Packback Takes on $1.5M in New Funding Including Strategic Investments from University Ventures and ICG Ventures

Packback adds $1.5 million of new capital with participation from industry strategic investors as the Chicago-based education technology company doubles its user-base since the last semester and anticipates over 70,000 new students at 50+ universities using the service throughout the academic year.

The investments from University Ventures, the premier investor in education technology focused on higher education, as well as ICG Ventures LLC, the corporate venture capital arm of Ingram Content Group, will help Packback continue to scale nationally not only through capital, but strategic expertise as well. Packback intends to raise additional funding through an upcoming Series A investment.

Packback builds artificial intelligence to quantify and improve difficult-to-measure student success metrics at scale — such as student critical thinking, soft skills and curiosity — by analyzing a student’s written questions and essay answers. Their product Packback Questions is a “smart” online discussion platform powered by their AI, where students engage in rigorous academic discourse as a core part of their instructor’s curriculum and coursework.

“A.I. will play a huge role in the future of education, and the future of education is developing independent critical thinkers. Knowing how to think is the most valuable skill to succeed in jobs of the 21st century. I invested in the Packback team because of their resilience and relentless focus on student success outcomes – this is what it takes to win in education,” said investor Mark Cuban.

“We’ve known for years that study groups and other forms of peer-to- peer conversations accelerate learning,” said Troy Williams, Managing Director at University Ventures, “but online discussion forums have yet to replicate that effect for online students. Packback is the first product that I’ve seen that makes online discussions powerful and intuitive; it measurably advances students’ learning while they are out of the classroom.”

Building a platform that prepares students for the future of the job market:

Unlike multiple choice assessments (the popular assessment of choice in face-to-face and online environments) which measures student memorization and understanding, Packback’s AI measures a student’s’ ability to apply and analyze course concepts to generate new and unique lines of thinking.

“To prepare students to be ready to adapt to the dramatic rate of change in the job market, we’re creating a generation of curious, adaptable learners”, said Jessica Tenuta, Packback cofounder. “The key to student success after graduation is the ability to ask great questions.”

Packback rooted the development of their AI in academic research in the fields of cognitive science and inquiry based learning, including well-known cognitive framework Bloom’s Taxonomy, combined with the Packback’s own field research into the needs of their student and professor users.

“Students often develop questions that are better and more powerful than the questions I ask,” said Dr. Leslie Hendon, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It has empowered students’ to be more than curious – we are now having conversations of a graduate student level in a 100-level non-majors course.”

In addition to student success, the platform’s capability of automating all of the manual tasks of running time-intensive assessments such as discussion, essays, or cases (in grading, moderation, and feedback), enables professors to focus on their pedagogy. Packback has doubled its user base over the past six months as a direct result of professors referring Packback across their department after seeing success.

Fostering curiosity shifts student motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic, leading to positive success outcomes around engagement and retention:

“In a world of rote learning, Advanced Placement exams, and the pressure to succeed, college students are reluctant to ask questions beyond “what do you want us to do?” or “what do I have to do to get an “A?” Some juniors and seniors reduce every assignment to a sad cost/benefit analysis: “what is the best grade I can get for the least effort?” said Kathleen Davis, assistant professor at Temple University. “As a professor who has encouraged – even begged –students to ask questions about ideas for over 25 years, using Packback has finally given my students and me a platform that gets students asking and answering questions. It helps students learn how to ask questions and to answer them through immediate feedback.”

Dr. Brandon Chicotsky is a business faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. He has utilized Packback’s platform and services for both undergraduate and graduate courses for various topics and his class sizes have ranged from small master’s seminars to large lectures of over 150 students.

“Packback’s software and dedicated team have enriched my lectures by helping me discover new topics related to my course curricula, which were crowdsourced from students on the Packback platform,” Dr Chicotsky said. “Moreover, students engaged on the platform have shared media, offered useful citations, and articulated ideas that have even edified my colleagues and I. I’m grateful for Packback’s services beyond saving time; I appreciate seeing a new generation of students engaged in the digital space in an educational and empowering endeavor.”

About Packback

Packback creates AI-powered learning communities for professors that improve critical thinking and support curiosity in students. Packback supports engaging academic discourse, as the AI automates time-intensive activities required to maintain, moderate, and facilitate a valuable discussion. To learn more, visit http://www.packback.co.

Introducing the Sparks Feature on Packback

Today, the Packback team released a new feature on the Packback Questions platform, called Sparks. Sparks work a bit like upvotes or likes on other social platforms, but with a much more specific (and important!) purpose.

Sparks are given to posts which truly “Sparked your Curiosity”, to show appreciation to the original writer and help the community recognize the most curious posts. Sparks also help other students recognize posts that have been inspiring to their classmates, and gives professors valuable insight into what their students are most curious about.

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Teaching Critical Thinking through Electronic Discussion Platforms

Electronic discussion can stimulate and develop critical thinking skills in students, and we’re not the only ones who believe it.

A scholarly article by Steven Greenlaw and Stephen DeLoach called Teaching Critical Thinking with Electronic Discussion spoke on the subject more than ten years ago, and as technology has continued to advance, electronic discussion is finding an even bigger space in student thinking and curiosity.
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College Students on the United Airline Crisis

In one of the most controversial videos of 2017, United Airlines dragged passenger Dr. Dao out of a fully booked plane to make room for staff. The video was shared all over social media and initially resulted in a huge dip in stocks for United.

Here’s what students had to ask on Packback Questions.
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Introducing “Explore”: Platform Search

Packback’s product team is excited to unveil “Explore”; our new search feature that allows every Packback member to explore the best discussions from every community across the country.

Until recently, members of Packback Questions could only read and discover the discussions within their own class, course or topic community. But that meant, for example, that if they were a member of a community for their Marketing class…they could really only ask questions and read content about Marketing.

To support truly fearless, relentless curiosity, we created “Explore” to allow our members to read and discover great threads from all communities on the platform by keyword, label, community and more. And as always, names are completely anonymized to anyone viewing your post unless you’ve selected “Public” in your privacy settings (or unless the viewer is a member of the community where you posted the question or response).

Try it out for yourself! Try the new Explore Search

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Higher Level Learning Doesn’t End in the Classroom

Packback encourages student curiosity in the classroom, but the higher level learning doesn’t end there. As students approach graduation and enter the career world, Packback wants to take that curiosity displayed in the classroom and put it to use post-graduation by working closely with hiring companies and recruiters.

Discover Packback Experiences from Packback on Vimeo.