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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How-To Post a Quality Response on Packback

A question starts a conversation, but a response fuels an engaging discussion where students can learn through interaction and debate. Just like asking great questions, formulating an engaging response takes practice and can be improved by using structure. After understanding the Community Guidelines and how to ask a quality question, check out this breakdown of an 82-point response on Packback to learn the key components of a great response and how to earn a high Curiosity Score.

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Exploring Packback: General Microbiology Students Discuss Vaccines

General Microbiology students at the University of Illinois at Chicago are focused on applying information from lectures and outside research to real-world scenarios. Each week the class uses Packback to share and discuss hot topics in science. One of the most active discussions explored how vaccines are perceived, their effectiveness and why some people distrust vaccines.          

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How-To Ask Quality Questions on Packback

Asking questions is an important skill that can be improved with practice and by understanding what makes a quality question. Start by reading our Community Guidelines, which explains how open-ended questions facilitate thought-provoking discussions. Next, get familiar with our Curiosity Score to understand how Packback scores questions based on presentation, credibility and effort. After a read-through of the basics, check out our breakdown of a 94-point question to learn the key components of a great question and how to earn a high Curiosity Score!

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