April 30, 2013

The Purdue OWL and Second Language Writers

I’d like to welcome Joshua M. Paiz to the blog this week!  Paiz is a second year doctoral student in Second Language Studies at Purdue University. At Purdue, he serves as the Coordinator of the Purdue Online Writing Lab and is an instructor in the Introductory Composition at Purdue program. His research interests include sociocognitive approaches to second language acquisition, program administration, and graduate student professionalization/professional identity construction. 


The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) receives over 200,000,000 hits annually from all over the planet. Since 1994, the Purdue OWL’s focus has been on helping writers, and we have attempted to address the needs of second language (L2) writers through specially designed sections for English as a Second Language (ESL) writers. However, our ESL resources, until recently were a little sparse and focused on L2 writers in North American higher and community educational contexts; this means that they have not been keyed into the potentially unique needs of our international audience.

This creates, at least in the eyes of the Purdue OWL leadership, the need to uncover whether or not we are meeting the needs of practitioners outside of the North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia—the so-called English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context. This desire to better serve our global users has led to the OWL Abroad research project.  This project launched in the summer of 2012, and it is targeted specifically at teachers of writing, focused on uncovering usage patterns, attitudes, and needs of OWL users from across the globe. In some EFL contexts, online writing labs are some of the few readily available resources for the teaching of writing.

The Purdue OWL staff deployed a two-part instrument—an online survey and a follow-up email interview—to uncover these usage patterns, attitudes, and needs. This survey was sent to seven international professional listservs that target writing professionals and administrators, and it was left open for about five months. We received over 130 responses. From these 130 responses, we identified 46 individuals for email follow-up and are currently awaiting responses before we continue our data analysis.

Although the data analysis for this project is currently ongoing, we are already seeing some interesting trends in the data. Most salient for us is the relative linguistic inaccessibility of many of our ESL resources for international students of varying proficiencies in English. I’m happy to report that the Purdue OWL is currently taking steps to remedy this issue: we have just wrapped up a project that has sought to make all of our major ESL resources more linguistically accessible to a wider range of linguistic proficiencies. These changes will be coming online in the coming weeks along side of a number of new ESL resources and classroom activities. It is hoped that this changes will also aid practitioners and L2 writers in EFL contexts.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on OWL research and new ESL/EFL resources, you can visit the Purdue OWL News (owl.english.purdue.edu/purdueowlnews).

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