Case Study: Creating an Inclusive Classroom with Packback

Case Study explaining how student-focused professor Dr. Mark Reisinger engages and connects with 150+ students in a single lecture using Packback discussion for the past several years.

Every Monday morning, Dr. Mark Reisinger enters his office at Binghamton University and prepares for his week. He answers student emails, uploads grades and prepares for his next geography class. But when the prep work is done, he leaves his office and chats with students. As a Collegiate Professor, Dr. Reisinger spends half of his time outside of the classroom building relationships, advising 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. His close relationship with students has allowed him to apply student feedback and experiment with different classroom techniques throughout his tenure.

“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.”

His 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 class, putting students into small groups for semester long-projects and incorporating in-class activities. He even had students add him to GroupMe messages so he could monitor small group conversations. One morning he woke up with more than 300 new messages and realized this just wasn’t sustainable. As students changed, so did Dr. Reisinger’s methods, but nothing was helping him achieve the type of engagement he desired.

Dr. Reisinger wanted to try online discussions but kept hearing from dissatisfied colleagues how LMS discussion boards were clunky and difficult to monitor. With that in mind, he started looking for a different solution that students would enjoy. In 2016, Dr. Reisinger discovered Packback, which was easy for students to navigate and saved him time by using Artificial Intelligence to moderated posts. He thought students would feel comfortable using the social media-like platform and would enjoy the gamification of Packback with Curiosity Points and the Learner Leaderboard. Dr. Reisinger felt this gamification would give students ownership of their work and hoped it would spill over into the classroom to create a more lively environment.

Now in his second year using Packback, Dr. Reisinger has 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. His questions are meant to encourage students to develop their own opinions and think critically about their peers’ posts. 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 student posts into the classroom to continue the Packback discussions in-person. By bringing student posts into the classroom, he is able to facilitate meaningful discussions in his large lectures because students have already had the opportunity to research and debate the topics.

Dr. Reisinger says his students have put forth enormous amounts of effort into their work, often exceeding his expectations.“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. I am not requiring them to do that. They’re doing that on their own.”

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’ future.

“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.”

Dr. Reisinger has found a way to keep large classes engaged after spending years talking to students and trying new things in the classroom. By starting each class with a student’s question from Packback, Dr. Reisinger has been able to increase student participation and help students build lifelong skills such as communication and critical thinking. These skills will prepare students for success as they continue their education and begin their careers.

Want to see a live Packback community and learn how you can increase student engagement and critical thinking in your course?