Girls’ Suggestions

“Don’t Patronize Me:” Girls’ Suggestions for Strengthening the OWL
These girls actively utilized this digital response site and its consultants while constantly negotiating the OWL’s challenges. As we listened to these girls, we heard it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Their candor was refreshing. Interviewees did describe the OWL’s benefits, which we found insightful. At the same time, their criticisms were both remarkable and encouraging. We anticipated concerns about the OWL interface. The writers, in fact, did suggest various technological revisions—they requested email notification of awaiting OWL feedback, something we incorporated into subsequent OWL iterations; and they desired live chats with consultants, a feature our budget prevented. As the technology allowed us to upgrade the site, we did. Noticeably, however, the OWL interface was never a primary criticism. The girls acknowledged the technology problems and seemed patient when they encountered glitches. We expected the technology to be the more problematic issue; instead, girls’ critical response focused on the rate and quality of the feedback.

The consultants’ response time was a common complaint in our frequent campus visits. Although this issue did not come up during the interviews and, as such, was not included in our quantitative analyses, the limited staff size frustrated many OWL users. Students wanted a quicker turn-around time and during informal classroom conversations would request increased consultant access when longer-than-desired turnaround times derailed OWL exchanges. The OWL consultants responded to each writer within the promised forty-eight hour window, but this schedule at times hindered writers. Listen to Jennica as she expresses her problem with the turnaround times.

Jennica (Rancho Buena Vista; February 2003, Student interview pp. 43-44)

Jennica’s comments represent many other voices. Understandably, many girls found the forty-eight hour wait frustrating when they submitted drafts close to the assignments’ due dates. They occasionally faced assignments with tight turn-around times that limited girls’ ability to wait for OWL feedback. When writers lacked extra time, often because of the condensed curricular schedule, they disregarded OWL consultants’ revision suggestions; consequently, the OWL was unable to meet writers’ needs. The girls wanted this OWL to help them achieve their writing goals; a larger staff would have increased response time.

Although they found lengthy response times frustrating, the girls’ willingness to wait for feedback signified their rather sophisticated interest in soliciting feedback. They genuinely sought feedback, wishing the consultants could respond faster. Interviewees’ major complaints centered on the type and quality of the consultants’ feedback (Table 1).

Table 1

OWL limitations identified by high school OWL users

LimitationBoysGirls% Total GroupBoys %Girls %
Lack of specific, critical, and clear feedback31030.22134
Uninformed feedback from consultants15147.117.2
Unanswered student questions139.37.110.3
Contradictory feedback139.37.110.3
Lack of writing models1616.37.121
Total (N=43)142910032.567.4

The methodology for this project is qualitative rather than quantitative. Notably, the quantitative figures included here are statistically insignificant. However, these girl-identified OWL limitations are meaningful and, therefore, demand our attention. The girls’ comments make clear their expectations of the feedback they seek.

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