Case Study: Improving Critical Thinking and Application Skills

Dr. Corey Fox faculty spotlight photo


How one instructor uses an AI-supported discussion board to begin improving critical thinking and application skills in his students. 

Dr. Corey Fox, Assistant Professor


Texas State University




Strategic Mangement & Business


30-100 Students

Dr. Corey Fox wants the students that complete his business strategy capstone course at Texas State University to have strong communication, critical thinking and application skills. “We want [students] to be able to do things, like communicate both written and orally, develop analytical and critical thinking skills [and] be able to integrate some of the knowledge that they’ve acquired from various courses into one coherent knowledge about business,” explains Dr. Fox. “Then it’s to be able to apply some of the materials, some of the tools that they’re provided in the course to practical situations and activities.”


Handshake Illustration.

Since Packback encourages students to dialogue back and forth with each other, Dr. Fox found his students to have stronger communication skills after using Packback for a term.


Raised hands illustration.

Packback rewards detailed posts. Therefore, students have to really understand and think critically about the class material in order to write quality posts that would receive a high Curiosity Score.


A graphic depicting an apple, representing professors' ability to give feedback to students through Packback.

Dr. Fox noticed students were doing outside research to find articles about class topics. His students were then applying what they learned in these articles to what other students were posting on Packback.

A Lack of Visibility into Online Discussion

One of the ways Dr. Fox works on improving critical thinking and application skills in his students is through academic discussions. At first, Dr. Fox relied on his universities’ LMS discussion forum but was unhappy with results. Students’ posts weren’t meeting criteria and he found it difficult to give valuable feedback in a scalable way.  “[The LMS discussion forums are] just very sterile, very uninviting. They’re very unengaging,” explains Dr. Fox. “It’s difficult for the students to navigate. It’s difficult for me to navigate. And it’s difficult to offer the specialized feedback that you need in order to encourage better posts. When I gave feedback on the LMS, I gave a comment on the forum. The problem is, for every student to see [feedback] they have to go in and specifically click on the post. On the LMS, I have to physically say, ‘hey go in and read this one post’. It sounds kind of silly but if they have to physically go into the system, go into the forums tab, search for the right forum, go into the right forum and search for that particular post and then click on that post; it’s just something that not a lot of students are quite frankly going to do.”  

Sparking Engagement with Scalable Feedback

When Dr. Fox discovered Packback, an AI-powered discussion board, he saw how the platforms’ Custom Feedback and Sparking features could help him provide scalable, personalized feedback without taking up a ton of time. “The features that I really like about Packback that I don’t get in the LMS is I get to do the Sparking of the posts and the students also get to do that. It gives the students feedback without me having to go in and type up something for them.  It’s like, ‘hey I thought this was interesting’ and then I click the Spark button and it’s done. So they get some immediate feedback.”

In addition to the ability to provide quick feedback to help drive students to critically think, Dr. Fox also found that Packback’s social media-like platform helps student engagement. “Packback is really easy to use and the interface is kind of familiar for them because it is kind of like a social media tool. I feel like Packback invites engagement, invites students to login [and] post their question, but also kind of scroll through just like they would a timeline in one of their social media apps.”

Improving Critical Thinking and Application

Since the switch from an LMS discussion forum to Packback, Dr. Fox has not only seen improvement in his students’ online conversations but has found the platform to help his students achieve learning objectives. “I think that they’re more engaged with Packback. It rewards posts that are a little more detailed, so I think it does help with the writing because they’re writing more and sometimes they’re writing more often. I definitely think it works with communication because they’re dialoguing back and forth. Even in an online setting, I think it’s important, especially with the increase in the use of virtual teams in the workplace. I also think that it does help with critical thinking. They read something in the book and they want to, for the most part, go out and find an article and site that with their question. I really think it does help with those three items; it’s communication, it’s interaction and it’s critical thinking. I think that it does help me achieve those learning objectives.”