What's SyncOWL? Why SyncOWL?


By Drake Misek
Sep 18, 2013

The Sweetland Center for Writing’s SyncOWL (Synchronous Online Writing Lab) is probably our most cutting-edge and least utilized medium of peer tutoring. We offer students a free real-time digital tutorial during our normal hours of operation. This tutorial can be anything from a 5 minute question asked and answered in GChat or a full 45 minute-ish tutorial conducted via video chat on Google Hangouts, taking advantage of M+Google’s linking of every UMich account with a Google account—in exchange for, among other things, a wealth of advertising for Google, as this sentence proves.

The latter type of tutorial I mentioned utilizes the suite of options for Hangout, allowing students to have a video chat window open along with a Google Doc along with a number of other apps such as Youtube, all in one screen, creating the sort of consolidated tutoring experience that one may expect face-to-face.

SyncOWL is not just a replication of face-to-face tutoring, as it offers several affordances that may work best for certain students at certain times. Essentially, students have access to real-time tutoring anywhere they can access the internet. Whether they’d rather not brave the Michigan winter, or they have some sort of injury or disability making it difficult for them to travel, or they live a far distance from campus, even perhaps studying abroad internationally, they can still get help with their writing.

Despite these affordances, as mentioned before not many students have tried out SyncOWL. Maybe the technology is intimidating or seemingly requires too much effort. Maybe the student prefers being in physical proximity with the consultant during a tutorial and can easily enough manage a trip to one of our many writing centers. Maybe the student isn’t even aware of what SyncOWL is—we’re working on this one, as you may see from our business cards with SyncOWL info on them or advertisements popping up on the digital messageboard in North Quad, and hopefully this article has helped you get an idea of it too.

I’ve used our SyncOWL several times on both sides of the equation, as a student testing the system by sharing a piece of my writing in a tutorial as well as a tutor helping various students with their writing. I live a bit north of North Campus so when I’m at home it’s much easier for me to have a tutorial online then travel to a writing center. Furthermore, I conduct so many of my social interactions over both text chat and video chat that something like SyncOWL seems an extension of my normal day. I appreciate the variety of resources that one can bring up in the Hangout window, as I usually have (probably too) many tabs open whenever I’m working on an assignment. Sure there can be a bit of nervous energy prior to seeing someone who you’re expected to interact with for the first time, but we do that over and over again at this university and in life, so if anything it’s more helpful to my confidence.

If you want to check out SyncOWL now then head on over to this link. Our face-to-face tutorials and our asynchronous OWL are very useful services as well, but give SyncOWL a shot and see if it works well for you.

– Drake Misek, Sweetland Center for Writing Peer Tutor