UISG passes bill to urge professors to discontinue Packback usage

UI Student Government passed legislation to ask professors to reconsider their use of discussion platforms beyond ICON that charge a fee to use in an attempt to hold faculty accountable for minimizing students’ educational expenses.


Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Student Government voted unanimously Tuesday to discourage professors from using online discussion board Packback instead of the UI-supported ICON discussion feature.

Packback — a third-party online platform that professors can use to engage with students via discussion boards — has been used often on campus by professors, said UISG Sen. Joseph Verry when he proposed requesting that faculty reconsider this decision.

Verry presented the discussion feature on ICON as what professors should use instead because it’s funded by the student-technology fee, rather than requiring students to pay another out-of-pocket expense. The same features offered on the Packback platform, he said, are offered on ICON.

“All of us (students) pay around $300 a year to ITS to subsidize ICON, among other things,” he said. “If we are already paying that much money, we should use ICON and not force students to pay for something else. It costs $25 per class to use Packback, whereas a student can use the ICON feature with no additional cost.”

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Verry said this expense is not justifiable, especially considering he spoke with professors who said they used the service because they didn’t know of the similar option on ICON.

Without the university and UI Information Technology Services to buy a license for the platform, he said, students and faculty are unable to have conclusive data to determine if the program helps in classrooms.

“The company of Packback is not currently willing to do any research about whether or not using Packback in class actually helps facilitate more conversation or leads to better learning outcomes in classrooms,” Verry said. “We could be doing research in classrooms if [professors] used ICON because we have control over it and can develop [research] through ITS.”

UISG President Noel Mills agreed with Verry and his legislation, saying this vote was crucial to ensure that college remains affordable for every student on campus.

“Anything that we can be doing to ensure that we aren’t duplicating costs for students, we should be doing,” she said. “The fact that professors are charging essentially double for the same services that students are already paying for is redundant. That’s just not fair and it’s not necessary.”

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Mills said if there is no data on whether or not Packback is more effective than ICON, it doesn’t make sense for professors to use an unnecessary service and for UI students to pay more. Because the infrastructure is already on ICON, she said, that’s the platform that should be used before any other.

UISG Academic Affairs Director Regan Smock said she was excited about this resolution and its potential for educating faculty on the advantages of ICON as a platform. She said Verry worked on this resolution for a month and emphasized the importance of UISG passing it.

“I’m really proud of Senator Verry and this resolution because [they’re] really holding professors and faculty members accountable,” she said. “Hopefully this resolution will help educate them on the disadvantages [of Packback] when there is ICON that is readily available.”

After approval Tuesday, the legislation will go to the UI President’s Office and other administrative offices on campus.

Verry said this legislation was important in ensuring that students’ money is used effectively at the UI.

“[We] need to be proactive and show that we already have this resource for students,” he said. “Packback service looks prettier and it’s more developed, but when you look at the bare bones of what they’re trying to do, the ICON feature does the exact same thing.”