News (blog)

PADLA Lends a Helping Hand to ApprenNet as they Launch on the First Law-Focused MOOC

29 Sep 2012 1:36 PM | Rodney Murray (Administrator)
After giving a five minute presentation on our latest education experiment, the first law-focused “massive open online course” (MOOC), we were fortunate to move from group to group full of thoughtful, problem solving Pennsylvania Distance Learning Association (PADLA) members and learn how we can better our platform.

Last year the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded our company, ApprenNet LLC, the first of a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants for our team to develop and test an innovative way to bring online learning to life. With the funding, we created and piloted Meets. Meets are three step learning exercises that involve learning by doing, learning from peers and learning from experts. For example, a LawMeet® asks students to listen to a hypothetical client, research a solution and upload a video response acting out the role of the lawyer. After grappling with the problem, students review pairs of responses, provide feedback and then vote on a preference. Experts, i.e. the professor or practicing attorneys, then review and provide feedback to
the top peer-rated responses and leave their own video responses. Meet participants have access to all expert feedback and demonstrations.

We piloted Meets with more than 1,000 law and business students around the country in thirty-six classrooms. The results were quite positive. In short we learned that:

1. Meets turn traditional push in online learning experiences, i.e. lectures, into
engaging, pull out online learning experiences; and

2. Meets scale a teacher’s reach by lessening the burden of having to provide one on one feedback without losing the impact of individual feedback.

In an effort to allow more people to learn with Meets, we are offering the first law-focused MOOC this Fall. At the most recent PADLA meeting we presented our version of a MOOC and received a tremendous amount of insightful, useful feedback from PADLA members.

By way of background, MOOCs are classes that are taught online to large numbers of students, with minimal involvement by professors. Typically, students watch short video lectures and complete assignments that are graded by machines or by other students. That way a lone professor can support a class with hundreds of thousands of participants. Our two-week MOOC involves four video lectures and four Meets. Rather than assigning individual tasks to assess someone’s knowledge, e.g. multiple-choice quizzes, we are assigning Meets. We are also including two panel discussions in our MOOC.

We asked PADLA members whether they thought our spin on traditional MOOCs would engage students and how they would improve our MOOC format. PADLA members provided us with the following insight:

Group 1

Group Question: How can professors formally check for understanding through a

Answer: At the moment professors review a handful of responses and determine
if the class as a whole understands the objectives.

PADLA Suggestions:
o Incorporate multiple-choice questions at the end of a Meet that branch to
different levels of questions depending on a student’s response.
o Create a Check for Understanding Meet after the first Meet where students
give short answers and discover a solution immediately.
o Have students compare and contrast pre-populated Meet responses to
determine if the class understands the objective of the Meet without
having students submit their own response. 

Question: How can we make the site more user friendly?

PADLA Suggestion:
o Include an avatar to help guide people through the site, e.g. Clippy from

Group 2

Group Question #1: How does ApprenNet manage customer feedback and

Answer: At the moment, through help pages, user guides and email.

PADLA Suggestions:
o Create forums for users to talk with each other.
o Break forums into Project Based Learning (PBL) groups and Topic Based
Learning (TBL) groups.
o Use our already created social media feeds as a support desk.
o Create two buttons on our site, one for participants to discuss things about
our MOOC with each other and one for participants to contact ApprenNet

Group Question #2: How do we make the panel discussion a success?

PADLA Suggestions:
o Do not include real time questioning from the audience rather collect two
questions from each MOOC participant in advance of the panel discussion
and ask a sample of those questions during the MOOC.

Group 3

Group Question #1: How can we make the initial video lecture more engaging?

PADLA Suggestions:
o Keep video lectures under 12 minutes long.
o Include transcripts of the video lectures for participants who prefer to read
rather than listen to a lecture.

Group Question #2: How can we increase community engagement in a Meet in
addition to our written feedback strands?

PADLA Suggestions:
o Allow participants to leave video or audio feedback in addition to text

We learned a tremendous amount from the PADLA community. Thank you. We hope to join more meetings and learn about the exciting work the PADLA community is doing in the e-learning space.

Many thanks!

- Karl, Paul and Emily, Co-Founders, ApprenNet LLC
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