Ivy Tech Community College Faculty Use AI to Enrich Online Class Discussion

Indiana’s largest postsecondary institution partners with Packback to boost engagement and research best practices for underrepresented students

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Faculty at Ivy Tech Community College have a new tool to spark curiosity and creativity among their students, thanks to an initiative that will bring artificial intelligence (AI) to bear on transforming classroom discussion. Through a partnership with the inquiry-based discussion platform Packback, the system will enable students across a variety of disciplines to access more engaging, challenging online discussions. 

“The lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever to ensure that the online learning experience is as effective — and fulfilling — as in-person programs,” said Nicole Duttlinger, adjunct faculty member at Ivy Tech, whose research focuses on best practices in online discussion. “Packback’s technology, including its automatic feedback system, is rooted in sound pedagogy and a commitment to fostering students’ intrinsic motivation. Their platform has boosted participation rates in four sections, and enabled me to focus less on discussion logistics and more on course content and mastery.”

The initiative comes at a time when community colleges across the country are working to grow and strengthen online offerings, as they rapidly transition to online courses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To mitigate the impact of the crisis on students, Ivy Tech offered free courses to 10,000 Indiana residents, and has also raised more than $1,000,000 for students through its COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“We are really excited about the research aspect of this partnership — and especially its potential to help close persistent equity gaps,” said Matthew Pittman, Assistant Vice President for Distance Learning & Educational Technology at Ivy Tech. “Our initial pilot has already provided critical insights into engagement in discussion activities, particularly among different demographic groups. That data can help provide direction in our course design as we look to address inequalities as part of our strategic plan. As we continue this work with Packback, we are looking forward to leveraging this sort of data and insight to begin addressing the disparities we see among different populations in our online courses and beyond.”

Ivy Tech’s work with Packback will include a research partnership focused on identifying the most effective pedagogical approaches and interactions to improve engagement for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. This effort builds upon pilot studies which suggest that classes who use Packback are more likely to be engaged in discussion, and are also more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction and higher overall course grades.

Over the next three years, Ivy Tech faculty will contribute to a body of research that will uncover and highlight best practices for improving both engagement and academic outcomes. Results from the first cohort of research indicate a 13.39% increase in the number of students earning A, B, or C grades.

“As one of the most forward-thinking community college systems in the country, Ivy Tech often serves as an exemplar for institutions seeking new strategies to improve student engagement — and, in turn, academic outcomes,” said Packback co-founder Kasey Gandham. “This partnership is about not just improving discussion in the short term, but also conducting research to inform more effective practice in online programs across the country.”

As the community college system for the state of Indiana, Ivy Tech encompasses more than 40 locations across the state, and online, making it the largest community college system in the country. The system serves 90,000 students annually, many of whom have so-called nontraditional characteristics.

About Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech Community College serves communities across Indiana, providing world-class education and driving economic transformation. It is the state’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system. It serves as the state’s engine of workforce development, offering high-value degree programs and training that are aligned with the needs of its communities, along with courses and programs that transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

About Packback
Packback is an inquiry-driven learning platform and pedagogy that teaches students how to ask great open-ended questions at high levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Using A.I., Packback acts as a “Digital TA” to support faculty in facilitating online discussions while offering students instant writing feedback. Packback’s A.I. automates faculty administrative tasks such as grading and moderation, while enabling instructors to scale high quality feedback with consistency.  The platform has been used by over 500,000 students and 3500 faculty across 200 4-year and 2-year institutions.