CRANFORD – Union County College has added the artificial intelligence (AI) technology program Packback to the software tools available for faculty use to spark curiosity and creativity among students. The new technology will lead to improved student engagement and academic outcomes in their online courses. Packback is an inquiry-based discussion platform that will enable students in various academic disciplines to access more challenging online discussions.
The initiative is being launched at a time when community colleges across the nation, Union included, are working to grow and strengthen all online offerings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Union’s summer courses are all online and summer online course fees have been waived. New full-time students this fall will receive a laptop to ensure they have computer access.
“Online learning allows us to expand access during this uncertain period and the ability to engage students in meaningful conversations will improve the overall learning experience,” said Union President Dr. Margaret M. McMenamin. “Packback’s unique platform combines sophisticated technology with a deep understanding of students’ needs. It helps to create opportunities for thoughtful, productive discussion that engages all students.”
A growing body of research suggests that improving college students’ behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement has a significant positive impact on academic performance. Packback uses AI and machine learning to provide inquiry-based online discussion to over 2,000 instructors and over 450,000 students, who have posted 12 million questions and responses to date. Recent pilot studies suggest 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 improved overall course grades.
“Community colleges have always been powerful engines of social and economic mobility, and their role will only become more important in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Packback co-founder Kasey Gandham. “This work is about supporting community college faculty with the tools to make the online learning experience just as engaging — and impactful — as the classroom.”