Onward Debates: Packback vs. Top Hat
Sylly Week has officially come to an end, and it’s time to settle into our respective courses. While every class has its annoyances, not many are worse than Packback or Top Hat. Both are required software to make your professors and TAs’ lives a little easier, sure, but to students, it’s often the opposite. Oh yeah, you have to pay for them, too.
When you complain to your roommates about one or the other, take solace in the fact we all are, but which is worse?
Jack Scott: Team Top Hat
When you first open your new syllabi at the start of the semester, there aren’t many worse feelings than seeing Packback under the required software section. While once relegated to massive sections of ECON 102 and the like, it has recently invaded smaller electives and even some in-major courses.
While the concept of a discussion forum isn’t necessarily bad, the grading AI grinds just about everyone’s gears. We pay a LOT of money to this university to educate us, but when your instructors forgo giving you feedback in favor of letting the AI “grade” your work, it feels like a waste.
I can’t think of any time I’ve actually learned something on Packback. It’s a mindless slog to get enough keywords and fancy vocabulary in your passage to trick the AI into giving you credit. Even though it’s designed to foster discussion, it just turns into a back-and-forth match of AI-approved messages instead of actual thoughts. Try reading a Packback thread sometime, it’s absolutely painful.
Top Hat is only rough when the professor grades every question. That’s lazy on their part, but I wouldn’t blame the software. Packback, though, is terrible every time, even with the best intentions from your instructor. Just give me feedback, guys! That’s what I’m at school for.
Marie Moyer: Team Packback
OK, I already hear all the groans in reaction to this unpopular take. I do want to preface that I haven’t touched the program in 2+ years as I’m in the spring semester of my fourth year.
At first, I didn’t think much of this debate. However, after thinking more about my past experiences with both overused software, I found myself remembering more positives of the AI-graded activity.
Packback is the essay to Top Hat’s multiple choice, and I love it for that. With Top Hat, you are set up to fail, and there’s no partial credit. Did you misread or misunderstand the question due to the small window of time to respond? 0/1. Your wifi didn’t work right at that moment? 0/1. You took notes all class but are then faced with the one thing the professor said out loud you didn’t catch in time? 0/1. Are you sick that day? 0/1 + extra attendance off, probably.
Now let’s look at Packback. Most of the time, the AI is only looking for certain keywords and lengths. Quickly breeze through the glossary for definitions, change your “because” to “for the reason that” and “like” to “along the lines of” and you just BS-ed your way to at least 7/10 points in less than 10 minutes. Not to mention there’s a scoreboard component that has a leaderboard of classmates with the highest Packback score. Why is this important? Multiple professors of mine have awarded the top three or top five students extra credit for the best BS-ing. Not to mention, Packback is open anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to be in class or wait for a code.
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