Articulating and presenting ideas is an important skill in any profession, but it is a crucial skill for occupational therapists because they oftentimes have to advocate for their clients to the important people in their lives including parents and school administrators. USciences works to help students sharpen their communication skills through assignments that make students present their ideas for peer feedback. However, this can become a problem in larger classes as Dr. Rondalyn Whitney discovered when the presentations and feedback used too much class time and interfered with the class’s pace. That is why Dr. Whitney, interim co-chair for the Department of Occupational Therapy, tested a new learning application called ApprenNet in two of her courses in spring 2013. With the help of Dr. Rodney Murray, executive director of academic technology, they implemented the platform in order to free up more class time while still providing students with opportunities to give peer-to-peer feedback.
ApprenNet was developed by a group at Drexel University Law to replace law meets, a practical learning exercise where students meet to discuss cases. In law meets, one instructor or student presents a case while other students discuss possible solutions. The benefits students receive from participating in law meets make them a popular activity in law schools across the country. However, law meets can be both time consuming and costly. ApprenNet was developed to minimize time consumption and help Drexel save money.
ApprenNet’s name comes from the word apprenticeship, because the law meets were similar to an apprenticeship. ApprenNet, however, reverses the apprenticeship process as students upload their ideas first before learning from the master’s. First, a student or a professor uploads an assignment video. Other students then research solutions, record videos, and upload them to ApprenNet. Once all of the students respond, ApprenNet presents students with pairs of videos. Students watch the videos, provide feedback, and choose which video they think is better in each pair. ApprenNet tallies the votes and creates a leader board with the highest rated videos. Finally, the professor or an expert will upload a video of his or her own.
Dr. Murray learned of ApprenNet when the developers presented it at a Philadelphia Distance Learning Association meeting, an organization of which Dr. Murray is a board member. Impressed with the program, he participated in their free testing offer. Dr. Murray thought ApprenNet could be a good tool for Dr. Whitney’s classes so they brainstormed possible ways to use it.
“Neither Dr. Whitney nor I knew this capability existed so it was just the right solution at the right time to solve a problem,” said Dr. Murray.
“It met my learning objectives and it was very simple. We are using technology as a tool to learn occupational therapy. We are not here to learn technology,” said Dr. Whitney. Dr. Whitney then integrated creative ways to use the technology for her Therapeutic Activity Group (OT 488) and her Applied Research (OT 660) class.
Dr. Whitney’s Therapeutic Activity Group class used ApprenNet in conjunction with ShowMe, an application that allows users to draw graphics on their iPad, annotate PDFs, and record their voices. Students were able to create videos using ShowMe and upload them to ApprenNet for peer critiques. In Dr. Whitney’s Applied Research class, students used ApprenNet to present ideas for their occupational therapy research papers to a panel of students.
The use of ApprenNet not only helped free up more class time, but Dr. Whitney also saw improvements in students’ work.
“Students using ApprenNet can see each other’s work, which inspires them to create new ideas and in turn, elevates everyone’s thinking,” explained Dr. Whitney.
Both Dr. Murray and Dr. Whitney foresee the University’s use of ApprenNet increasing in the future. In fact, three other professors have approached Dr. Murray about using ApprenNet in their classes for the upcoming fall semester. In addition to occupational therapy, both said the technology would be especially useful for the physician assistant, the pharmacy, and the physical therapy programs because the application can help train students in these fields to deal with customer service issues and learn visually from experts. They do note, however, that ApprenNet can be used in almost any class.
“I can imagine it being used for administrative purposes. I can imagine it being used for an across campus debates,” said Dr. Whitney. “I think it can be used anytime somebody wants to crowd source an idea. I just think it interactive, dynamic, and it can be used in a lot of different ways.”