Online Discussion Tool Helps Facilitate Student Engagement

Although many colleges and universities are returning to in-person classes, offering remote learning options or hybrid arrangements is becoming a crucial component to their programs. Realizing that remote learning will continue going forward, higher education institutions are still looking to optimize online lesson delivery.

However, understanding that some students aren’t engaging well with online lessons, colleges and universities are focusing on new ways to boost student engagement among  their student population. As a result, many institutions are turning to tools and technologies to spark student involvement in online instruction and make class.

At California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, one professor is piloting a new tool to build classroom community and facilitate more effective online discussion. Packback Instruct is an inquiry-based online discussion platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, built-in polls to inform instruction in real time, search functions to help professors identify students based on their participation in discussions, and detailed reporting to provide professors with personalized and specific feedback

Jessica Tenuta, Packback’s Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, explained that the company has just added three new features to the core inquiry-based discussion platform that makes it more of a holistic student engagement platform for either in-class or out-of-class interaction, whether remote or online.

“The first feature of Packback Instruct is Discussion Polls, which enable instructors to publish “In Class Polls” for quick, engaging check-ins or “Homework Polls”, where students are asked to elaborate on their selection with a written response,” Tenuta explained. “The next two features of Packback Instruct are the new “Interactive Insights Dashboard” and “Match & Message”, which work in tandem to allow instructors to understand their class performance, identify students who either need additional support or are excelling, and then reach out to them instantly with a personalized message with just a few clicks.”

Ayana Jamieson, Ph.D., a Professor at California State University Polytechnic, Pomona, has used Packback since 2019 in her undergraduate Ethnic Studies, Ethnic Identity and African American Experience courses. She currently instructs a range of students, first-year students, transfer students and seniors approaching graduation. Previously, Jamieson taught in some of the oldest distance learning programs in the country, at State University of New York, Empire State College and Center for Distance Learning.

Jamieson said her students use Packback directly through the Canvas course management system that supports online teaching and learning. Packback can be integrated into the gradebook, and students don’t need any extra equipment beyond the learning management system and a Web connection.

She is using Packback for both asynchronous classes and synchronous classes that meet online due to the pandemic and also held a workshop on Packback for colleagues. “Packback Instruct has been especially helpful when reviewing for exams (via the Polls) feature, sending students targeted feedback and coaching and helping them develop critical thinking skills for challenging material,” Jamieson said. “Students really like interacting on the Community Curiosity Thread, rather than a traditional discussion forum.”

Jamieson also uses Packback Instruct to help students self-assess as they go along to gauge their subject mastery. “I post sample questions for exam review as so student will be able to test their knowledge in real time and prepare for the test. I love being able to send Match and Message notes to students who have not met the final requirements and see which students I have interacted with and how throughout the week,” she added.

Packback’s Tenuta explained that the technology will have a place in higher education instruction well after the pandemic is behind us. “Remote has underlined the need for tools that actively engage students and build meaningful relationships between instructors and students, and students and their peers,” she noted. “But the shift to remote learning didn’t create these needs, it only shined a light on them.”