University of North Texas Taps AI to Facilitate Better Class Discussion Online

DENTON, Texas, June 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The University of North Texas (UNT) today announced a new element of its digital innovation strategy for teaching and learning: an initiative that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help spark curiosity and creativity in online class discussion. Powered by the inquiry-based discussion platform Packback, the new effort will enable faculty and students across a variety of disciplines to design and participate in more engaging, challenging online discussions that improve critical thinking and the measurability of learning outcomes.

"UNT's commitment to innovative approaches in teaching and learning has never been more important than it is now, when students and faculty alike are adapting to the shifts and challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis," said Adam Fein, Vice President for Digital Strategy and Innovation at UNT. "Packback's platform enables us to ensure the highest quality discussions, which in turn enables students to successfully master the course material. The academic success of our students is our utmost priority."

A growing body of research suggests that improving college students' behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement has a significant positive impact on academic performance. Initial findings from a study conducted at UNT indicate that Packback's platform has a significant impact on improving the quality and rigor of student discussion, which may boost engagement: students who participated in discussions on Packback were more likely to cite sources compared with those using traditional discussion tools. In addition, Packback's AI platform also helps instructors to more effectively provide feedback at scale, freeing up time to support the students who need it most.

"The team at UNT is unique in the thoughtfulness and speed of which they approach new innovations. They always have scalability of outcomes in mind," said Packback co-founder Kasey Gandham. "At a time when the COVID-19 crisis is reshaping the higher education landscape, their work should set an example for other institutions looking to navigate the shift to online learning while maintaining their focus on student success."

The partnership with Packback is part of a broader initiative to further UNT's leadership in the area of online learning quality. Packback's platform uses AI and machine learning to provide inquiry-based online discussion to over 2,000 instructors and over 450,000 students, who have posted 12 million questions and responses to date.

UNT is one of the nation's largest public research universities with 39,000 students. Ranked a Tier One research university by the Carnegie Classification, UNT is a catalyst for creativity, fueling progress, innovation and entrepreneurship for the North Texas region and the state. UNT students earned 9,600 degrees last year from its 14 colleges and schools and the university offers 106 bachelor's, 88 master's and 37 doctoral degree programs, many nationally and internationally recognized. UNT's world-class faculty are making breakthroughs every day, and its students and alumni are changing the world around them.

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