Customization and Organization in OWL

The following guide will cover how to customize and organize content in your OWL course. You will learn about:

File Types in OWL

There are certain file types that are recommended for use in OWL. Depending on your aims and the nature of your course, you may want to use a variety of the file types available.

Slideshows: PowerPoint Files


PowerPoint is a program found in the Microsoft Office Suite for making slideshows. Typically, professors use the .ppt files it produces as lecture aids. These can be uploaded to OWL as notes, or in various other formats, as well as in the .ppt format. However, before doing so there are a number of considerations to take into account. For example, not all students have the Microsoft Office Suite, so a .ppt file may not be viewable to them.

The good news is that PowerPoint allows you to convert files into a format called Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format), which is the standard for displaying proprietary formats across all computer systems. To convert PowerPoint files into the PDF format, please follow the instructions below for the operating system appropriate to your computer:

Windows Users:

To enable PDF conversion, you must have either Adobe Acrobat Professional or a printer driver such as PrimoPDF or easyPDF Printer Driver installed on your computer. If you are using Adobe Acrobat, the option to convert your slideshow to a PDF is found on the menu bar under ADOBE PDF. Simply click CONVERT TO ADOBE PDF, choose where you would like to save the file and click OK.

Note: If you have not yet saved the .ppt file upon choosing to convert it, a box will appear stating that Adobe PDFMaker needs to save before continuing. Click YES to save and proceed with the conversion.

If you have installed one of the PDF printer drivers, while in PowerPoint click on the FILE menu and select PRINT. A dialog box will appear. Click on the NAME drop-down arrow and select the name of your PDF PRINTER DRIVER. Click OK.

Note: A PDF printer driver is not a physical printer, but a piece of software that acts like one and makes a copy of your file in PDF format. If you are unsure as to the name of your driver, or anything else is unclear in this guide, please consult the documentation that is included with the driver.




Mac Users:

If you are using a Mac, you do not need to download a specific program or driver to convert your PowerPoint file to PDF. Simply go to the FILE menu and select PRINT. Click the PDF button found in the bottom left-hand corner of the print dialog window and choose SAVE AS PDF. After you have named your file and given it a location, click SAVE.






Documents: Microsoft Word files and Webpage (HTML) Files


Microsoft Word, found in the Microsoft Office Suite, as well as other word processors, produce .doc, .docx and a variety of other proprietary files. A document may include text, pictures or special formatting. These files are typically used for the syllabus, lecture notes, and rubrics. When using a document file in OWL, we recommend that you convert it to a universal file format to ensure that the document displays properly on any computer screen. Microsoft Word allows you to convert a document file into a webpage (.htm or .html) file or Adobe PDF (.pdf) file. To convert PowerPoint files into the HTML format, please follow the instructions below:

From the Microsoft Word menu bar on both Windows and Mac systems, select FILE, then SAVE AS WEB PAGE.

If you are using Windows, select WEB PAGE, FILTERED from the SAVE AS TYPE menu. Give your file a name, and then click SAVE. A .htm file will be created.

If you are using a Mac, give your file a name in the SAVE AS field, ensure that the format is set to WEB PAGE (HTML) and that SAVE ENTIRE FILE INTO HTML is also selected. Click SAVE. A .htm file will be created.

Note: If you not saved your file as a .doc or .docx file previous to choosing to convert your file to a webpage, you will only be creating an .htm file and your document will not be saved in the proprietary Word format. Please make sure to save a copy in .doc format for future ease of editing. Any time you make changes to the .doc file you will need to re-convert your file to the .htm format for the changes to be visible.

Images: .PNG and .JPG


When you scan a hard copy document into a computer, take a digital photograph, or create an original graphic in image editing software, the result is an image file. These come in various formats, two of which are Portable Network Graphics (.png) and Joint Photographic Experts Group (.jpg or .jpeg). Each has its own advantages for certain situations.

In OWL, .png and .jpg are the preferred formats. Software for creating images, or changing the format of an existing image, includes Adobe Photoshop (Mac and Windows), Preview (Mac only) and Paint (Windows only). Please consult the help files or the manual for your software for information on software-specific questions, or any other information not covered in this guide.

