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How Miami Law generated a surge in student online engagement

Dan Hasan
June 27, 2022
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Using
Using
Class Size
Instructor Workload
Learner Workload

Context

About the institution

University of Miami School of Law offers a global perspective that is the perfect springboard for a successful career in a profession that becomes more international every day

About the instructor

Sean Paul Monnar is an Academic Educational Technologist at University of Miami School of Law

Course information

  1. Name: Contracts in Law
  2. Size: 40 – 90 students
  3. Course design: Online/ On-site
  4. LMS: Blackboard

Constructive alignment

Learning objectives

The challenge: Transition to online learning requires innovative approaches to teaching and learning

When the pandemic struck, the University of Miami School of Law had to move everything online. Such abrupt transition presents a huge challenge to the faculty members: getting to use and integrate technology into their teaching. Most of the instructors were not really “tech savvy”, according to Sean. Prior to COVID, classes were taught in a traditional lecture format – teachers talking while students listening and answering questions. No formative assessment was issued.

In online settings, this face-to-face teaching style can no longer be applied. Innovation and change are then needed to maintain quality, meaningful learning experiences for the students. That’s why the Faculty of the School of Law at the University of Miami has been experimenting with new teaching practices and technologies.

Furthermore, the faculty members wanted to find digital tools that can effectively address the challenge of maintaining student engagement and retention in hybrid/online classrooms. FeedbackFruits tools, eventually, were considered suitable for adoption at Miami Law.

“And then the more that I got to explore and play with it [FeedbackFruits tools], the more I really really liked it, because the tool aligns so perfectly with the core learning objective of legal education.” – Sean Monnar

Learning activities

The solution: Using different tools to activate student-content interaction, feedback, and collaboration

A number of courses and workshops within the school now use FeedbackFruits tools, integrated into their native Blackboard environment: Interactive Study Materials let instructors embed questions and discussions in case files and explanational videos; Peer Review facilitates the exchange of feedback on work within groups; and Assignment Review streamlines instructor-to-peer feedback.

Sean is among the pioneers in implementing FeedbackFruits tools. For his class on country contracts, he incorporated Assignment Review, Peer Review, Interactive Document and Interactive Video to encourage engagement with course content, understanding of legal discourse, and capacity to deliver meaningful feedback. This is how each tool was used throughout the course:

Using Assignment Review, a workshop geared toward first year students was issued, where students would hand in weekly assignments in the tool and receive feedback according to a rubric
Peer Review was used to let groups of 6 - 8 work on a case analysis together, handing in a document and commenting with reference to specific parts of text. The instructor would follow this embedded discussion and use it to inform in-class lectures.

Interactive Document also helped inform synchronous sessions, saving time recapping material and letting students dive deeper into discussions during class time. Again, this was achieved by letting students annotate the texts, pose and answer questions, and generate discussions, between themselves and with the instructor, all within the case study files.

Interactive Video was used similarly, using question breaks and multiple choice questions to ‘chunk’ longer videos into more engaging and stimulating content. Every few minutes, the video is interrupted with a question prompt which requires students to answer in order to continue. Questions with particularly few correct answers could then be dealt with specially by the instructor.


Activities were used formatively, with student feedback, comments, and answers within activities sometimes used as discussion points in class. In-tool analytics were used to keep track of student performance and progress along activities.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Assessment of learning outcomes

The outcome: Engaging, interactive learning experiences and rich student analytics

With course design at Miami Law School no longer constrained to the minimal native LMS operations, online components of teaching have become effective at both activating student participation at a distance, and bringing instructors closer to student learning. Each FeedbackFruits tool provides extensive analytics and insight into student performance, and scalability is designed in: activity setups and rubrics are copied and edited between classes, and groups are synchronized with Blackboard in one click. 
In the end, teachers end up with more time to teach.

After using Feedback Fruits tools to allow questions on study material online, the professors noted “higher levels of engagement and preparedness” as students came to class with deep understanding of the topic.

In the workshop using Assignment Review, participation for the workshop rose from around 10 to around 40 participants, a significant increase. This is likely attributed to the new learning design, particularly the transparent assessment, in the workshop.

“In previous iterations, feedback was handled in Blackboard Learn in a way which was super confusing. Having a more intuitive workflow, Assignment Review has been really helpful.” – Sean Monnar

Using Interactive Study Materials, instructors could follow along students’ progress and identify if particular questions or topics were causing confusion. These could then be addressed in class.

Student analytics also afforded visibility over individuals and groups who may have been struggling, allowing interventions to be made where necessary.

In student surveys conducted by the faculty on the use of feedback activities and particularly FeedbackFruits, respondents indicated that they would look forward to using the tools again.

Notable outcomes

Conclusion

Hybrid learning and online education demand careful thought to ensure accessible and engaging course design. It is said that the ‘guide-on-the-side’ is replacing the ‘sage-on-the- stage’, and this also holds true for long-format zoom lectures and passive discussion activities. Designing an engaging course requires creating space for students to actively participate with course material. Blocking off text or videos with embedded questions, whether multiple-choice or open-answer, helps turn a longer piece of content into a more engaging experience. This can result in a higher level of interactivity, developing critical thinking, argumentation, and analytical abilities - in other words, essential 21st century skills.

Read more success stories in which instructors successfully leveraged the power of pedagogical technology to elevate education quality:

Institution-wide scalability and transparency in peer assessments at Deakin University

Enhancing student engagement in online learning at Texas Tech University

Possible variation

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