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Maricopa Community College Faculty Are Using AI to Enrich Class Discussion
[May 21, 2020]

Maricopa Community College Faculty Are Using AI to Enrich Class Discussion

PHOENIX, May 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Faculty at colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), one of the largest community college districts in the United States, now have access to a new tool to spark curiosity and creativity in online courses, thanks to an initiative that will bring artificial intelligence (AI) to bear on transforming classroom discussion. The district today announced a partnership with the inquiry-based discussion platform Packback that will enable students across a variety of disciplines to access more engaging, challenging online discussions.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic reshapes the landscape of higher education, we know it's more important than ever for online courses to provide teachers and learners rich discussion for high student engagement," said Dr. Karla Fisher, MCCCD Provost. "Our initial work with Packback yielded impressive results, so we're looking forward to expanding the collaboration to involve more faculty and students in more courses over time. Packback offers us unique technology grounded in our shared understanding of the needs of students and educators in our virtual classrooms."

Known for its early adoption of online learning and the diverse student population it serves, the Maricopa County Community College District serves more than 200,000 students through ten accredited colleges across the Phoenix metro area, which includes Rio Salado College one of the nation's largest online public community colleges. More than half of its students are first-generation, 72 percent study part-time, and nearly 44 percent of students in the district are Hispanic. In 2017, more than 7,000 MCCCD students transferred to a four-year public university. 

A growing body of research suggests that well-implemented online course communities have positive impacts on students' overall performance in the class. Through a proprietary algorithm that generates "curiosity scores" modeled after the academic framework Bloom's Taxonomy, Packback teaches students how to formulate high-quality and open-ended questions and well-formed responses to improve their critical thinking skills. 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 higher overall course grades.

"My experience thus far with Packback has been really wonderful. I'm finding that I am able to really help students become inquisitive learners; they're actually thinking about the things they are reading, and they're engaging with their classmates in meaningful ways," said Professor Donna Thompson, a faculty member in Maricopa Chandler-Gilbert Community College's humanities department.

"Now more than ever, instructors need research-backed strategies to help students not just manage the transition to distance learning, but also stay engaged in their courses," said Packback co-founder Kasey Gandham. "With this effort, Maricopa is building on its well-deserved reputation as a leader in innovative practices for student success."

Founded by college students in 2012, Packback has provided inquiry-based online discussion to over 2,000 instructors and over 450,000 students who have posted 12 million student-posted questions and responses to date. Supported by entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban, Packback uses AI and machine learning to provide real-time feedback and guidance to help increase students' engagement in online class discussions.

ABOUT PACKBACK: Packback is an AI-supported online discussion platform that enables curiosity-based student discussion. Based in Chicago and founded in 2012 by undergraduate college students, Packback is a company on a mission to awaken and fuel the lifelong curiosity in every student. At Packback, we believe every student has the potential to change the world when they become a lifelong learner.

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