PNG: Use the .png format when your image contains transparency, that is, if some part of it are not opaque. This format is displayed equally on all computers. It requires no software to open other than an internet browser.

JPG: Use the .jpg format when your image is large and size, contains a lot of colours, and does not require accommodation for transparency. The .jpg format will lower the file size and speed up loading times. Depending on your software, you can adjust how much to lower the file size, but take note that this also compromises image quality. The format is a patent-free standard that displays equally in all browsers.

Videos and Animations: Quicktime Moview Files and Flash Movie Files


Digital video and animation have a variety of instructional applications that can exceed the limitations of the classroom. As an example, imagine that your course is conducting a lab where a specific scientific procedure must be followed by your students. You may want them to view a video or animated demonstration of the procedure.

If you can view it on your VCR, your DVD player, or your computer, your audio-visual material can be made available as a video file on OWL. This guide will only cover material already viewable on your computer.

The preferred formats for OWL video and animation are Quicktime Movie format (.mov) and Flash Movie format (.swf). In the case of a video you have created, simply save it as a .mov file if your software provides that option. This may require that you change the settings on your digital camcorder or other recording device. Consult the help files or instruction manual for your specific product.

If you are using a pre-existing video or animation in a format other than .mov or .swf, of if your video software does not support the .mov format, you will need to convert it. Converting video can be a complex process, so please come see us at the ITRC to have your video or animation converted. We can also extract video from other sources onto your computer.

Audio: MP3 Files


Audio comprises a wide variety of content, from music to listening comprehension exercises. In terms of discrete media, audio can be found on casette tapes and CDs, among others. This guide will only cover audio that is already playable on a computer.

Audio file formats differ widely in quality and file size. MP3 audio files (.mp3) maintain a small file size while retaining the highest quality of audio, and are supported by nearly all computer systems. MP3 formats are the preferred audio file format for use within the OWL environment.

If your recording software allows, simply save your file in the .mp3 format. Otherwise, you will have to convert your file to .mp3 using alternative software. Converting audio can be a complex process, so please come see us at the ITRC to have your audio file converted. We can also extract audio from other sources onto your computer.

The File Manager


In OWL, as with websites, the content that you are planning to use needs to be uploaded (copied) to an online location so that it is accessible to those viewing your site. In OWL, this area is called the File Manager and it allows instructors to quickly manage and upload their content within OWL. A well maintained File Manager will increase the efficiency and productivity in any course.


Accessing the File Manager

To access the File Manager, makes sure you are under the BUILD tab, and click on FILE MANAGER located under DESIGNER TOOLS on the left-hand navigation bar (see above image).


Uploading Content


To upload content, click on the GET FILES link at the top of the File Manager page. The OWL Content Browser window will open. Click on MY COMPUTER and then BROWSE to upload files directly from your computer. Simply locate your file in the browser window and click OPEN. You can repeat this process and upload up to ten files at a time. Click OK once you have chosen all of the files you wish to upload. The files will be uploaded to the active File Manager folder.





File Manager Menu Icons and Buttons


There are a number of menus and icons that allow you to perform different actions within the File Manager.

Clicking on the GRAY DROP-DOWN ARROWS beside the File Manager title reveals two links. Selecting DECLARE CHARACTER SET will change a file's character set. Choosing VIEW WEBDAV INFO displays the direct web address to the active File Manager page to set up a network drive.


The next options are found directly below, and are the main action links in the File Manager. Selecting CREATE FILE allows you to create a new HTML file using the HTML creator. This file will be stored in the active folder of the File Manager. The GET FILES button allows you to upload content, and the CREATE FOLDER button allows you to create a new folder. The new folder will appear in the active folder of the File Manager.


There are a number of corresponding action links at the bottom of the File Manager as well. COPY allows you to copy the selected files to the same folder, or to another folder. MOVE moves the selected files to another folder, but does not leave a copy in the original folder. ZIP compresses the selected files and folders into one .zip file. UNSUBSCRIBE de-links selected files from another course. Choosing DELETE removes the selected files from the File Manager.

