Spring Is in the Air and the New OWL Has Sprung!

Across the country, spring is blooming. Each morning, one is greeted by birds singing, bees buzzing, trees sprouting new leaves, flowers budding, and the grass growing longer and greener. Spring provides the world with a refreshed state and new look.  Just as the earth is showing off its new look, the Excelsior University Online Writing Lab is ready to share its new look.

From the very first stop on the OWL home page, there are noticeable changes.  The homepage has blossomed with its updated arrangement of content, fresh color scheme, and many new features, including user registration and an enhanced search tool.

Now, the menu bar across the top of the homepage provides links to the different content areas of the Writing Lab, Educator Resources, the OWL Blog, and the brand new Reading Lab. The three-column layout on the homepage hatched a left-hand navigation menu that is simple to understand and use, a center content area with a short description and easy access to each content section, and a right-hand area containing an improved search tool and an additional content area displaying new features and content depending on the page.

The search tool has been refreshed and now organizes results by section, sub-section, and page to create a simpler interface for learners.  Another enhanced feature is the improved site index. This page has been revamped to provide the learners with an easy way to find a specific topic within the OWL.

As part of this OWL renewal process, the interactive activities have bloomed with a new appearance and function. New technology has been adopted and implemented to create activities using HTML5, which means they work across all devices and platforms.  This technology adoption has also provided the opportunity for educators to easily embed the activities into their courses and sites. Step-by-step instructions for embedding OWL learning activities can be found in the Educator Resources menu at the top of the page.  The OWL also now provides a comprehensive list of all Writing Activities, which includes links to where they are located, the activity type, and whether they are scored.  With the recent launch of the new Reading Lab, we now have lots of new Reading Activities, too.

A couple of other changes to the OWL to add some additional spring in your step and increased functionality for writers include registering for user accounts and the “Explore More” content.  The OWL now offer learners the opportunity to create a user account. With this account, learners can login and keep track of their activities.  On various pages throughout the OWL, the right-hand column area is being utilized as an “Explore More” element, which points learners to other great web resources.

Don’t worry, the OWL hasn’t forgotten about all the educators out there. One incredible new addition for educators is the updated Educator Resources section. This section now includes a new online Educator Guide containing lots of helpful resources on how best to use the OWL in many different types of courses and classroom settings, how to use the OWL across the disciplines, and sample course activities.

One of the most innovative new tools for educators that we’ve added to the OWL is the new Owlet Tool.  The Owlet tool allows you to hatch your own little owl with custom content you select. You heard right! Simply drag and drop content from the writing and reading labs into a custom menu and save it as your own personal OWL with a dedicated URL that you can share with students or link to from your website. Give it a try!

Another new resource for educators is the Annotated AAC&U Written Communication VALUE Rubric. This resource allows educators to easily see how OWL content aligns with the rubric. It’s easily accessible within the OWL to share with students and colleagues.

Finally, the OWL blog—Hoot—has received an updated look by organizing blog entries into categories along the left side of the screen. We are planning to post new blog entries monthly, so be sure to check it out often.

If “April showers bring May flowers,” it has been raining quite a bit on the OWL and there are many new “flowers” or features blossoming. Whether you are gazing out your window admiring this fresh, invigorating Spring season, or partaking of our awakening world full of energy, take a few moments to frolic through the pages of the OWL and discover a fresh, vibrant feature or two.

About the Contributor

Michelle Abeyta is the Outreach Coordinator for the OWL.


Mark Oppenneer is the Director of Web Systems at Excelsior College. He holds an MS in Communication & Rhetoric, an MALS focusing on Mythology & Oral Traditions, and a BA in English Education. He is an unabashed open source evangelist.