Using the Excelsior College Online Writing Lab in the Valencia College West Campus Writing Center

A guest post by Michael Winters

At the Valencia College West Campus Writing Center in Orlando, Florida, the Excelsior College Online Writing Lab (OWL) is not only used to help students, but to make sure writing consultants are on the same page, too. The center, under the direction of Meena Udho, is staffed each semester by a dozen or so professional consultants. The consultants must have at least a bachelor’s degree in English or a related field, and many have a master’s degree. While having highly credentialed staff is certainly an advantage, Ms. Udho needed a way to be sure that the consultants all shared the same information when it came to plagiarism. She quickly identified the Excelsior College OWL as the solution to her problem.

During the first couple of weeks of the semester while the center was slow, Ms. Udho created an assignment for her staff: read and complete the exercises in the Avoiding Plagiarism section of the Excelsior College OWL. She gave her staff a two-week deadline to complete the work. Upon completion of the assignment, each staff member sent her a screenshot of his or her final quiz grade. Of course, everyone had perfect scores.

Another way the section on plagiarism is used came from a directive from the coordinator of student conduct and academic success. He decided, in some cases, that students caught plagiarizing would be sent to Ms. Udho at the Writing Center. When the students report to Ms. Udho, she assigns the plagiarism section to the students and works through the webpages with them. Valencia College has a large population of students who have college degrees or high school diplomas from schools outside of the United States. What constitutes plagiarism varies from country to country, so some students do not realize that they are plagiarizing. Using the OWL is a great remediation for developing writers, especially those learning the conventions of writing English in the United States.

Obviously, recognizing and avoiding plagiarism is not the only section relevant for use in a writing center. One of the most common issues that students have when coming to the center is getting started with their paper. When I was a consultant and a student booked an appointment without having written anything, I recognized the importance of the student understanding the writing process as a whole before he or she started writing. With that in mind, I would begin the consultation by opening the Writing Process Overview section of the OWL. The student would read aloud the six major stages in a strong writing process. We would discuss each part to be sure that the student understood why each part is important.

Next, we would continue on to the Thinking About Your Assignment section. This section has a Prezi discussing purpose, audience, message, and voice—important aspects students do not always consider when writing. From there I would jump to the Prewriting Strategies section to review in detail how the student could develop his or her ideas. In this section, I would go over the seven different strategies described by the OWL and ask the student which one he or she felt most comfortable using. Most often, he or she would choose brainstorming. Once the student chose the strategy, I would ask questions to prompt the student to write. The appointments were typically thirty minutes, so we would use the last few minutes to discuss how the student could turn the prewriting into a rough draft. Depending on the level of the student, I would point to the appropriate page in the OWL.

The OWL is a vast resource and its use in a brick and mortar writing center is endless. Two ways it has been used at Valencia College is to help developing writers and to norm the skills of the consultants. What ways have you used the Excelsior College OWL in your writing center? Use the comment board below to share your experiences.

About the Contributor

Michael Winters is a former writing center manager and is currently the manager of learning support technology at Valencia College’s West Campus in Orlando, Florida.