What is OWL?

OWL is the online learning management system (LMS) at Western. OWL uses a customized version of the open source LMS platform Sakai.

What is the purpose of OWL?

OWL is used for learning, teaching, training, research, and collaboration. It is the online home for official Western undergraduate and graduate courses, Western Continuing Studies courses, the Preceptor Education Program, and Human Resources courses, as well as independent, department, and group project worksites. 

How to use OWL

All official courses offered at Western are provided with a space in OWL. The student and instructor enrolment is loaded automatically from the Office of the Registrar's official course lists and the roster is available to the instructor when a course site is created. Courses are available in OWL to assigned instructors four months before the start of a term.

As well as course sites, project sites can be set up in OWL by anyone with a Western Identity. Project sites can be used for training and other types of collaboration, such as research projects and administrative use.

OWL project sites are used for Open Learning and outreach, such as the Preceptor Education Program(PEP). Worksites such as these can be "joinable" allowing other OWL users to self-enrol. 

Tool Evaluation

Evaluated: October 2016

Functionality overall rating: 2 starsFunctionality

Rating Rational
Scale rating: 3 stars


The tool can be scaled to accommodate any size class with the flexibility to create smaller sub-groups or communities of practice

Ease of use rating: 2 stars

Ease of Use

OWL course sites are considered user-friendly and easy to navigate when elements are engaged in alignment with course design and student-focused intentions. OWL is easy to use for instructors with some technological literacy, threshold to entry and course site development is moderate.

Tech Support/ Help Availability rating: 3 stars

Tech Support/Help Availability

Various Western-based supports are available to aid users in course site design, troubleshooting tasks, or solving problems experienced. See ITRC, OWL Documentation, Teaching Support Centre.

Accessibility overall rating: 2 starsAccessibility

AODA Friendly rating: 2 stars

AODA Friendly

Overall, most OWL tools meet accessibility guidelines (AODA and the W3C WCAG 2.0 standards), however it is noted that accessibility considerations vary from tool to tool and some tools depend on instructor action. For guidance on making OWL more accessible, check out this Accessibility Guide for Sakai..

Assistive Technology rating: 3 stars

User-focused participation

With the availability of a wide range of tools, OWL is designed to address the needs of diverse users, their various literacies, and capabilities, thereby widening opportunities for participation in learning

Required Equipment rating: 3 stars

Required Equipment

Proper use of OWL does not require specialized equipment

Technical overall rating: 3 starsTechnical

Operating Systems rating: 3 stars

Operating Systems

Users can effectively utilize OWL on non-mobile operating systems (i.e. Windows, OSX)

Web Browser rating: 3 stars

Web Browser

Users can effectively utilize OWL with any standard, up-to-date web browser (i.e. Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox, Explorer, etc.)

Additional Technical Requirements rating: 3 stars

Additional Technical Requirements

In general, OWL does not require additional downloads or installations. However, there will be exceptions to the rule for some tools and advanced functions. For example, Blackboard Collaborate requires the latest version of flash player, and streaming video from a lesson may require the quicktime plugin. For further information on additional technical requirements, check the individual tool documentation in this Toolkit.

Mobile Design overall rating: 1 starMobile Design

Mobile Operating Systems rating: 3 stars

Mobile Operating Systems

OWL is accessible on all mobile devices through a browser. There is no native app for OWL, however you can access OWL through the WesternU app on both android and iOS devices.

Mobile Functionality rating: 2 stars

Mobile Functionality

Core features of the main OWL tool are functional on mobile but advanced features may be limited. There are no differences in functionality between mobile devices.

Offline Access rating: 1 star

Offline Access

OWL cannot be used in any capacity offline

Usage and account set up overall rating: 3 starsUsage and Account Set Up

Sign Up/Sign In rating: 3 stars

Sign Up/Sign In

Use of OWL does not require the creation of an external account or additional login beyond a Western Identity

Cost of Use rating: 3 stars

Cost of Use

All aspects of OWL can be used free of charge to Western account holders

Archiving Saving and Exporting Data rating: 3 stars

Archiving, Saving, and Exporting Data

In general, users can archive, save, or export OWL content and activity data in a variety of formats. For specific tool capabilities, check the individual tool documentation in this Toolkit.

Data Privacy and Ownership rating: 3 stars

Data Privacy and Ownership

Users maintain ownership and copyright of their intellectual property/data; the user can keep data private and decide if/how data is to be shared

Social Presence overall rating: 3 starsSocial Presence

Collaboration rating: 3 stars


OWL and its various tools has the capacity to support a community of learning through both asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for communication, interactivity, and transfer of meaning between users

User Accountability rating: 3 stars

User Accountability

Instructors can control student anonymity; The tool provides technical solutions for holding students accountable for their actions

Diffusion rating: 3 stars


OWL is the centrally supported Learning Management System (LMS) at Western and is widely known and popular. It’s likely that most students are familiar with the tool and have basic technical competence with it

Instructor Presence overall rating: 2 starsInstructor Presence

Facilitation rating: 2 stars


Depending on how tools are configured and applied, OWL has easy-to-use features that would significantly improve an instructor’s ability to be present with students via active management, monitoring, and engagement

Customization rating: 2 stars


With the various tools that can be added or removed, OWL sites are adaptable to specific course environments: easily customized to suit the classroom context and targeted learning outcomes

Learning Analytics rating: 2 stars

Learning Analytics

Depending on the tools utilized and strategies employed, Instructor can monitor students’ performance on a variety of responsive measures. For further information on additional technical requirements, check the individual tool documentation in this Toolkit.

Cognitive Presence overall rating: 2 starsCognitive Presence

Enhancement of Cognitive Task(s) rating: 2 stars

Enhancement of Cognitive Task(s)

Given consideration to design, facilitation, and direction from instructor, OWL has the potential enhance engagement in targeted cognitive task(s) that were once overly complex or inconceivable through other means

Higher Order Thinking rating: 2 stars

Higher Order Thinking

Given consideration to design, facilitation, and direction from instructor, OWL has the potential to facilitate students in exercising higher order thinking skills

Feedback on Learning rating: 2 stars

Feedback on Learning

Given consideration to design, employment of appropriate tools, and facilitation, students can regularly receive formative feedback on learning (i.e. they can track their performance, monitor their improvement, test their knowledge, etc.) through OWL

View the rubric for an explanation of this evaluation
Leave feedback to comment or request that the tool be re-reviewed

Related Information

Additional Resources