CRITICAL THINKING, TIME MANAGEMENT, STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
How one instructor is creating an inclusive classroom by engaging 150+ students in a single lecture through Packback discussions.
Dr. Mark Reisinger, Associate Professor
World Regional Geography
Every Monday morning, Dr. Mark Reisinger enters his office at Binghamton University and prepares for his week. He answers student emails, uploads grades and preps for his next geography class. However, as a Collegiate Professor, getting ready for his weekly geography classes is only half of his responsibilities. As a Collegiate Professor, Dr. Reisinger spends half of his time building relationships and teaching students that learning doesn’t just happen in the lecture hall.
Dr. Reisinger became a Collegiate Professor in 2010 and has mentored hundreds of students. Because of his close relationship with students, Dr. Reisinger can apply student feedback to experiment with different classroom techniques in hopes of creating an inclusive classroom.
“I am not the faculty member who stands up in front of the class and lectures,” says Dr. Reisinger. “I am the professor who is constantly moving around the classroom, lecturing and questioning students to keep them engaged.”
Since Packback encourages sources and descriptions on posts, Dr. Reisinger says his students are asking big questions and not just accepting what the textbook says.
Packback’s artificial intelligence helps to save Dr. Reisinger time by moderating posts and providing in-line feedback to students as they write.
Students engage more in class because Dr. Reisinger is using Packback posts to start discussions that students have already researched and debated.
Creating an Inclusive Classroom
Dr. Reisinger’s class has always been a special place for students to learn. However, as his classes grew from 40 to 175 students, he struggled to keep all of the students engaged. “It’s really difficult to keep all the students engaged in what’s going on in the classroom once you get up to 175 students,” says Dr. Reisinger. “They’re shy and they don’t want people to know who they are by asking and answering questions.”
Dr. Reisinger used his insights from students to experiment with new teaching techniques in his lectures. He tried calling on students in the class, putting students into small groups for semester long-projects and incorporating in-class activities. Dr. Reisinger even had students add him to GroupMe messages as a way to monitor small-group conversations. After waking up to more than 300 new group messages one morning, Dr. Reisinger realized his current classroom structure wasn’t scalable or sustainable. As students changed, so did Dr. Reisinger’s methods, but nothing was helping him achieve the type of engagement he desired.
Engaging Students with Online Discussion
Dr. Reisinger wanted to try online discussions but kept hearing from dissatisfied colleagues how LMS discussion boards were clunky and challenging to monitor. So, he started looking for a different solution that students would enjoy. In 2016, Dr. Reisinger discovered Packback. He figured this social discussion platform would be natural for students to navigate and save him time by using Artificial Intelligence to moderate posts. Dr. Reisinger also thought students would enjoy the gamification of Packback with Curiosity Points and the Learner Leaderboard because it would give students ownership of their work. He also hoped that as a result of students’ engagement on Packback, they would engage more in the classroom.
After two years with Packback, Dr. Reisinger finally created the large classroom environment he desired. Each week, he shares a news article related to a class topic and asks a question on Packback to get his students thinking and developing their own opinions. In addition to answering his question, students also post one question and respond to two peer questions each week. Dr. Reisinger then brings his favorite posts into the classroom to continue the Packback discussions in-person. By bringing student posts into the class, he can facilitate meaningful discussions in his large lectures because students have already researched and debated the topics.
“I have no requirement about how many words students are expected to write and honestly I’ve been amazed at how much effort they put into answering questions,” says Dr. Reisinger. “They actually do outside research or they bring in things from other classes that are related to this topic. Most of my students probably write at least a paragraph, probably two paragraphs in many cases.”
An Improvement in Critical Thinking and Communication
Dr. Reisinger has found that Packback has also helped to increase skills such as critical thinking and communication. While these skills are useful for his class, he also thinks these skills are a necessity for students’ futures.
“Packback has been an amazing addition to my courses in lots of ways,” says Dr. Reisinger. “My goal is really to get my students to think critically, to ask the big questions, not to just accept what the textbook says [or] what I say. They need to take all the evidence and make their own perspectives. Employers are looking for people who can think critically, analytically, ask questions, raise concerns, raise issues. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
After spending years talking to students and trying new things in the classroom, Dr. Reisinger found a way to keep large classes engaged. By starting each class with a student’s question from Packback, Dr. Reisinger has increased student participation and help students build lifelong skills such as communication and critical thinking. Because of these skills, students will be prepared for success as they continue their education and begin their careers.