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OWL Fact Sheet

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

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This resource provides a brief summary of the Purdue University Online Writing Lab's history and recent statistics of OWL use.

Launching the World's First Online Writing Lab in 1994

In an attempt to bring the Purdue Writing Lab to students no matter where they were, Dr. Muriel Harris (former director and founder of the Purdue Writing Lab) and David Taylor (former graduate student in Educational Computing) started the world's first Online Writing Lab (OWL) in 1994. Dave redesigned the OWL e-mail server and developed the Gopher protocol that soon after was transitioned to the internet by Stuart Blythe. Their goal was to provide resources for students who sought writing help but couldn't make it into the physical Writing Lab during operating hours. Since that time, the OWL has become a complement to classroom instruction, a supplement to face-to-face tutorials, and a stand-alone reference for millions of writers worldwide. Additionally, OWL Mail Tutors, a position that no longer exists, answered over 2,400 writing-related queries via e-mail. In March 2010, the OWL launched the Purdue OWL YouTube Channel to uphold the OWL's mission of offering global writing support. This channel currently houses 105 instructional videos on a wide range of topics and 25,977 subscribers.

A number of Purdue students have facilitated and effected the arduous process of creating and updating instructional materials on the OWL. Particularly valuable were the contributions of Michael Manley, who initially developed OWL as an e-mail server; and Michelle Sidler, Norman Vierstahler, Clinton Wong and Trish Jenkins, each of whom were instrumental in the development of the OWL during its formative stages. Special thanks goes to David Elderbrock, Humanities Coordinator for the Instructional Technology Program at UC Berkeley who helped identify the needs of our users.

Past OWL Coordinators and Webmasters include Stuart Blythe, Teddi Fishman, Jon Bush, Liz Thelen, Matt Mooney, Dave Neyhart, Geoff Stacks, Brian Yothers, Erin Karper, Christopher Berry, Karl Stolley, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee, Jeffrey Bacha, Elizabeth Angeli, Tony Bushner, Joe Forte, Kimberly Broughton, and Victoria Ruiz. Currently, the OWL staff is led by Garrett Colón.

The OWL has grown into a popular web site that received over 128 million hits from over 125 countries in 2008-2009. The number of hits grew to 161 million in 2009-2010 and continued to grow to over 248 million hits in 2012-2013. While the website traffic peaked during the pandemic, the numbers seem to be stabalizing as students shift back to conventional educational practices with over 157 million page views between June 2022 and May 2023. The OWL serves writers glopbally with the highest numbers from the United States, Canada, the Philippines, India, and the United Kingdom, with the APA and MLA citation pages as the most highly used.

Revisions and the OWL Family of Sites

In 2004, OWL staff began the enormous task of redesigning and revising the entire OWL site. Karl Stolley, OWL Webmaster for 2004-2007, developed a database-driven content management system, along with a new site design, to house the more than 200 handouts and PowerPoint presentations available on the "old OWL." Content developers began updating the handouts and PowerPoints and generating new discipline-specific writing materials. The result was a new OWL Family of Sites.

The revisions to the OWL and the migration of materials to the new site is ongoing. During the spring 2006 semester, OWL and Writing Lab staff, with the assistance of Purdue's English 515 class, conducted IRB-approved on-site usability testing. Participant-users completed a variety of tasks designed to test the navigation and effectiveness of the new site design. Further usability testing conducted in Summer 2006 and Remote Testing by the Purdue OWL Usability Team have furthered our understanding of our users and their needs.

The OWL had another complete design update in 2022 with the support of Content Developers who have a background in User Experience Design. As principles that have shaped this process, the OWL team continues to uphold commitments to usability and accessibility in every effort to update existing resources and create entirely new ones.

Questions or feedback about the Purdue OWL should be directed to the OWL Coordinator.