Instructor Engagement Guide: Tips to Engage Students on Packback

Packback’s suite of educator engagement tools enables professors to empower and motivate students in new and engaging ways. However, in order to get the most out of Packback’s technology and AI, educators must know how to properly use it. To truly exemplify how impactful Packback can be, we spoke with four educators and asked them to showcase the unique and exciting ways they are using our tools to maximize impact and transform learning. 

Meet Keith, John, Phil, and Brynn – four standout educators pioneering new techniques with Packback tools like Match & Message and Homework Polls. By using these tools in unconventional ways, they are deepening connections with their students, sparking engagement and curiosity, and taking student motivation to the next level.

The following case studies  exemplify the power of fusing human creativity with education technology. So read on and prepare to have your teaching toolkit expanded. You’ll discover inventive new applications to bring Packback’s tools to life in your classroom.

Make Large Classes Feel Personal: Keith Hollowell’s Journey to 1-on-1 Connections with Match & Message

Before we get into Keith’s unique use of Match & Message, we thought it might be helpful to provide a little context and background to the tool for those of you who are unfamiliar with it.

Packback’s Match & Message tool is your copilot to efficiently provide personalized, scalable feedback to students. Educators can use preset filters to identify key student segments, like those who missed the most recent deadline, those who engaged but didn’t meet the discussion quality requirements, and those students who are excelling and on the leaderboard. From there, the instructor can craft a customized email, nudging or congratulating multiple students at once, while making the email feel and seem personalized to each student. 

Even with large classes, Match & Message makes it possible to reach every student with feedback that feels 1-on-1. With Match & Message, your Packback dashboard becomes a launch pad for motivating connections and fostering engagement!

But the real magic of Match & Message happens when forward-thinking professors like Keith Hollowell harness the power of data and automation to discover new ways to inspire students with this tool.

Keith’s relationship with Match & Message first started as a way to call out students if they missed a deadline, but after discovering its true power he reframed his mindset. The tool became not a way to scold or police students, but as an opportunity to provide resources and empathy to the students who likely needed it most.

Keith routinely checks up on students who show signs of struggle. He identifies students who have missed deadlines or have a dip in performance, and sends a mass, but personalized email to ask if they need any support. 

Need guidance on how to send a ‘personalized-at-scale’ email? Check out this video tutorial.

Here is an example of the type of message Keith will send his students regularly.

Hi, Olivia!

I noticed that you haven't participated for the last two weeks. Is there anything I can do to help you better understand the material?

Let me know!
 - Keith

The result? Students feel that Keith cares for them as people. Students have come back and thanked him for the reminders and encouragement. Keith goes on to say.

“[Students] know that I’m invested in them as people, and the only thing that really I’ve started doing is just messaging them each week or every couple of weeks and just seeing where they are. So it is a tool [Match & Message] that I rely heavily on.”

Now that you’ve learned from Keith on how to best utilize Match & Message, let’s check out a concept that I’m sure you’re familiar with – polls.

Polls That Guide Discovery: How John Kaczorowski Maps the Path to Key Concepts

Polls are often used as a quick test to gauge student comprehension and knowledge, but what if polls could do more than just function as a pop quiz? 

That’s where Packback’s “Homework Polls” comes in!

Homework Polls shine when they are used to allow students to justify their chosen multiple choice answer with a written response, while receiving real time feedback from our AI. And as you may have guessed by the name, Homework Polls do indeed fall under the “homework” category and will be counted as a “response” in the Packback Questions student participation report.

It is a simple tool that can be used in creative ways to boost engagement and guide students’ discoveries. John Kaczorowski, Packback Experience Manager and Adjunct Professor at Daemen University, explained the innovative ways he utilizes the tool.

At the start of each module, he launches a strategically crafted Homework Poll along with the students’ readings or preparatory materials for the week. The Homework Poll asks “Which part of the readings or preparatory materials did you most connect with this week?” with the multiple choice answers being the five main ideas or big takeaways.

