National University Taps AI Platform to Boost Student Engagement Through Online Discussion

Pioneering California institution partners with Packback to enable faculty to create more enriching, engaging online learning experiences

LA JOLLA, CALIF. (DECEMBER 2, 2020) – National University, a nonprofit institution with a 50-year history of serving veterans, educators, and working adults, today announced an ambitious initiative designed to use artificial intelligence (AI) to create more engaging, effective online discussions. The effort, which is now in a pilot phase, is made possible through a partnership with Packback, an inquiry-driven learning platform that provides students with real-time feedback and guidance to drive deeper engagement with course content.

“Even before the pandemic, staying engaged in online classes often posed a challenge for adult learners balancing the demands of school, work, and family,” said Dr. Gangaram Singh, executive vice president and provost of National University. “As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate those challenges, it’s more important than ever that we double down on new tools and strategies to not only build community for remote learners – but also improve academic outcomes.”

This pilot program will serve 500 students in National University’s Educational and Instructional Technology, MBA in Finance, and IT Management programs.

The integration of Packback’s online discussion tool into its courses is an extension of National University’s work to adopt innovative pedagogy and personalize instruction and support to each learner. The university’s signature “Precision Education” framework – which combines personalized instruction, holistic student support, and competency-based credentialing – is designed to ensure each student has a personalized plan aligned to their professional goals, credentials, and skills.

Packback pioneered the application of AI to support faculty in facilitating online discussions while providing students instant writing feedback. Rooted in the well-known cognitive framework Bloom’s Taxonomy, Packback’s technology enables instructors to focus on providing substantive feedback at scale by automating administrative tasks such as grammar checking and moderation.

A forthcoming study conducted in partnership with 10 higher education institutions around the country found that when compared to traditional learning management system discussion platforms, students who used Packback in class were more likely to cite sources and write longer posts, and also earned higher course grades.

“National University has long been a leader in designing online programs to maximize accessibility and engagement in ways that meet the needs of working adult learners,” said Kasey Gandham, co-founder of Packback. “In the midst of a pandemic that has accelerated the urgency of providing effective online courses, this work is about enabling students and faculty alike to access fulfilling, enriching online discussions.”

About National University

National University, a veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable, achievable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU offers over 75 online and on-site programs and flexible four-week classes designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to over 25,000 students and 180,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. Learn more at NU.edu.