolated issued.   Once the session is completed, the annotated document can easily be emailed to or printed for the client.

 

Sharing

Finally, the iPad adds a lot to sessions because it puts access to endless resources at your fingertips.  I regularly use the iPad in session to help clients look of terms, review citation information from websites like the Purdue OWL, or even search our library’s databases for articles.  Sure, this could be done on a computer, but with an iPad the session doesn’t have to be interrupted by the move to a computer station.  And the iPad is physically closer to a printed document that can be passed back and forth and set aside quickly, unlike a computer monitor and corresponding peripherals.   Additionally, as with almost all the resources iPads have to offer, links to websites, handouts, and other resources can be quickly and easily emailed to the student.

Modeling

iPads can add a lot to Writing Center consultations, making much of what we do already more convenient and accessible, but another reason to use such mobile devices in sessions is to demonstrate for clients how they could be using the mobile technology many of them already have to serve them in their academic work.

Students are using their phones and tablets to perform web searches already; why not show them ways they can use their devices to perform more academically relevant queries?  They are using apps to find out what time a movie starts on Saturday; why not show them some apps that will help them find and understand a given term and its synonyms?  They are using their phones and tablets to organize their lives already; why not show them the ways they can use their devices to organize their thoughts and ideas for upcoming projects?  Could we grab a physical dictionary just to make a point? Sure.  But by showing students good, reputable and often free mobile dictionary apps as well as the host of other uses and applications available on mobile platforms, we are demonstrating for them skills they can use on their own outside of the library or Writing Center with devices they always have available.