Using the OWL in Online and Hybrid Classrooms

man using a laptopBecause it is an open-educational electronic resource, the OWL works particularly well in online and hybrid classrooms. Perhaps the most promising aspect of the OWL is that it can be used as little or as much as you (the instructor) determines is necessary. For example, you might choose to use the OWL as your primary textbook in the online or hybrid classroom. Another instructor might decide to keep his preferred textbook and supplement with the OWL. What follows are some useful tips for using the OWL in the fully online and/or hybrid classroom.

Make sure that your schedule provides students time to familiarize themselves with the OWL early on.
  • If you are teaching a course that is fully online, it is recommended that you give students at least a week to adjust to the online environment. Consider assigning a mandatory orientation to the OWL. This might be some sort of scavenger hunt or a guided reading activity that walks the students through the major areas of the OWL. It is also helpful to provide space within the course for the students to meet each other and discuss any questions they have about using the OWL with their classmates and you; you might require each student to ask at least one question about the OWL in discussion and you can encourage students to help each other answer these questions, too. You might also keep an informal, ungraded discussion open all semester long wherein students can post questions about using the OWL. During the first few weeks, you should check in routinely to make sure that you answer any questions they have and/or help them to troubleshoot any technical obstacles they may be running into.
  • If you are teaching a hybrid course, during the first week you may want to offer students the opportunity to go through the OWL in a face-to-face class with you (if you can find a computer lab to do this in, even better!). During this same week, you should also build in time for them to try to familiarize themselves with the OWL on their own. All hybrid courses are distinct in respect to how much face-to-face time is allotted for students to interact with each other and the instructor; however, it is a good idea to make sure that you do routine check-ins throughout the semester to ensure that your students are given the opportunity to discuss any obstacles they are encountering and to establish plans for individual successes that span the semester.
No matter how little or much you use the OWL, let your own pedagogical instincts and your curricular goals determine how and what to use. Here are some of the obvious benefits of the OWL for hybrid and online classrooms:
  • Rich and Flexible Intertextuality. Currently, the OWL is divided into thematic areas (Research & Citations, The Writing Process, Argument & Critical Thinking, Grammar Essentials, Rhetorical Styles, Online Writing & Presentations, ESL-WOW, Avoiding Plagiarism, and Paper Capers). However, the content in these areas is intentionally created to overlap, intersect with, and complement each other. Thus, it is not likely that you will have your students working with these modules in sequential order (i.e, starting with Research & Citations, then moving onto The Writing Process, etc), or that you will even use only one or two learning areas exclusively. Instead, it is advised that you review the content of the modules and then consider what your objectives for your course already are. Where do your objectives and the resources available on the OWL meet up? What are you already doing in your class that you can supplement with the OWL? One way to start is to pull out a reading and assignment schedule from a prior semester, and then begin to search the OWL for complementary lessons, assignments, and exercises. For example, if one of your objectives is to teach students how to paraphrase without plagiarizing, you will find that there are helpful resources within the Research & Citations and Avoiding Plagiarism modules. It is possible that you might use the “Revising and Editing” section of The Writing Process as well when they move into the revision phase. Again, consider what your goals are, familiarize yourself with what’s available on the OWL, and then pair your goals with the OWL’s resources.
  • Easy-to-Navigate Pattern of Delivery. Even while you might not move sequentially through the larger learning areas, you and your students may find very useful the pattern of page organization that is repeated for each of the module’s separate learning objectives. Most of the learning objectives follow this order: traditional lecture/overview material, a “See it in Practice” page, and a “Your Turn Now” or “Putting it All Together” or “Analyze This” page, depending on the area. In other words, every time students are directed to learn a new concept (e.g, write a thesis, create a blog, organize an argument) the OWL first explains the concept with illustrations and examples, then demonstrates the concept in action, and finally invites the student to put into action what he/she has learned. You might decide to assign the entire concept-sequence, or you may decide to use it as a supplement to outside material you provide for the course.
  • Multi-modal Delivery of Instructional Material: Another useful resource for inclusion in your online or hybrid course is the multiple modes of delivery for instructional material and for ensuring that your students understand the concepts at hand. For example, students might read about and see examples of strong thesis statements. They might also watch a Prezi about thesis development. Often, the OWL provides self-check interactions or quizzes students can take to test the progress of their learning. Then, they might be invited to watch a video or screencast of a student working through his own thesis revision. Finally, as students move into working on their own projects, you might invite them to review the links to these pages. If a student is struggling with a specific aspect of the material, you might direct the student to revisit the lecture material; or, if you know a particular student is more visually-oriented, you might direct the student to a Prezi, video, or screencast.
Once you know which modules you plan to use, make your use of the OWL as transparent and intentional as purpose.
  • Send students to individual links within the OWL. Being as specific as possible without overwhelming your students with too much detail is key. During the first week, consider providing your students with a full course schedule broken up by daily, weekly, or module based chunks of time. This schedule should include individual links to all of the pages of the OWL that you plan to use; because the OWL is such a big site, students can easily get lost in its pages. Therefore, it is advisable to send your student to each and every page individually. This is fairly easy to do since you can add live hyperlinks into an MS Word document. You may then provide them this schedule within the course itself and/or you might email it to them as an attachment.
  • Create new or modify existing assignments so that they require students to put into action what they are learning via the OWL. Whether teaching a fully-online or hybrid course, you want to make sure that your students recognize that the time they spend on the OWL is integral to the course and its objectives. In an online class, a good way to do this is by asking them to use the language of the OWL in discussion. Your discussion questions might speak directly to a lesson you have assigned them on the OWL. For example, after you have students read the lessons on logical fallacies, you might have students identify logical fallacies in their own or other’s writing. Or, you might ask them to do a peer review of each other’s papers and ask them to use one of the downloadable checklists available on the OWL to evaluate each other’s papers.
  • Refer students back to the OWL in your feedback. If you ask your students to submit their work electronically and provide feedback to them electronically, as well, then one very useful aspect of the OWL is the ability to embed links to specific pages in your comments. For example, if a student is struggling with semi-colons, you might indicate an error in usage on the student’s paper and provide the student with a direct link to the OWL page on semicolon usage in the Grammar Essentials module.
  • Build in additional “checks” to make sure students are actually reviewing the material. Another way to encourage students to utilize the OWL is to create lesson specific quizzes or reading guides that make students accountable for reviewing the material. Since the interactive activity or quizzes in the OWL are not graded, you might consider developing and giving some original quizzes a low-weighted grade. Samples of these quizzes can be found in the appendix. In an online class, you might set deadlines for completing these quizzes or require students to complete the quizzes before entering discussion. In a hybrid course, you might do the same or administer the quizzes at the beginning of class and then use them to launch and provide direction for discussion.

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