Category Professor Stories

Inspiring Students with Online Discussion

How online discussions helped students understand the importance of class concepts, build connections and improve their writing on exams.

Throughout 12 years of teaching at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, Dr. Kathleen West noticed a growing trend among her students. Students who don’t understand why they need to learn about a topic often express a lack of interest in the course and become disengaged. And it wasn’t just in her classes. As the lead academic advisor in the psychology department, Dr. West heard this concern from colleagues who also struggled to keep their students engaged.

“I think students have always worked this way, but there is a huge trend toward verbalizing it nowadays, that they don’t want to learn it if they don’t understand why they need it” explains Dr. West. “ That’s a big challenge for some of our heavy content disciplines because, you’ll get there eventually, in your higher up classes, but there is X amount of material that [students have] to learn first or that connection piece just isn’t going to make sense. Where I struggle as a professor and I know others do too, is how can we have that [connection] happen at this lower level so that they hang with us and get to that higher level content where it’s really going to make sense to them?”

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Engaging Students with Technology

How one professor at Michigan State University utilized technology in the classroom to increase student engagement, promote critical thinking and improve student exam grades. 

Students walk into Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter’s psychology course at Michigan State University, take their seat and pull out their laptops, tablets and smartphones. His classroom quickly fills with rows of students interacting with their devices. However, what fills their screens is not the social media or text messages that many professors notice distracting their students. Instead, students in Dr. Anderson-Carpenter’s class are opening education applications such as Packback to review their posts in preparation for the day’s class.

Dr. Anderson-Carpenter recognizes that today’s young adults depend on technology to do everything from communicating with their professors to conducting research and accessing their textbooks. His goal is not to discourage students from using their devices, but to use their devices to keep them engaged during lectures. “For me, it’s about being innovative in the classroom, whatever that looks like,” says Dr. Anderson-Carpenter. “I know that students are going to use technology in the classroom, whether it’s Facebooking [or] online shopping while the instructor is giving the lecture, it happens. So, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to get them using technology in a more engaging way so that I could minimize them getting off track?'”

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Using Packback In Large Lectures

The first time I taught a 100-student course, I felt overwhelmed by how different it was from a 20-student class. Suddenly, I had five times as many names to remember. Five times as many papers to grade. Five times as many emails to answer. It was an adjustment, but with time I discovered new tricks for learning names, I set boundaries for myself on answering emails and I moved from a discussion-based class to more lectures and group activities. After experimenting for a few semesters, I finally felt comfortable.

Then I was assigned a 400-student class.

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How Different Discussion Methods Affect Student Engagement

A professor at the University of Georgia performed an experiment comparing the effectiveness of Packback, Blackboard and written reaction papers.

When Dr. Matt Goren was presented with an opportunity to teach Introduction to Personal Finance at the University of Georgia, he wanted to engage his students and equip them to make smart financial decisions during and after college.

According to the Financial Health of Young America report published by Young Invincibles, young adults today are in much worse financial health than 25 years ago, earning significantly lower incomes and having a dramatically lower net worth. Knowing this, Dr. Goren emphasized a personalized learning environment where each student worked on a semester-long finance project. By the end of the semester, every student had an actionable plan to improve and sustain their financial health.

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Achieving Learning Objectives with Packback

Packback Questions is a tool used by professors to facilitate online discussions. With the help of AI, Packback allows professors to scale individual coaching, moderation and grading in any sized classroom.

Watch the video below to see how Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter of Michigan State University, Dr. Matt Goren of the University of Georgia and Dr. Stacey Combes from the University of California, Davis use Packback to promote critical thinking and application in their courses.

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