Example of how to use homework polls

John discovered two fascinating usage patterns. Some students look at the Poll before they read, focusing their readings on John’s designated key ideas. Others visit the Poll after reading and confirm they have identified the big takeaways. 

But that’s not all – John tailors his face to face interactions to better engage his students through the help of Homework Polls.

“I could take into my lectures the knowledge that 70% of my students answered a specific concept as the thing they most connected with. It would let me focus a little bit more time in my lecture and activity sessions on that content because they told me that’s their connection point.”

John Kaczorowski

By bringing Homework Poll answers back into his lecture, John is creating an environment that allows for purposeful and engaging discussion, and is giving his students more agency in their learning journey.

The innovative Poll-loving professors don’t stop there. Phil Mixter uncovered some more fresh techniques to evolve polls beyond surface comprehension to lead to higher-order cognition.

Getting Into the Student Mind: How Phil Mixter Uses Polls to Uncover Hidden Thought Processes

While Homework Polls are often used for a quick temperature check or pop quiz, Phil Mixter, Associate Professor at Washington State University, has found a better way to use its capabilities. Rather than quick fact checks, Phil crafts multi-answer questions where all options could be correct with the right reasoning. This paradigm shift puts the onus on the students to reach higher levels of thinking – thinking through their own thought process, not just the “correct” answer.

For example, during the height of the pandemic Phil proposed a question about the real-time data that was being collected and published. Every answer of the poll was a different interpretation of the data and students were tasked with using logic and reasoning to determine what the data sets meant.

Phil believes he has been successful in driving further engagement in his class through his inventive use of Homework Polls, specifically in sparking students’ interests beyond the assignment, which has led to some lively classroom discussions. Homework polls have allowed Phil to take a step back and evaluate the course content alongside his students, creating a more fulfilling classroom experience for both.

“What Packback has really helped me do that I found surprising was get into the mind of students.”

Phil Mixter

Pulse Check: How Brynn Uses HW Polls To Understand Her Students

In a world where much of learning is taking place online and asynchronously, it can be difficult for instructors to gauge where students are at with the material. In class, an instructor can read the room and guide course discussion, but online they have no idea what a student is thinking or how they are approaching the course material from a philosophical standpoint.

Enter Dr. Brynn Welch, philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Brynn has developed a way to use HW polls to check the pulse of her students and better gauge their understanding and approach to the course material.

Each week in her philosophy class, Brynn posts two polls as soon as that week’s lecture goes live. Her students need to watch the lecture to understand the content of the polls. In each poll, Brynn includes a description of how students should be approaching the puzzle; she’s able to raise the question and explain the challenges with choosing each of the poll options (traditionally A, B, or C). She uses polls to purposely give students a fairly limited number of options, putting the onus on them to think critically about each option and provide support for their answers. Brynn’s unique usage of HW polls helps her understand where her students are truly at with the course material and aids her decision on how to tailor the following week’s lecture.

Here is what Brynn had to say about how she follows up with students after her HW poll goes live.

“In in-person classes, I often engage with their poll answers directly in class on Friday. In online classes, I skim the overall results (e.g., 54% selected A) to get a sense of where the class is. This is tremendously useful in crafting future Packback questions or even polls, as I can say “Earlier, many of you thought _____.” I also often respond to their poll responses and raise questions about something they’ve said or ask a follow-up question.”

Brynn goes even further saying that the insight provided by her use of HW polls is nothing short of “magical”. HW polls allows her to solve the problems “cornering” students and gives her valuable insight into how students are approaching these problems. 

As we round out this case study, we’ll leave you with one more quote from Brynn.

“Packback Homework Polls are without a doubt, my favorite feature on the platform”.

We hope you can now see how using the tools that Packback provides to their fullest capabilities can help take the learning and teaching experience to the next level. The examples of Keith, John, Phil, and Brynn prove that, ultimately, it is educators who breathe life into education tools. We hope this small sample of success stories sparked some new ideas for you to empower student voices. 

Want further guidance? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your Experience Manager. We’re happy to help! Thank you for your commitment to pushing the frontiers of education with us.

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