We’re Going All In: Introducing Our New AI-Powered Writing Assistant – Delivering Instant Feedback to ALL Students – Writing Lab

Writing Lab is a powerful direct-to-student AI writing feedback platform designed to help students develop writing skills and confidence outside of the classroom. 

Before we reveal the recipe to our secret sauce (the “what” of Writing Lab) let’s rewind six years and explain “the why behind” Writing Lab.

What Happened Six Years Ago?

That’s a great question. Six years ago, Packback was a small online textbook rental company trying to solve the problem of rising textbook costs, but then we discovered an even bigger problem, Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem.

What is Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem you ask? Well, there’s this study from Benjamin Bloom (famous for Bloom’s taxonomy) that is commonly referred to as the “2-sigma problem”. Essentially, students who received constant, consistent tutoring and feedback performed 2-standard deviations higher than students who didn’t receive the tutoring and feedback. The 2-sigma problem has been repeated, and frankly educators have been trying to figure out how to implement the learnings from the research into their curriculum for decades. Lack of teacher time and a rising student to teacher ratio have held institutions and educators back from repeating these results in their classrooms.

So What Was Packback’s Solution to Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem?

Packback’s solution to Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem was to provide instant feedback on online student discussions through the use of basic AI feedback loops that directly addressed the 2-sigma problem. We called this product Packback Questions.

When Questions was launched in 2016, AI was not the commonplace term it is today. We had no idea how professors or students were going to react to this new technology. We just knew that if we could leverage it properly to give students structured feedback in their online discussions by teaching them to write clearly, think critically, and apply real-life application to course material, we’d be well on our way to solving Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem.

Then something amazing happened. Students and teachers alike gushed over the impact that Packback Questions was having on their learning and teaching experiences. Students were performing BETTER. Much better actually. An IRB approved study spanning 10 institutions and thousands of students found that students using Packback achieved roughly 33% more A’s and 45% fewer D’s and F’s and 84% of instructors agreed that Packback has a positive impact on their course and student discussion.

Professors loved it so much that they started to ask if there was a way students could use our instant AI-feedback to help them write their papers. 

Saying things like, “I’d love a place where students could submit drafts or compose part of their writing projects and receive real-time feedback on their writing mechanics and grammar”.

So What Did Packback Do?

Due to the overwhelming response from both students and instructors to create a platform for students to receive AI feedback and assistance for their writing assignments, our mad scientists went into the lab and launched Deep Dives in fall 2022.

Deep Dives built upon the AI-powered feedback and moderation loops that had been built in Questions, but implemented newer AI-models and workflows more supportive for highly structured writing assessments. Deep Dives essentially brings the Writing Center to students’ fingertips, giving them the opportunity to learn from and correct their mistakes in real time, resulting in a more polished final product. Our robust grammar and mechanics feedback allowed professors to spend up to 30% less time grading and gave them the ability to put down the red pen and focus on the actual content and themes of the assignment. 

Leading professors to gush and say things like “Truly – I can’t begin to say how much time I’ve saved on grading. It’s not because I’m not engaged – I still get to engage with students, but the grading and feedback mechanisms make it easy for me to engage in ways that matter rather than doing hours of mindless checking grammar.”

Students loved the instant feedback they received and saw dramatic improvements in their writing. One student from the University of Illinois said, “I just love the feedback. I am a very hesitant writer and I always seek someone to constantly look over my work. With Deep Dive’s AI I do not have that fear anymore and have become a much more confident writer”.

It was then we realized that we had something special on our hands and had to figure out a way to decouple that feedback from our core platform and offer it to all students, not just those enrolled in a course utilizing the Packback platform. So, in the fall of 2022 the idea of Writing Lab was born.

What Happened Next?

Well, just as we started to work on Writing Lab, something amazing happened. A little known company named OpenAI created this program called ChatGPT, you may have heard of it ;). And to quote the great 2015 musical Hamilton, “the world turned upside down”.

All of a sudden AI was at the forefront of everything, from the news, to entertainment, to software, and most importantly, to education. This massive shift in the academic landscape further emphasized the importance and need for a tool like Writing Lab.

Okay Enough Already, What is Writing Lab?

In its simplest form, Writing Lab is a personalized AI writing assistant available to students across the country, giving them the opportunity to learn how to write and develop their own unique voice. Writing Lab incorporates structured GPT-powered feedback while maintaining its foundations in student-centered pedagogy, student privacy, and academic honesty.

Writing Lab takes the current feedback capabilities available on Deep Dives a step further by integrating GPT models to offer more in-depth feedback on students’ content, including detecting logical fallacies in the student’s work, finding any unsupported factual claims, suggesting possible counterpoints to claims, checking for correct academic tone, detecting and suggesting improvements to the structure of essays, and even giving students the ability to chat with a personalized AI chatbot to help them brainstorm and outline. 

Truly speaking, GPT and LLMs are powerful models that can do a lot of great things, like tutoring, and that’s what Writing Lab is, a tutor.

Writing Lab is not a re-writer or generative AI platform, it is a tool to help tutor students by teaching them HOW to write, fact check, vet source quality, support their thesis and claims, structure their assignment, learn proper grammar etiquette and so much more.

So, Why is Writing Lab Important

This is where we come full circle, remember in 2016 when we set out to solve Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem? Well, Writing Lab gets us closer to solving that problem by providing better, more complex, and individualized structured one-on-one feedback to ALL students, not just those in Packback classes, giving students across the country the opportunity to learn and develop.

We understand that there has been a lot of pushback to the idea of AI in the classroom, with many citing students will simply use it to cheat or do their work for them. However, we believe that is not the case at all. At the end of the day students want to learn, they want to develop so they can work toward achieving their future goals. They know and understand that AI is going to be a large part of their future and they want to learn how to use it in an honest and efficient way.

Take this quote from a current UCLA student for example.

“I am a bit of a technophobe; computer science majors seem like superheroes to me… it would be brilliant if, instead of having to figure this all out on my own, AI could be integrated into my education. I’m not asking for a full-fledged academic AI revolution, in which we’re expected to use AI in all our work. I just want to be prepared to navigate the AI-fueled future. Teach me how to streamline my research processes through AI. Explain to me what questions to ask AI chatbots to get the most helpful responses. Show me how I can use these resources to improve my administrative efficiency and my data analysis. Help me receive edits and constructive criticism from AI. Prepare me for the real world, where AI is beginning to touch all areas of work.”

And that’s why Writing Lab is so important, it gives students the opportunity to learn and prepare themselves for the real world in a structured and honest way.

Where Can I Find Writing Lab?

Writing Lab will launch in late October and will be free to access for all students currently enrolled in a Packback course. Students not enrolled in a Packback course can access Writing Lab for a small monthly fee. As the semester progresses we will gather feedback from users and make tweaks as necessary to make sure all students are getting the most out of Writing Lab and are able to fulfill their writing potential.

Our hope is that Writing Lab revolutionizes the way students learn to write by providing personalized AI feedback and encouraging academic growth while preserving the authenticity of each student’s unique voice.
To learn more about Writing Lab and see a sneak peak of it in action, please sign up for our webinar “Preserving Student Voice in the Age of AI-Assisted Learning: Unveiling Packback’s Writing Lab”

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Curious to learn more? One of our friendly strategy consultants will be excited to meet you and discuss your course learning objectives. We will provide a free consultation to see if Packback would be a good fit for your class!

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