Clicking on the GRAY DROP-DOWN ARROWS beside a given file reveals another menu of options. PREVIEW allows you to view the file in a new browser window. RENAME opens a dialog box so that you can rename a specific file. EDIT PROPERTIES allows you to view and edit the current properties of that file. VIEW FILE INFORMATION allows you to view the file's meta information, such as author, title and description. VIEW FILE HREF shows you the file's link address. COPY and MOVE allow you to copy or move the file to a new location, respectively. Selecting DOWLOAD copies the file to your computer. DELETE removes the file from the File Manager.

Folders also have a similar option menu. OPEN FOLDER makes the selected folder the active folder inthe File Manager. RENAME allows you to rename the folder. DECLARE CHARACTER SET allows you to change thecharacter set for the entire folder. COPY, MOVE, DOWNLOAD and DELETE perform the same functions listed for files, as noted above.





Effective File Management


A well maintained and organized File Manager will allow for quicker access to your files and for more efficient work flow. Utilizing folders is one of the very best ways to organize your content. You can create as many folders as you wish. It is important to note that you may organize however you please, but it is imperative that you think about how your File Manager will look with 50, 100 or even 1000 files in it and how best to manage your files for growth.

You will notice that the File Manager provides easy access to all of your folders using the folder tree found on the left-hand side.


Organizational Styles


There are two typical organization styles.

  1. Organizing content by unit: Using this organizational method requires creating folders for each unit of your course and uploading the files for each unit into their corresponding unit folder.


  3. Organizing content by type: Using this organizational method requires creating folders for each file type used within your course.

Choose whichever method you feel will be most appropriate for your course, and provide you with greater ease of access.



Organizing Course Content


Folders and Learning Modules are used to organize content in OWL. Well-organized content provides better navigation and an overall better experience for the designer and the end user.

Comparing Folders and Learning Modules


Folders Learning Modules
  • Can contain related and unrelated tools
  • Organized in a title and icon view
  • Capable of containing multiple levels of organization
  • Customizable layout, background, header, footer and icons
  • Designed to organize specifically related tools and content
  • Organized in a table of contents or list view style
  • Capable of containing only a single level of organization
  • Design and appearance dependent on content


Adding and Using Folders to Organize Content


Folders are similar to the file folders that you use to organize content on your computer. They can contain files and other folders. In OWL, they can also contain all of the main OWL tools.

Adding Folders

Make sure you are under the BUILD tab and click on the CREATE FOLDER link found at the top of the page. You will be directed to a window where you can give your folder a name and a description. You can also choose to make your folder invisible (which you can undo later) and to directly add another folder. Click SAVE when you are finished. Your new folder will appear on your course page.


Editing Folders

You can edit the details of your folder after you have created it by clicking on the GRAY DROP-DOWN ARROW that appears to the right of the folder name. Select EDIT PROPERTIES from the drop-down menu, the edit properties page will appear where you can edit the title, description, visibility and icon for the folder. Click SAVE when you are finished.

You can see that there are also other options available in the folder's drop-down menu. Here you can view the folder contents by selecting GO TO FOLDER, hide the folder from your students by selecting HIDE ITEM, move the folder to another location by selecting MOVE TO FOLDER or delete the folder from your OWL course by selecting DELETE. Deleting a folder will delete the content stored within that folder from the course page. However, your tools and files will be kept in the tool inventory and the File Manager.

Adding and Using Learning Modules to Organize Content


Learning Modules are similar to folders in that they organize tools and content. However, Learning Modules cannot contain other Learning Modules or folders. Usually, Learning Modules are used for organizing content, such as a topic or a course unit, in sequential order.

Creating a Learning Module

Make sure you are under the BUILD tab and click on the ADD CONTENT link found at the top of the page. Click on LEARNING MODULE. An inventory of all of the previously created Learning Modules will be shown. You can add a previously created Learning Module to your course page by simply selecting it from the inventory and choosing ADD SELECTED. If none have been created, the inventory will be empty. Click on CREATE LEARNING MODULE. You will be directed to the Learning Module's properties page. Here you can enter a title and a description, set the visibility, numbering and display options, and choose whether you would like the first page of the Learning Module to display the table of contents or the first content page. When you have set the properties, click SAVE.



Adding Content to a Learning Module

Under the BUILD tab, click on the LEARNING MODULE that you wish to add content to either by directly clicking on it from your course page, or by accessing it through the Learning Module link found on the left-hand navigation bar.

