The Packback Method: Best Practices for Engaging Students

Our platform, Packback Questions, is an assistive technology designed to guide the development of curiosity and critical thinking in students. We’ve seen professors use Packback to help students fall in love with the subject matter, and we understand that a professor’s role in student growth is irreplaceable. But finding innovative ways to connect and challenge the 21st-century student can be overwhelming alongside a schedule filled with classroom prep, research, administrative duties and other commitments! The Packback Method helps by highlighting three simple steps to help busy professors connect and challenge students in 15 minutes or less!

Step 1) Share why questions are important

A students journey to learn the life skill of asking great questions begins by understanding why questions are important. All Packback students take our 7-step tutorial to learn how to ask great questions and receive guidance throughout the term with our in-line coaching. But to further motivate students and give ownership over the discussion, professors should set strong expectations and share why asking questions is important. The syllabus is a great place to start by allocating 10-15% of the course grade to Packback. Once the grade is established, professors can share our first-day-of-class presentation and other resources to get the class excited to participate every week!

In Action: Dr. Brandon Chicotsky of John Hopkins University allocated 40% of his grade to Packback in an online course. His students participated every week with thoughtful posts that explored class topics and incorporated personal experiences. Dr. Chicotsky was so impressed with his students’ content, he published the discussions in a book

“The majority of the content was generated outside of the incentive for earning a grade. Students were often compelled to respond to their peers beyond the minimum weekly requirement for posting questions and responses. Students engage Packback with sustained opinions and reflections,” says Dr. Chicotsky. “This writing is essential because it personalizes a topic that is inherently human and social.”

Step 2) Give students inspiring and constructive feedback

Feedback is a core function of Packback that sets clear expectations for students and challenges them to improve throughout the semester.  If a student’s post doesn’t follow the Community Guidelines, our Artificial Intelligence moderates the post and sends a coaching email to the student. This automated feedback provides a great framework for student improvement, but Custom Feedback from professors and TAs challenges students even more. Constructive feedback is given privately in a safe environment, while positive feedback is given publically to highlight great work. Professors and TAs can also feature and pin posts to set an example for the entire class. We encourage professors to give at least three pieces of Custom Feedback and to feature between three to four posts per week. Feedback with Packback impacts the whole class and requires little time!

In Action: Each week, Dr. Mark Reisinger from Binghamton University goes through his Packback community and highlights posts that bring in outside sources, which sets an expectation for his students. As a result, Dr. Reisinger notes:

“Honestly I’ve been amazed at how much effort they put into answering questions and things like that,” says Dr. Reisinger. “[Students] actually do outside research or they bring in things from other classes that are related to this topic. [Highlighting posts] tells the students that I am monitoring what they’re writing, but it also makes them realize the work other students are putting in [and] it motivates all the students to do a good job.”

Step 3) Bring Packback Questions into the classroom

According to the scholarly article “Motivating Students: An Initial Attempt to Operationalize the Curiosity Gap Model“, “curiosity compels students to learn.” Each week, we fuel student curiosity by sharing a newsletter highlighting top posts called the Curious Reader Digest. Professors can also spark student curiosity by incorporating Packback into the classroom discussion. Kicking off a lecture by discussing a great student post on Packback creates an environment where students feel excited and proud to discuss the topics they are curious about. Professors can bring in posts that hit directly on learning objectives, create a good debate or are simply fascinating! This in-class discussion helps students make connections between the class material and the discussions on Packback.

In Action: Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter of Michigan State University has used Socratic discussions to push his students to think deeper, make connections and develop a better understanding of class materials. He used to spend a lot of time crafting discussion prompts but found that starting class with a student post on Packback saved time and increased student participation.

[Students have] told me that they appreciated Packback because it really made them think about the material,” says Dr. Anderson-Carpenter. “When it came down to the exam they said the exams seemed pretty easy [because] it was just reinforcing what we were talking about throughout the entire class. It was gratifying to see students engage with the material, not just week to week, but throughout the entire course and to see them integrate the concepts.”

Packback is an assistive tool that is here to support key learning objectives. Our platform supports the classroom by coaching the life skill of asking great questions, giving constructive coaching and fueling student curiosity.  By incorporating Packback and implementing our best practices, many professors and students have fallen in love with the subject matter in just 15 minutes a week!

Interested in learning how Packback can help your students become more curious about class materials and apply their learnings to real-world situations? Request a demo with one of our Strategy Consultants.