Most students wouldn’t imagine getting help on a paper from the Sweetland Writing Center in their pajamas. But thanks to a new program from the tutoring hub, students can now get interactive help straight from their bedrooms.

In an effort to become more accessible to students, the Sweetland Writing Center introduced SyncOWL at the start of the fall semester. SyncOWL, an offshoot of the Online Writing Lab, allows students to “get the benefits of a face to face tutoring session without leaving (their) room (and) meet with a Peer Tutor online to get help with (their) writing,” according to the program’s website.

SyncOWL allows students to have web conferences with Sweetland Center’s peer tutors and have their papers edited in real time.

SyncOWL sessions use Google Docs, an online word-processing program that allows for both tutors and students to view the document at the same time in addition to communicate via text, video or audio.

According to Anne Gere, director of the Sweetland Writing Center, developing SyncOWL was a “collaborative idea” that utilized the resources of the entire center. She added that it was part of a series of efforts to incorporate media into writing.

“We offer courses in blogging and lots of different approaches to using media in writing, we introduced an electronic system for making our appointments, so this is sort of the next logical thing,” she said.

The SyncOWL is a revision of the original OWL program, which allows students to submit papers online and receive corrections and an explanatory letter in 72 hours.

Peer tutor and LSA junior Joshua Brady said with the OWL, there’s a “barrier” between the writer and tutor because they don’t get the opportunity to interact with each other during the edit.

“When you’re actually doing an OWL session, it’s really hard because you don’t know how the person is going to react to what you’re saying,” he said. “So you can offer comments but you don’t know if they’re going to understand what you’re saying or maybe you’re not reading it the way they meant to say it”.

According to Brady, the SyncOWL makes up for the OWL’s shortcomings because it offers the convenience of the OWL without compromising interaction between the tutor and writer.

“There are back-and-forth conversations, so it’s basically like a normal tutoring session, but it’s just online,” Brady said.

“The SyncOWL is more convenient for (the writer) because they don’t have to come into the tutoring center, but they still get the human interaction over the computer, where it’s easier (for the tutors) to ask them things like ‘What did you really mean here?’” he continued.

According to Gere, Sweetland has been able to “reach many students” via the SyncOWL so far.

“Certainly we are getting a very positive response,” she said.

Both the OWL and SyncOWL make the Writing Center more accessible to students, because they don’t have to physically visit the center to get help. However, these online resources don’t offer any more flexibility for the tutors because they still have to work from the center during their shifts, Brady explained.

LSA sophomore Sarah Awad said she’s used Sweetland’s walk-in appointments for help with many of her papers. She says that they are a great resource for University students and admires the fact that they have taken such a proactive step to accommodate student preferences.

“I think there is a small drawback, because it gets complicated when you reference things in your paper and it will probably be more formal than when you are sitting and talking to a tutor in person,” she said. “But it is a step up from the OWL.”

However, she said one drawback might be that students become entirely dependent on the online resource.

“The only issue it might cause is that students might get lazy and assume that it is always available, like put off writing papers until later knowing that they won’t have to go to the office to get it edited, and so Sweetland has to be really clear about its online times,” she said.

LSA sophomore Sadie Besl said despite the convenience, she doesn’t plan on using SyncOWL.

“I’ve only ever used the walk-in appointments and they worked well for me,” Besl said.

Both Brady and Gere said they agree that the SyncOWL would never be able to replace the personal peer tutoring that students can receive at the Sweetland Writing Center.

“We would always have face-to-face as an option — just because you send e-mails to your friends doesn’t mean you don’t see them in person,” Gere said.

“I know you can talk over the SyncOWL, but there’s just something unparalleled about coming into the center and interacting with people in person — you can put the paper in between you and both (tutor and student can) write on it and stuff,” Brady added. “I don’t think it can ever go online completely because a lot of people do like coming in.”

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