The Online Tutor as
Cross-Curricular Double Agent

OWL Report 1994-1995

The DSU Online Writing Lab (OWL) emphasizes the importance of writing in all academic areas and provides the support that is needed to establish a strong writing consciousness. Through the Bush Grant, which funded the OWL, faculty in all disciplines have access to information and assistance in incorporating the principles of writing to the process of learning in their courses. Through the OWL, students undertaking writing tasks in their classes have easy access to well-trained writing tutors.

The OWL is operated through the DSU Local Area Network, and users reach the OWL from any campus lab, linked dorm room, or office. OWL users receive synchronous responses about 40 hours each week. OWL requests sent when a tutor is not online are answered as soon as a tutor logs on.


Faculty have taken advantage of the opportunity to apply for $500 mini-grants to develop detailed writing strategies for their classes. Faculty members submitting proposals for these grants must demonstrate a willingness to incorporate writing in at least two courses and be willing to present their plans for incorporating writing at a faculty conference. Each proposal must include a description of the evaluation measurement that will be used to determine success. The faculty members must also indicate commitment to serving as an OWL mentor in a specific discipline, thus enlarging the academic base from the English Department to include other academic areas. As of Spring 1995, thirteen faculty members had received mini-grants.

Faculty members who were mini-grant recipients for 1994-95:

Classes Visited

In addition to the intensive writing emphasis adopted by the minigrant recipients, the OWL directors visited classes to explain the DSU OWL. Students in the classes were given a fairly detailed handout explaining the OWL and how to access it. At the end of the second semester of its operation, the OWL had worked with 27 faculty members (approximately 36 % of the total faculty).

The OWL efforts have also linked with the Bush Visiting Scholar program and the faculty luncheon program. On Nov. 22, 1994 the Visiting Scholar was Kathryn Swanson, a writing to learn specialist, who also spoke at the Faculty Luncheon.

Classes visited to explain the OWL: 21

Number of students in above classes: 470

% of total student body: 33%

% of full time students: 48%

Total number of faculty involved as of end of academic year: 27

% of total faculty: 36%


The Online Writing Lab itself was staffed by seven volunteer tutors. These tutors spent seven hours in training and spent anywhere from four to six hours each week tutoring. All tutoring was done on-line. The Practical Tutor was used as a text for tutor training. The tutors came from a variety of academic areas: business, elementary education, special education, and English.

Number of tutors: 7

Number of tutor-hours volunteered each week: 40


One third of the DSU student population was introduced to the OWL. A survey of first semester OWL users was conducted with the help of Carrie Ahern, DSU's assessment specialist.

Final totals

Number of OWL inquiries at end of Fall Semester: 225

Number of OWL inquiries at end of Spring Semester: 365

Total number of OWL users: 590

Number of students who used OWL more than once:

Spring Semester: 75

Approximate number of DSU students using the OWL: 23%

Additional Commentary

Minigrant recipients have completed ten hours of face-to-face training, completed an evaluation of their minigrant experience, and are contributing material for a booklet being compiled to document the grant and to help others interested in incorporating writing in their courses. The minigrant recipients and the tutors met twice during the semester.

The success of this Bush effort can be gauged by the continuing faculty interest in pursuing the minigrants that are part of the grant. Four minigrants were available for Spring 1995 and seven faculty members applied. By the end of this school year, 13 faculty members (17% of the faculty) will have received $500 minigrants from the Bush OWL efforts.

Additionally, the faculty involved in the minigrants have joined the national Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) organization. DSU's WAC program will be documented through this membership and our ongoing Bush Grant activities.

Submitted by Patricia Ericsson and James Swanson
May 1995