Using the Excelsior OWL in Flipped Classrooms

upside down chairIf you have been teaching writing for a while, chances are you have heard of the “flipped classroom.” Unlike other fields that have traditionally promoted lecture, the field of writing instruction has been following a “flipped” model long before the term became common in higher education. But, if you are teaching a face-to-face writing class and are seeking to eliminate lecture completely from your courses, the Excelsior OWL is a tool that is going to make the “flipping” process easy and effective.

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas defines a flipped classroom as “one that inverts the typical cycle of content acquisition and application so that students gain necessary knowledge before class, and instructors guide students to actively and interactively clarify and apply that knowledge during class.” Essentially, students read and review materials before class, and class time is used to engage in the material more deeply with workshops, discussions, and activities.

The Excelsior OWL is an excellent resource in this scenario, as students are able to read pages, engage in practice activities, and watch videos on important concepts before coming to class. Then, class time is used to practice the information learned beforehand. Students are able to workshop on their own writing or work with peers to practice concepts they have learned about through a variety of mediums in the Excelsior OWL. The strong organization of content in the Excelsior OWL, coupled with its student-friendly focus, makes it an excellent resource for students working outside of class to prepare for depth in discussions as well as workshopping in upcoming classes.

For example, as students prepare to work on thesis statements for a first essay, instead of having students read from a textbook about thesis statements before class, teachers can point students to the sections on thesis statement in the Excelsior OWL. In those sections, students will read about thesis statements, learn about strategies for developing them, watch videos with students writing sample thesis statements, and engage in activities that let them test their knowledge of thesis statements. When students come to class after having reviewed these materials in advance, they are more prepared to begin work on their own thesis statements and more prepared for additional discussions of strong academic thesis statements.

Although a full “flipped” curriculum sample using the Excelsior OWL is provided at the end of this page, the following tips can help you prepare for flipping a writing classroom using the Excelsior OWL.

Make sure you schedule time to introduce students to the Excelsior OWL to help them learn how to navigate the resource.

Even though the Excelsior OWL is organized in such a manner to make it easy for students to use, it is a large resource. With sample papers, activities, and content pages, there are over 1000 pages of content in the Excelsior OWL. While this is good news for content coverage, you do not want students to be overwhelmed when entering the Excelsior OWL. Introduce students to the major areas; show them how to complete a quiz activity; help them make sure they have a current browser that will handle the technology of the Excelsior OWL well. Ideally, a whole class period would be devoted to getting to know the Excelsior OWL. If you are not teaching in a computer classroom, scheduling some time in a computer lab would be essential if your students do not have their own laptops, notebooks, or smart phones. (Remember, the Excelsior OWL will work on smart phones!)

An Excelsior OWL scavenger hunt is also a great way to introduce students to the Excelsior OWL. Giving students questions to answer and helping them learn how to use both the menu bar and the search function will make an important difference.

Think about your curriculum needs and your own teaching style when choosing content for students to cover outside of class.

The Excelsior OWL is quite comprehensive. Faculty involved in pilot studies reported enjoying the way the Excelsior OWL offers “something for everyone.” Some faculty members find the video series in some areas of the Excelsior OWL highly beneficial to their students. Others prefer the text support and interactive activities only.

Moreover, in terms of its pedagogical approach, the Excelsior OWL takes a general rhetorical approach to writing instruction and works to help students build a “writer’s vocabulary” essential in transferring their writing skills to other situations. The Excelsior OWL also provides a strong focus on writing process. However you approach writing in your classes, the Excelsior OWL will have something to offer. Spending some time in the Excelsior OWL will help you find the resources that will work best for you and your students.

Once you are ready to assign the Excelsior OWL, be specific about what you assign.

You will want to be as specific as possible about what you expect students to review in the Excelsior OWL, and you do not want to give them too much content to cover. If you are planning to devote a class discussion to logical fallacies, for example, you would want to make sure students are sent directly to the logical fallacy content and activities in the Argument & Critical Thinking area of the Excelsior OWL.

Give students specific links to follow, so they know exactly where to spend their time in preparation for class. Because there is so much information in the Excelsior OWL, you will want to send students directly to the links you will explore in the following class.

You may wish to explore a new feature of the Excelsior OWL called Owlets. An Owlet is a free make-your-own-OWL tool that allows you to create a microsite with specific sections of the OWL.

An Owlet allows you to...

  • create a unique landing page
  • give it a unique title
  • choose the sections of the Excelsior OWL you want to use – and their order
  • use it in your course(s) – totally free!

For example, if you are covering APA citations and want to increase awareness of plagiarism, you can create an Owlet for that.

Learn more about Owlets

Take advantage of the comprehensive nature of the content coverage in the Excelsior OWL.

Deciding to “flip” your classroom using the Excelsior OWL means that you will want to make sure you take advantage of what the Excelsior OWL has to offer. Because the Excelsior OWL provides clear, scaffolded instruction using a variety of mediums, you will be able to spend your class time delving deeper into content or providing a quick review and then getting students to work on a workshop. You will not need to spend your time re-teaching what the Excelsior OWL has taught.

Ensure students are visiting the Excelsior OWL and reviewing required information there.

Of course, as with any resource, it can be tricky sometimes to ensure students actually complete assigned work in advance. And, when you are flipping a classroom, this advanced work is critical.

First, you should know that national research indicates students feel positively about the Excelsior OWL once they are introduced to it, which is going to help ensure students come to class prepared. Students in a national study reported the Excelsior OWL being helpful and supportive — and fun. One student in the study said that, unlike textbooks, “it feels like the OWL is on our side.” If students have a positive reaction to a resource, they are more likely to use it. Helping students feel excited about the Excelsior OWL from the start will aid in this process, but the games, videos, and humor the Excelsior OWL offers is going to help as well.

Second, there are some strategies you can employ, similar to strategies you might employ when using a textbook, to help ensure students are visiting the Excelsior OWL and experiencing the instruction it offers. Having students write a short reflection about what they learned is one way to ensure both that students are visiting the Excelsior OWL and understanding its content. However, short, simple quizzes can also be used as quick checks to make sure students are visiting and understanding the Excelsior OWL.

Sample Flipped Classroom

The following sample curriculum is just one example of what a “flipped” introduction to writing classroom might look like. The course focuses on a variety of assignments, uses no traditional textbooks, and relies on the Excelsior OWL for much of the reading material for the course. The idea behind the sample curriculum is that students can complete activities in the Excelsior OWL outside of class and use class time for workshopping. Additional readings from a variety of open-source resources have been used in the sample, but the Excelsior OWL provides the foundational content.

Freshman Composition Curriculum

Freshman Composition Curriculum screenshot

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