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02 September 2020

HACC Benefits from National Research Study using Artificial Intelligence

Online discussion platform resulted in improved outcomes for students and faculty

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Innovative faculty at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, took part in a national research study in 2019-20 using Packback, an artificial intelligence (AI)-supported discussion platform.
Their goal was to determine if using Packback saved time for instructors while maximizing the impact for increased student engagement and success. As a result of the year-long study, HACC has signed a three-year contract to provide Packback to all faculty.
“After exploring many artificial intelligence educational technology organizations and related offerings, we determined that Packback built the ‘smartest’ automated moderation discussion community for our faculty and students. Packback has enhanced our teaching and learning community with additional opportunities for robust discussions, and critical thinking and communication activities that promote rigorous academic discourse,” said John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D., MBA, HACC president and CEO.
The HACC Foundation allocated $150,000 to support the project.
“The HACC Foundation was honored to invest in an innovative initiative that will have a direct, immediate and positive impact on our students and their experiences at HACC. When our donors contribute to the HACC Foundation, these are the types of outcomes they expect to see as a result of their charitable contributions. The six-figure investment will reap significant benefits for HACC for many years to come,” said Linnie Carter, Ph.D., APR, HACC vice president of college advancement and executive director of the HACC Foundation.
“We are grateful for the support provided by the HACC Foundation to increase student success with the use of Packback AI technology and coaching,” said Doreen Fisher-Bammer, Ed.D., HACC associate provost of virtual learning.
Fisher-Bammer shared the results of HACC’s participation in the Packback study at a national virtual event, “REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit,” hosted by Arizona State University July 13-14, 2020. Fisher-Bammer said that Packback is focused on students asking questions. “This is part of what motivates them to be engaged with the content and the discussion premise,” Fisher-Bammer shared with the audience.
Karen Woodring, HACC professor of English, presented research results of the year-long study to the HACC Foundation. In addition to Woodring, the following HACC faculty participated in the Packback research study:

  • Lise-Pauline Barnett, associate professor of English
  • Rob Schanke, associate professor of computer information systems
  • Crystal Scheib, instructor of anthropology
  • Vicki Villone, instructor of English
  • Rebecca Voss, instructor of English
New HACC faculty users since the fall 2019 study are:

  • Brad Basehore, assistant professor of biology
  • Tamara Girardi, professor of English
  • Valerie Gray, professor of English
  • Lewis Jones, instructor of anthropology
  • Connie Ogle, assistant professor of foundational studies
  • Jeanne Purtell, associate professor of English
  • Mary Richards, assistant professor of English
  • Chuck Sheaffer, instructor of criminal justice
  • Debbie Stover, instructor of communications
  • Cheryl Wilson, professor of communications

Among HACC’s research findings are the following:
  1. Improved student engagement and better discussion quality
    Madison, a HACC student, said, “In Packback, the students are collectively working together to make the discussion as interesting as possible and asking unique questions that you won’t find the answer to in the book.”
  2. Increased instructor satisfaction with the course discussion
    Lise-Pauline Barnett, HACC associate professor of English, used learning management system (LMS) discussion boards in the past, but found her students to be more engaged and excited when asking and responding to questions on Packback. “I’m seeing a real engagement with my students in how they’re enjoying responding to each other’s questions,” Barnett said.
  3. Improved grade and course completion outcomes
    Vicki Villone, HACC instructor of English, said, “The questions that [students] are asking [on Packback] are really helping their writing. They’re helping their writing process. They’re helping them to think about writing and researching and I believe that they are learning more in the process.”

The Packback Research Study Summary can be accessed here.
About the HACC Foundation
The HACC Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established in 1985 to raise private and corporate revenues in support of HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College. The HACC Foundation provides funding for student scholarships, innovative academic programs, state-of-the art training equipment and modernized facilities. To learn more about the HACC Foundation, please visit hacc To contribute to the HACC Foundation, please visit
About HACC
HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, is the first and largest of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges. HACC offers approximately 100 career and transfer associate degree, certificate and diploma programs to approximately 17,000 students. Also, the College serves students at its Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York campuses; through virtual learning; and via workforce development and continuing education training. For more information on how HACC is uniquely YOURS, visit Also, follow us on Twitter (@HACC_info), follow us on Instagram (@HACC_edu), like us on Facebook ( and use #HACCNews.

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