Hello everybody, my name is Treston Smith and this is my Packback story.
I started teaching as an adjunct instructor at Sam Houston State University in the Fall of 2021. When I first started, I was given two online sections of a junior level History of Psychology course and an in-person Introduction to Psychology course. When I began organizing and structuring my courses, I knew that I did not want to teach a class that was only focused on exams. I hated exam focused classes as a student and knew that the research showed that it was not as effective as allowing students to use alternative avenues to demonstrate their understanding of course material.
During my first semester, many classes were still virtual or hybrid due to the ongoing Pandemic, so I attempted to do journal entries to allow the students to show me their thoughts on the material in lieu of physically being able to discuss the material in class. At the time I knew that I did not want to use discussion boards because they generally would devolve into “Yes I agree” “No I don’t agree” with no real substance of thought from the student’s responses. The issue that I ran into during that first semester of doing journals was the sheer volume of students I was teaching. Each of my online sections consisted of 45 students. So, this meant that I was grading and responding to 90 journals a week! Even with templated letter responses, the time commitment this took was unsustainable. My senior colleagues looked at me with pity because they knew that I was working way harder than I needed to be.
Packback Enters the Chat
Sometime around October of 2021 I was emailed by one of the strategy consultants for Packback, Noah Kraulidis, about possibly trying out Packback in my classes. Now at the time, I had little to no intention of trying out Packback, but I figured that I could at least hear him out and learn about another piece of technology that I could implement in a later class. On the call, Noah explained that the purpose of Packback was to provide a platform for students to ask deeper questions and compose more meaningful responses. Noah also told me that given the automated nature of Packback, I would not have to spend nearly as much time on grading student interactions. These points alone piqued my interest in the service, but I still had my reservations. I did not want to burden my students with more cost than I was already asking of them, and to this point, I was told that Packback actually worked with students who needed financial aid on a case-by-case basis. On top of that, Packback implements a 6-week trial period where the students can use the service without paying in order to ease some of the cost on them.
With this information in my back pocket, I was pretty much sold on the idea of at least trying out the service for a semester. While discussing options of using the service I also mentioned that I was interested to see if I could use class discussion polls as a way to take attendance in my face-to-face courses. To this point, I was told that Packback was trying a relatively new system of discussion polls and I could be a part of the testing program if I wished. I jumped on this opportunity to make life easier and more streamlined for my students and for myself. It was here that I officially started using Packback and began working with my Experience Manager, Evan Murphy, to begin building out my class.
Off to a Hot Start!
All-in-all, the first semester went by with ease. Apart from learning the system along with my students, I was able to shift my focus away from having to grade for hours on end to now only having to grade for about 20 minutes a week which gave me more time to interact with students and truly gauge their understanding of the course material.
More Classes, More Packback
Fast-forward to Summer 2021. I was given two new classes for Abnormal Psychology and Learning. I knew I wanted to use Packback for both courses but did not know how I wanted to go about doing it. The Packback Experience Manager sat down with me and worked out how to best handle this material. For both classes, I was still learning the best ways to use Packback. With such a short window of opportunity, given the shorter nature of summer classes, I did not get to use Packback to the fullest during these semesters. However, what I did learn from these semesters helped shape how I would use Packback in the future. For example, for my Learning course, I discovered that the best option was to mirror how I was already using Packback in my History of Psychology course.
On the other hand, for Abnormal Psychology, I learned that it was much more necessary to use the homework polls tool to review and quiz the students’ understanding by providing them with a case study and asking them to diagnose the example cited in the study using material we discussed in class. In addition to enjoying the case studies, the students also seemed to enjoy the questions I posed to them each week and even got upset if I went a week without posting at least one homework poll. Imagine that, students getting upset about NOT having homework! What a world!
Time to Dive Deep
As Fall approached there were a lot of hurdles and changes that occurred which affected my use of the service. First off, our experience manager changed from Evan Murphy to Grace Mabulay which was not an issue but it’s always tough to say goodbye to somebody you worked with. However, I was extremely thankful for Grace as she was very patient with me as I contacted her very frequently with questions and concerns that my students were having. That same semester in one of my meetings with Grace I was told that Packback was rolling out a new product called Deep Dives as a way to grade long form content from my students and help alleviate some of the time spent grading their submissions. As stated before, in my classes I want my students to have multiple avenues to show me their mastery of the material. In all of my classes I incorporate some big paper projects to allow the students a different avenue to showcase their understanding and mastery of the material. While my papers are relatively easy to grade, I decided to test out the new platform to see how it worked with my current practice.
When Spring 2023 arrived, I tried Deep Dives for the first time and found that it shortened the amount of time it took to grade my students’ papers by about 60-70%. When I was grading everything manually, I found I was spending the majority of my time grading issues like grammar, mechanics and spelling, not really focusing on the content of the assignment. However, Deep Dives was able to take care of most of that on its own, allowing me to spend more time focusing on the content of my students’ paper instead of being bogged down with red pen corrections.
Where I Stand Today
Overall, Packback has improved my teaching and allowed me to give students different opportunities to showcase their knowledge and understanding of the course. I also want to take a moment and say that Grace and the entire Packback team have been so helpful in clearing up any of my questions or the questions of my students. As amazing as Packback is, the thing that has kept me using this system more than even the ease of use has been the people managing it. I have never had a bad experience working with any of the Packback staff and each of them is willing to help to make sure that my students and I succeed. I also love that I have gotten to preview new tools as they are being rolled out and cannot wait to see how the service progresses.