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 using Zaption (an open access platform is now defunct) 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. The 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. In order to allow pedagogy to drive the development instead of the technology, I employed the free version of Zaption. Zaption allowed the presenter to insert questions into a video hosted by YouTube with the outcome being a self-directed video lesson. 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 text-only 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 to host on YouTube before importing into Zaption and adding the interactive questions. 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 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).
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 we were able to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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.