Community Colleges Look to Improve Student Engagement through AI

The League for Innovation in the Community College is partnering with Packback to improve student learning and engagement through the use of technology.

The League for Innovation in the Community College is an international nonprofit organization that aims to cultivate innovation in the community college environment. Packback provides AI-enabled digital writing tutors for students and digital grading assistants for professors.

The initiative grew out of the League’s Faculty Voices project. The four-year project, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to identify the issues, challenges and concerns faculty have about student degree completion and identify some ways faculty can support student success, retention and completion.

Findings from the initiative have helped inform Packback’s work with community college faculty, according to Cynthia Wilson, the League’s Vice President for Learning and Chief Impact Officer. “For example, faculty told us they recognize the need to improve student learning and engagement in ways that facilitate success and persistence, but they lack meaningful professional development focused on improving instruction, ” she explained. “They know they need to design instruction to support the diverse students in their classes, but they described institutional barriers, such as lack of funding and structures for innovation, team teaching, and peer support, that hinder this work.”

Faculty said they want to be more directly involved in decisions about the changing faculty role, including expectations, professional development, and accountability, and in decisions about programs and initiatives focused on improving student success, retention, and completion. Packback addresses some of these faculty concerns by providing an innovative instructional support platform designed to benefit the diverse student population community colleges serve. The professional development opportunities help familiarize faculty with the platform and provide access so faculty can implement it in their classes.

The professional development opportunities grew out of the work of Jessica Tenuta, Packback’s Chief Product Officer, who also designed Packback’s platform. As these opportunities evolve, the League will work with Packback to provide additional insights from members and League programs and initiatives that focus on teaching, learning and student success.  

The League is working with Packback to create and support a community of practice where faculty who use the platform can share experiences and learn from each other. “We’ve also seen how Packback’s organic approach can help faculty inform decisions about its adoption, since early users at a college have time to gain hands-on experience and see results with their own students,” Wilson pointed out.

Individual community college faculty can use the platform free of charge for a period of time while Packback works with the institution on larger adoption, which is paid.

Kathleen D. Borbee, Professor of business administration at Monroe Community College in New York – a member of the League – has used Packback since pre-pandemic. She teaches both asynchronous online and in-person courses and has had positive feedback from students. “I replaced my learning management system discussion boards with Packback,” Borbee noted. “Right off the bat, students and I loved it. It allows you to nudge students to answer questions so they have more freedom, can think for themselves and they’re forced in a supportive way to learn how to answer questions. Students like it much better than a classic discussion forum.”