From here you can create a new HTML file by selecting ADD FILE, or add an OWL specific tool by clicking on ADD CONTENT LINK.


Organizing Content in a Learning Module

You can organize your files within the Learning Module by creating headings by clicking on the CREATE HEADING link. To change the order in which your files appear, simply select the file you wish to move, then click on the arrow icon on the far left-hand side under the MOVE column for the file you wish your other file to appear above.

For example, selecting file #3 in the image shown right, and then selecting the arrow icon beside file #2 will move file #3 to the position below #1.


Editing and Deleting a Learning Module

To edit the properties of a Learning Module, or to delete it, simply click on the GRAY DROP-DOWN ARROW beside the Learning Module you wish to edit or delete. The gray drop-down arrow appears beside the Learning Module both on the course page when under the BUILD TAB and also within the Learning Module inventory (accessed by clicking on LEARNING MODULE from the left-hand navigation bar).

Personalizing Your OWL Course


Once you have organized your content, you may wish to change the look and feel of your OWL course. OWL offers a number of tools that allow you to personalize your course page.

Customizing Page Settings

You will find the CUSTOMIZE PAGE DISPLAY option in the PAGE OPTIONS drop-down menu located on your course page.

Within the Customize Page Display area you will find five pre-designed layout types to choose from, in addition to a CUSTOM LAYOUT option which allows you to determine the number of columns you wish to display, as well as icon placement and alignment. Selecting LAYOUT PREVIEW offers you a preview of what your page will look like with the chosen settings.

Below you will find options that allow you to apply the changes to all existing folders within your course, as well as make sure that all newly created folders will conform to these settings.

You may also add a background image to your site by clicking on the BROWSE button under BACKGROUND IMAGE and navigating to the file you wish to use as a background.

If you do not wish to use a background image, you can simply set a background colour by clicking on the SELECT COLOR link under the BACKGROUND COLOR heading.

When you have finished making changes, click APPLY.


Managing Course Tools


More options for customizing your OWL course can be found in the MANAGE COURSE area, located under Designer Tools in the left-hand navigation bar. The first four options--Tools, Course Menu, Colors and Course Content Icons--are the options that will be most useful in designing your course area.


Clicking the TOOLS option from the MANAGE COURSE menu directs you to a list of the tools available to your course. Deselecting a tool removes it from your course. You can always re-add a deselected tool later by going into the TOOLS option and simply reselecting it.


Course Menu

In the Course Menu section you are able to customize how your course menu will be displayed. Here you can choose whether or not to display both the text and icons for each menu item, align your course tool bar along the top, or left of your course page, as well as change the order and set the visibility of the course tools in the navigation bar.

To change the visibility of a tool, simply click on HIDE LINK under the STUDENT VISIBILITY column. The Hide Link button will now read Show Link. Although you will still see the tool listed in your course tool bar, it will not be visible to your students. To unhide the link, simply click SHOW LINK under the STUDENT VISIBILITY column.

To change the order of the tools in your course tool bar, simply select the tool you wish to move and click on the MOVE OPTIONS LINKS indicated by the double arrows beside the tool that you would like your other tool to appear above or below. You will be presented with the options to Move Selected Above or Below. Choose the option appropriate to your needs.



In the Colors section you can choose from six pre-determined color sets that you can assign to your course layout. You can also choose to create your own by selecting the CUSTOM option.

You will notice that when you select the CUSTOM option new options will be presented to you in the PREVIEW PANE. Here you can choose to edit the background colur or text color of specific items by selecting the appropriate link.

Make sure to click APPLY when you are finished, otherwise your changes will not be saved.


Course Content Icons

Within the COURSE CONTENT ICONS area, you can select from six pre-designed icon sets to use in your OWL course by selecting the SELECT NEW ICON SET link, choosing the icon set you like, and then clicking SELECT.

You can also upload your own icons by clicking on the GRAY DROP-DOWN ARROW beside the tool whose icon you wish to change, and selecting REPLACE IMAGE. The Content Browser window will appear. Navigate to the file you wish to upload and click OK.

Make sure to scroll down and click APPLY when you are finished, otherwise your changes will not be saved.