University uses AI for more meaningful online class discussions

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Truckee Meadows Community College turns to artificial intelligence to improve online classroom discussions, according to its president, are often “a lot of sun, not a lot of synthesis.”

The Nevada institution this week announced a formal licensing agreement with Packback, AI, which criticizes the quality of posts on academic discussions online. The announcement comes as more and more individual instructors have started using the software over the past year.

President Karin Hilgersom told EdScoop that although many students post compliments on others’ contributions in online discussions, such as “Great message! – they often stop before moving the conversation forward. Because students enter TMCC from different backgrounds – some are adult continuing education learners, some are high school students starting their college careers – it can be uncomfortable for students to immediately jump into a college-level academic discussion. , she said.

Packback analyzes questions and answers before users post and assigns a “curiosity score,” offering advice on how to improve posting. This could include adding a source, correcting grammar or spelling, or developing an idea.

“[The AI] removes the shame from constructive criticism, ”Hilgersom said.

The AI ​​algorithm is based on data from members of the research and design team who manually note thousands of posts, according to the software site. TMCC instructors started using Packback last year at the suggestion of a biology teacher. Vice President of Academic Affairs Jeffrey Alexander said institutions typically use the software in humanities or writing classes, but the science discussion posts helped students work together to fully understand the concepts. of the course, like a study group.

Alexander said the college’s licensing agreement allows up to 2,250 students to use the platform, and instructors can choose to use it in their classes.

The Packback website claims that more than 300 institutions use the software. AI in higher education is typically used to automate low-level administrative tasks or analyze large amounts of data to fuel predictive analytics.

A growing number of institutions are exploring how to use AI in the classroom. Google and for-profit online university Walden demonstrated earlier this week how an AI-powered “tutor” can help students test their knowledge of course concepts without instructors writing down questions.


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