Category Professor Stories

Engaging Students in Large Lectures

How a Harvard Professor brought intimate discussion and student engagement to a large introductory course at the University of California, Davis. 

After teaching at Harvard University for seven years, Dr. Stacey Combes was excited to pursue tenure at the University of California, Davis. But transferring to UC-Davis meant trading intimate, discussion-driven classes for amphitheaters filled with hundreds of non-majors. Even with years of teaching experience and a number of prestigious awards for teaching undergraduates, Dr. Combes knew that connecting with more than 400 students and keeping the class engaged would be a challenge. Especially since this was her first time teaching Animal Behavior.

“I was really just trying to scramble and figure out what to do and to talk to colleagues to get advice,” says Dr. Combes. “I had a bunch of colleagues who teach [Animal Behavior] give me their lecture notes. A lot of the older professors who have more experience in the topic, their lectures would just be a picture and three words and I am like, ‘What am I supposed to say? What book do I use? What do I cover in this course?’”  

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Improving Critical Thinking Through Online Discussion

A Graduate Professor at Grand Valley State University uses Packback to prepare students for their careers.

In the Department of Occupational Science & Therapy at Grand Valley State University, students walked into the first day of class excited to learn. It’s the start of their 3-year journey of classroom instruction and clinicals to prepare for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. But their instructor, Dr. Jennifer Summers, walked into the classroom with a bigger goal – to teach the importance of critical thinking and this semester she used Packback to help.

“When I see my students in front of me, I think of their future clients,” says Dr. Summers. “These are graduate students who are going to enter our profession. We train them to think in a way that is all-encompassing so they’re able to see the bigger picture. We give them knowledge, but critical thinking with transformable learning is our main objective.”

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Packback Case Study: Jodi Hallsten-Lyczak

Jodi Hallsten-Lyczak has been an instructor at Illinois State University for the last five years in the communication department. In 2007, Jodi was named the Outstanding University Teacher, which is the highest recognition offered by Illinois State University for outstanding teaching. That year, she was also awarded the highest teaching award designated by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Jodi utilized Packback Answers in both of her courses this semester; Communication Theory and Introduction to Mass Communication. Both of these courses had approximately 150 students per class, and catered to the Freshman/Sophomore communication or general education student. Her goal in using Packback was to finally use a discussion board that cultivated quality discussion rather than just being busy work, and the discussion that resulted on Packback far exceeded her expectations.

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Packback Case Study: Professor Srikripa Chandrasekaran

Srikripa Chandrasekaran is a professor of science at Clemson University. No stranger to the perils of student engagement in and out of the classroom, she decided to utilize Packback Answers this semester in an attempt to keep her students more engaged and actively thinking about the course material taught in class. We had a chance to ask Srikripa a few questions about her experience, which is turning out to be quite positive!

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Packback Case Study: Professor Alice Jackson

Dr. Alice Jackson teaches Art History at University of Alabama at Birmingham, usually at the 101 level. Many of Professor Jackson’s students are not art majors, but she still wants to inspire an appreciation of art and art history in each of her students before they leave her class. She makes the subject accessible to non-art majors, and gives them the context they need to truly care about what they are learning in class. She implemented Packback to give her students a safe space to continue discussing the artworks and concepts they were studying in class, and the depth of discussion that resulted was incredible!

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