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Community College Researching Use of Online Discussion Tool to Engage Underrepresented Students

Through a partnership with online discussion platform Packback, Ivy Tech Community College is exploring the potential of discussion activities to help address equity issues. The goal: "identifying the most effective pedagogical approaches and interactions to improve engagement for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds," according to a news announcement.

Packback uses artificial intelligence to provide students with a real-time assessment of their discussion contributions. It measures factors such as curiosity, credibility, communication and convention to quantify the effectiveness of a discussion post, and allows students to revise and improve their work before final submission.

Initial pilots of the technology have suggested that classes who use Packback are more likely to be engaged in discussion, and are also more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction and higher overall course grades, the company said. For instance, results from the first cohort of research at Ivy Tech found that the use of the technology correlated with a 13.39 percent increase in the number of students earning A, B, or C grades.

"The lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever to ensure that the online learning experience is as effective — and fulfilling — as in-person programs," commented Nicole Duttlinger, adjunct faculty member at Ivy Tech, in a statement. "Packback's technology, including its automatic feedback system, is rooted in sound pedagogy and a commitment to fostering students' intrinsic motivation. Their platform has boosted participation rates in four sections, and enabled me to focus less on discussion logistics and more on course content and mastery."

"We are really excited about the research aspect of this partnership — and especially its potential to help close persistent equity gaps," said Matthew Pittman, assistant vice president for Distance Learning & Educational Technology at Ivy Tech. "Our initial pilot has already provided critical insights into engagement in discussion activities, particularly among different demographic groups. That data can help provide direction in our course design as we look to address inequalities as part of our strategic plan. As we continue this work with Packback, we are looking forward to leveraging this sort of data and insight to begin addressing the disparities we see among different populations in our online courses and beyond."

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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