The Sweetland Writing Center has always been a useful resource for students. But a new Sweetland service may increase the number of students who know and love the center. At the beginning of the semester, Sweetland expanded its online services to allow for more personal interaction between students and peer tutors through a new branch of its Online Writing Lab — OWL — called SyncOWL. This useful resource will allow students to receive help remotely, interactively and at their convenience. Sweetland should continue to improve its online services. At the same time, students should take advantage of the resources offered to them.

The purpose of SyncOWL is to help students receive peer tutoring on their writing via web conferences. The program uses Google Docs so students and tutors are able to view the student’s work at the same time and communicate via text, audio or video. SyncOWL incorporates an interactive element into the online tutoring session. In a Nov. 23 Daily article, Anne Gere, director of the Sweetland Writing Center, described SyncOWL as a part of a series of efforts to integrate media and writing.

Sweetland helps students understand assignments and develop their ideas coherently in essays and other kinds of writing. Peer tutors provide students another set of eyes that can help students catch mistakes or focus their ideas better. This can be especially beneficial to younger students who are nervous about approaching professors and new to the demands of college-level writing. The current OWL system extended the low-stress interaction that students got at the writing center to the ease of the Internet.

But the OWL — as easy and useful as it is — didn’t allow any personal interaction between student and tutor. Responses were limited to a list of comments and notes on a PDF, which restricted the back-and-forth that often makes tutoring most valuable. SnycOWL will add that conversation to the convenience that students get with the OWL.

One of the greatest things about SyncOWL is that it’s easy to use. Any University student with a Google account — which anyone can sign up for free of charge — can get help editing an essay from the peer tutors at Sweetland through SyncOWL. And SyncOWL was cheap, too. The system was easy to implement and doesn’t require upkeep from the University’s IT Services because it’s run on Google Docs, which is maintained by Google.

But SyncOWL shouldn’t be a standalone achievement. Rather, it should mark the beginning of further additions that build upon existing resources to help students get assistance on individual assignments and learn how to improve their writing over time. Sweetland and other University programs should continue to make a variety of online resources available to students.

SyncOWL is an efficient and cost-effective academic service that makes it possible for students to get help with their writing wherever they have access to the Internet. But unless students actually use SyncOWL, it won’t reach its full potential. Students should log on to the site and take advantage of the resource.

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