When it comes to making learning more engaging, every journey is different. And so are the reasons educators choose to adopt Top Hat. But what is inspiring are the moments when technology and the power of the educator’s expertise come together to transform learning for students.

At our recent virtual event (view the free recording here), three acclaimed educators shared their teaching practices and how they’re combining proven pedagogy with Top Hat to elevate the learning experience. Here are their best practices.

Pique interest and attention through interactive, visual learning

Mark Prendergast, a Research Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Kentucky, has tapped into the power of visual learning to engage students in his brain and behavior and neuropharmacology courses. 

Prendergast makes regular use of diagrams and photos of neurological structures delivered as ‘click-on-target’ questions that students engage with through the Top Hat platform. It’s an interactive way that helps students cement concepts that are more difficult to impart with words alone. The output is a heat map showing which anatomical area students have clicked on. This approach lets students see how their peers answered a question, while providing Prendergast with an immediate read on how well the class is comprehending the material.

“I can show students a heat map of their responses and it’s instantly a ‘wow’ moment for them,” he says. “I’m convinced that they’re forming better memories when they’re looking at structures and Top Hat allows me to do that.”

For Katie Thompson-Laswell, a Senior Instructor of Human Development and Family Science at Kansas State University, keeping up to 400 students on task in her Introductory to Human Development course is no easy feat. But by making strategic use of engaging activities before, during and after class, she makes sure students are prepared to learn. 

Using Top Hat, Thompson-Laswell has created media-rich homework assignments embedded with comprehension-based questions students use to gauge their understanding of key concepts before class. This approach also gives her at-a-glance insights into student understanding and what to review during the upcoming lectures.

“I facilitate a pre-lecture assignment, due the night before the lecture. During class, I expand on the topics they’ve already engaged with, while homework assignments are designed to provide added depth,” she says. “Engaging with the material three times in a week really helps students with their learning and with their retention of the material.”

“Engaging with the material three times in a week really helps students with their learning and with their retention of the material.”

How Top Hat created an ‘aha’ moment: “In the second class of my brain and behavior course in fall 2018, I wanted to show my students how they were going to be assessed. I put up an example of a click on target image of different brain regions and I looked up at my class and I saw smiles and people mouthing ‘wow.’ That’s when I knew they were going to enjoy the material more and absorb it better.” —Professor Mark Prendergast

View our free event recording for more ways to incorporate interactive learning into your classroom this fall.

Create tailored lectures that can be delivered in any modality

Irene Foster is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at The George Washington University. In order to provide her 300 students with a flexible learning experience, she flipped her classroom—where learners complete readings and view modules outside of class time, and use synchronous lectures to engage in discussion. 

Foster releases learning modules on a week-to-week basis, with graded readings and homework assignments all housed within Top Hat. The onus is on students to complete their work prior to class. For Foster, the process of checking completion has been greatly simplified because everything is captured within the Top Hat Gradebook. 

“I never have to worry whether my students have read the material or not because they’re graded on it. And my goodness if they know they’re being graded on something, they do it,” she shares.

Foster’s use of Top Hat made the transition to online learning in the spring of 2020 relatively seamless, a benefit Katie Thompson-Laswell and her students also enjoyed. She too was able to continue hosting live polls and discussions online, while the interactive textbook she authored in Top Hat, Introduction to Human Development, helped her students stay on top of course concepts on their own time. 

How Top Hat created an ‘aha’ moment: “When I created my digital textbook, I could see that students were coming to class prepared and ready to have meaningful discussions. At the end of the semester, students raved about how much they learned.” —Professor Katie Thompson-Laswell

Collect iterative, instant feedback on student performance

Mark Prendergast makes use of Top Hat for frequent low-stakes assessments, beginning each class with a five-question quiz. Depending on how students perform, he holds off on introducing new material. 

“If I have less than 60 percent getting it correct, I’ll pull up slides from the previous class to make sure everybody’s on board. I’ve got to be flexible,” he says. This approach helps drive discussions and has had a significant impact on exam performance. Prendergast has charted a 9.7 percent increase in exam scores in his brain and behavior class since using Top Hat in this way.

“If I have less than 60 percent getting it correct, I’ll pull up slides from the previous class to make sure everybody’s on board. I’ve got to be flexible.”

Prendergast also uses Top Hat for exams. The autograding capability eliminates the hassle of using Scantron cards while giving students almost immediate access to their assessment scores. And because the results for each question are captured in the Top Hat Gradebook, he can zero in and easily regrade questions that might have been overly confusing to students.

Even so, some instructors are parting ways with high stakes exams. Top Hat offers a wealth of insights based on data generated through homework assignments, readings, in-class discussions and quizzes—so much so that Katie Thompson-Laswell has eliminated summative assessments altogether. Frequent, active learning opportunities pay dividends according to one student: “We never once had a test, yet I learned a great amount in a way that will stick and be useful for future courses.”

How Top Hat created an ‘aha’ moment: “Students find that they really learn a lot when we use online technology. One student said ‘I realized why you’re giving us so much work: there’s pre-class work and in-class work and out of class work and I see that it helps towards long-term retention.’ That’s exactly what we’re trying to do: we’re trying to help them remember the material for the upper-level classes they’ll have to take.” —Professor Irene Foster

Get more tips from these three esteemed professors on how they use Top Hat to increase engagement, flexibility and insights in any modality. Click here to view the webinar recording.

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