At our recent webinar we unveiled Top Hat Pro—the active learning platform that helps engage and motivate students in online, blended and face-to-face courses. We covered a lot of ground—from new virtual classroom streaming and chat functionality, to lecture recordings and remote testing capabilities. As you can imagine, we received many questions from attendees. To cover the bases, we’re pleased to provide a roundup of the answers to what’s top of mind for those looking to adopt Top Hat Pro for the coming semester.

Q: What are the main accessibility features for video streaming and recorded lectures in Top Hat Pro?

A: There are a few ways that Top Hat makes virtual classes accessible. Video streaming will be supported with closed-captioning for hearing-impaired students. Similarly, a written transcript of each lecture will automatically be generated with each lecture recording, and will be accessible by both students and professors. On our longer term roadmap, we plan to make transcripts easily editable by the professor to address issues or inconsistencies in the transcription itself, although this feature will not be available at the beginning of the fall semester.

Since we know that not all students have reliable access to a computer when learning remotely, we have also made it possible for students to dial in to virtual classes over the phone. Students who don’t have access to a smartphone also have the option of texting in answers to Top Hat questions.

Q: How can I use Top Hat to facilitate group work in remote classes? Will I be able to host breakout rooms in Top Hat?

A: Top Hat’s community app, Slate, offers some fun and easy ways for professors to facilitate group work for students who are learning remotely. Professors and students can easily access their course community in Slate using their Top Hat credentials. Once in Slate, professors or students can create their own channels to collaborate on activities, assignments and projects. Channels can be used to chat or start multi-participant video conferences, providing multiple ways for students to collaborate and communicate online, both asynchronously and in real-time. While there is currently no “breakout room” functionality within the Top Hat platform, many professors using Top Hat have found Slate to offer fun and effective avenues to get students working together, both during and outside of class time.

Q: What are the usage limits or restrictions for virtual class sessions in Top Hat Pro?

A: Top Hat Pro can support virtual classes with up to 1,000 attendees and two simultaneous instructors or presenters. There are no time limits on virtual class sessions, but instructors will be asked at 4-hour intervals whether they wish to keep the session active.

Q: What are the content sharing options that are new to Top Hat Pro?

A: With the introduction of virtual classes, Top Hat Pro will offer new ways for instructors to share content with their students. In addition to presenting slides and questions that students can follow and interact with on their devices, instructors using our virtual classroom feature will be able to screen share so that students can view documents, web browser tabs and other content on the instructor’s computer.

We received many questions about “whiteboarding” and annotation capabilities. While presenting slides, instructors can annotate and make notes that students will see on their devices in real time. If the instructor wants to illustrate a concept on a clean “whiteboard,” all you have to do is include a blank slide in your presentation.

Q: Where will recorded lectures be stored?

A: Lecture recordings are automatically made available as a learning module in the content menu, which is always found on the left-hand side of the course interface. In terms of how and where virtual classroom data is stored for replay, assessing our best options for safety and reliability, we have determined to store this data on our existing Top Hat-managed servers.

As with all proprietary course content in Top Hat, as intellectual property, virtual classroom recordings belong to the instructor. We are working on additional functionality that will allow instructors to export recordings, so that they can save their video content as they wish. We expect this functionality to be available early in the fall.

Q: Are students who view a virtual classroom recording able to answer questions or participate asynchronously?

A: Our long-term vision for Top Hat Pro includes making it possible for students to “participate” asynchronously when watching a virtual classroom replay. This means a student viewing asynchronously will be able to answer questions, receive live feedback and get rewarded with participation and/or correctness points, just like a student attending a live remote class in Top Hat. We see this as an important way to make Top Hat a truly inclusive solution for online learners. Work is already underway to build the features that would support this experience for students, although unfortunately, interactive replays won’t be ready in time for the fall 2020 semester.

Students viewing virtual classroom replays in the coming fall semester will have the opportunity to follow what happened in the live class meeting by watching the replay of presented questions and their responses. In the next few months, we expect to have a custom setting available that will automatically filter out the results of questions from recordings, based on the instructor’s preferences. In lieu of a fully interactive replay, we understand instructors still might like to assign presentation questions after class to those students who couldn’t attend, and want to help preserve as much academic integrity as possible in those cases.

Q: How can I get TAs to help me in virtual classroom sessions in Top Hat?

A: Starting this fall, instructors will have the ability to enroll users as “TAs” in their Top Hat courses. Among the ways a TA can support an instructor teaching with Top Hat, TAs will be able to participate in virtual classroom sessions as moderators. Most importantly, they will be identified as TAs in the live chat, and will be able to provide written responses to students’ questions as they arise. This new role will allow professors to focus on lecturing or facilitation via video stream, while having teaching staff watch and manage what is happening in the chat.

Q: How can I use Top Hat to hold virtual office hours?

A: Top Hat’s community app, Slate, provides an easy way for instructors to host virtual office hours. In Slate, students and instructors can converse through written direct messages or via 1-to-1 video chat. All an instructor has to do is let their students know they will be available on Slate at a given time and let the students who need help initiate contact.

Q: How is Top Hat’s new remote proctoring functionality different from the conventional secure testing options available in the platform?

A: Testing in Top Hat always included anti-cheating features designed to promote academic integrity, alongside auto-grading capabilities intended to save professors significant time on grading. When professors use Top Hat to administer tests taken in person, this means Top Hat initiates a lockdown browser for test-takers and provides instructors with a live proctor report through which they can manage any locked out students or identified issues. Professors are assumed to be in the room with students and actively monitoring for other kinds of suspicious behaviour.

The new remote proctoring functionality, introduced this past spring, takes security one step further. Allowing students to take exams at home, it initiates a lockdown browser and also relies on artificial intelligence (instead of the instructor) to detect behavioral patterns that are indicative of cheating. Through the student’s webcam, the remote proctoring software verifies students’ identities and flags irregular movements associated with possible cheating, like looking at outside sources or leaving the test environment. For remote tests, the instructor is provided with a proctor report at the end of the test. This report offers a summary of the irregularities per student, flagging the students with the most suspicious behavior so the instructor can follow up.

Q: How can I use Top Hat to manage students attending class both in-person and from home?

A: Anticipating a range of possible scenarios this fall, many webinar attendees wanted to understand how Top Hat might help them deliver instruction to students attending class in-person and remotely at the same time. For instructors teaching in classrooms that will be set up with cameras and other hardware and software designed for lecture streaming, presenting slides and questions in Top Hat (without virtual classroom) will be an excellent way to provide all students with an equitable active learning experience that offers similar opportunities for participation.

Instructors who don’t have access to external hardware can rely on virtual classroom presentations in Top Hat to reach students joining class from home in addition to those who are present in person. While instructors will have to consider how to remain in view of those on screen, and how to watch for questions from remote attendees, Top Hat’s virtual classroom provides another way for instructors to engage both populations in an active learning experience.

Q: When are the new Top Hat Pro features going to be available to use?

A: New Top Hat Pro features, such as virtual classroom streaming and recordings, will be available for instructors to try starting in August 2020.

Q: What is the cost of Top Hat Pro, all in?

A: Pricing options for Top Hat Pro are available at tophat.com/pricing.

A few webinar attendees were specifically curious about the possibility of group arrangements (i.e. pricing and payment options at the department or institutional level). At Top Hat, we are more than happy to work with departments and university administrations to create plans for larger groups to adopt and access the platform.

Click here to watch our webinar introducing Top Hat Pro, purpose-built to help educators engage their students, wherever learning takes place.

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