How is Packback Questions different from other discussion platforms like Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, etc.?

The simple answer to this is that with other online discussion platforms, the instructor posts a required discussion prompt or question to the community, and the students respond to the prompt. Packback exists for students to ask the big questions so that they can start taking charge over their individual learning. And that’s where the magic happens.

Keep reading if you want to know more about how that happens!

Packback was created to facilitate discussions at a high threshold of quality through:

  1. Scaling personalized feedback
  2. Analysis of posts
  3. Managing a very large number of students  

While the functionality of Packback is very simple, the algorithms behind-the-scenes (also referred to as our Artificial Intelligence) do the heavy lifting to make discussions at higher-orders of critical inquiry occur through scaling feedback.

In absence of these algorithms, Packback is no different than a typical discussion forum. However, the importance of these algorithms and the necessity of high quality feedback in education can’t be understated! While the Learning Management System (LMS) forum serves the purpose for in-class logistics (ex: Where do I find the case study? What’s on the exam?), it’s not possible to conduct a high quality academic discussion (or grade for it) due to a lack of quality control, lack of feedback delivery, and lack of a technological capability of assessing quality.

Packback looks to make a big class feel smaller as we bring the Socratic Method to class. Packback’s algorithms make that same experience possible in environments with hundreds of students. These algorithms include:

Dynamically sorting your main question feed (Curiosity Feed) to maximize visibility of questions and ensure good questions don’t get buried through “Clustering”.  

Packback calculates, measures, and balances the velocity of questions coming in, which helps ensure the community does not get overwhelming even though there may be hundreds of students in your community with thousands of posts coming in on a given week. This is done through auto-balancing students into ideal sizes of Clusters that see questions from a specific set of students that are constantly changing. While not all questions may get an answer, we typically see 2 average responses per question as a result of Clustering.

Identifying the highest quality content across the platform and maximizing visibility to it through “Featured Content”.  

If you’ve ever heard the saying “who you surround yourself with helps determine who you will be”, it refers to the well-researched psychological viewpoint of the power of social influence. We’ve observed that the more our users are surrounded by high quality content, the more likely they are to post high quality content. The same way that social media sites like Facebook or Twitter organizes their feeds to maximize user engagement, Packback does the same to optimize for better academic outcomes. Our algorithms recommend top content to your instructors who then will confirm the recommendation by Featuring.

Conducting quality control at scale through system-driven moderation.  

On the flip side of the above, Packback minimizes visibility to low quality content to continuously deliver a positive social/academic influence, and drives feedback to those students to help them improve.  Moderation occurs on content that goes against Packback’s community guidelines. All moderation is confirmed by a human moderator. Our algorithms recommend content to be moderated to a human, who confirms or declines the recommendation from the system.

Assessing quality for Curiosity Scoring, Featuring, and Moderation.  

You may be wondering, “but how does Packback determine what to feature or what to moderate?” Defining “what is high quality?” using an algorithm can be challenging as “quality” can be very subjective. We use Bloom's Taxonomy, a well-known academic framework that attempts to classify orders of critical inquiry, as the basis for assessing quality in response.  

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The majority of education comes in the form of multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank assessments, which is the equivalent to “Remembering” or “Understanding” as lower-levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy as they focus primarily on right or wrong answers. Discourse on Packback is focused on the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, “Applying”, “Analyzing”, or “Evaluating”. We focus on students answering questions that don’t have right or wrong answers. That means that as a student, you’ll need to structure well-thought out arguments, back up your claims with evidence, cite your sources, and balance effort (where we look at things like a strong word count in your response) with conciseness and coherence in your response (where we look at things like information density of your response).

There are many other ways that Packback gives you feedback through your experience on the platform! Here’s a short list of a few of them:

  • Giving you feedback on how to improve your posts in real-time while you write
  • Allowing you to earn a Curiosity Score based on your quality or Spark
  • Plagiarism checking
  • Providing deep analytics to your instructors
  • Curriculum specialists (also known as Experience Managers) that are paired with instructors around how to best use Packback
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