OWL Design

The Design of a University-to-High-School OWL

This asynchronous OWL was developed in 2000 at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) and was funded by a grant designed to abate reading and writing remediation among incoming university students. The OWL was implemented in five North San Diego high schools identified by California State University’s (CSU) Chancellor’s Office as high schools that were sending a high percentage of graduates to one of twenty-three CSU campuses. These same secondary schools have a high percentage of students who, based on an entry-level English Placement Test (EPT), lack proficient English skills as first year undergraduates.

As a young Cal State campus, CSUSM has always cultivated its technological resources, and in 2000 our local high schools had just received digital grants. The fortuitous timing provided CSUSM an opportunity to use technology to help high school students anticipate university writing demands while strengthening their current writing skills. Unfortunately, at the time, few models of OWLs exclusively linking university and high school students existed. Without specific examples, Dawn and her graduate students consulted two larger sources: the current theory and practice of brick and mortar writing centers and the Purdue OWL. Utilizing this research and working to connect busy, non-traditional university students with busy high school students, we designed the OWL embracing the following values and advice:

  • Learn from the students using the OWL to prevent what Joanna Castner (2000) calls a “two-way stab in the dark.”
  • Create communities of and for writers in writing centers through teacher-to-student and peer-to-peer relationships as Hobson’s (1988) work reminded us.[10]
  • Engender an online rhetoric where, in Coogan’s (2001) words, writing is the “main event” (p. 555).
  • Teach writing consultants how to equip students with “an inherent reason for revising the structure and meaning of their texts,” as N. Sommers (1982) suggests (p. 151).
  • Teach consultants and writers to create online conversations about writing between writers and consultants.[11]

We began in September of 2000 by running a two-week pilot with one high school class. We trained university students to serve as OWL consultants. Through a password-protected website, high school students submitted writing at any stage of the writing process. Along with sending their work, writers also explained the writing task, asking at least one question of the consultants. Within forty-eight hours, students received their work back with marginal and end comments (see Appendix B). The high school students could submit any of their writing—course or extracurricular writing (such as short stories, novels, and song lyrics) as often as they liked. With the archival function of this OWL, students could continually access their drafts and the university consultants’ feedback.

After a successful pilot, Dawn led OWL workshops with each high school class to prepare the students. Workshop participants quickly grasped the OWL’s logistics, so she then taught students to generate helpful questions they could ask about their OWL submissions. Students received copies of questions they might model when they submitted their own work. Some high schools requested a second workshop where Dawn helped students identify specific examples of useful and useless feedback. Without fail, these workshops were illuminating. High school writers made two clear requests: They wanted specific feedback, and they rejected what they described as “sugar-coated” feedback (e.g., “Good job!” “Nice work”) unless the respondent (teacher, peer, or family member) indicated what made the writing effective. Students’ comments resonated with response research, including the aforementioned work by N. Sommers (1980, 1982) and her more recent film, Beyond the Red Ink (2012). Students valued individualized feedback that encouraged revision; such feedback revealed students have the ability “within them to become stronger writers” (Beyond the Red Ink). Reading the emerging research alongside this university-to-high school OWL encouraged us to consider what we could learn about response from teenage girls.

[10] See work by colleagues such as Ashton-Jones (1988); Brooks (1991); (1988); DiPardo (1992); Fulwiler (1992); Harris (1995); Murphy and Sherwood (1995); and North (1984).

[11] See Connors and Lunsford (1993); Harris (2000); Kalteissen and Robinson (2009); Monroe (1998); Schultz (2010); Smith (1997); J. Sommers (1989); and Straub (1995).

Comments are closed