The fall semester is approaching and the pressure is increasing to be ready to teach effectively, regardless of where learning is slated to take place: online, face-to-face or a hybrid of the two. Just as important is ensuring students see the value of investing their time and effort in courses that may need to be delivered online.

Addressing these challenges—and re-imagining just how much better online and blended courses can be—is at the heart of a major set of upgrades to the Top Hat platform. In a webinar on June 17th, we launched the Top Hat Pro offering—and heard from three educators on their pivoting to teaching online, lessons learned and how this experience has shaped their plans for the fall semester.

Lindsay Tan, Associate Professor of Interior Design at Auburn University, had no initial interest in teaching and learning online. Leveraging the physical energy she brought to the classroom, she really enjoyed getting “down in the trenches” with her students and engaging them on a more personal level. When so much of their world was changing, Lindsay wanted to ensure that the quality of her students’ learning and the feeling of support and community they received continued in the new online learning environment. “The first lesson I learned was to keep it simple. Find one approach that works well by asking your students how they feel about it,” Tan said. “Do not adopt 50 different technologies and approaches. Let your students focus on learning new course content instead of learning how to use a new tool.”

Prior to COVID-19, Dan Alati, Assistant Professor, Sociology, at MacEwan University, had already taken a blended approach to teach his courses. This made the pivot to online teaching relatively smooth, allowing for consistency between face-to-face and online environments. Weekly quizzes, online reading assignments and synchronous lectures allowed much of his course delivery to continue on unaffected. Alati’s biggest concern was being able to maintain the same level of equity, accessibility and academic rigor students were used to with respect to summative assessments. That’s why he decided to use Top Hat’s remote proctoring capabilities to deliver his final exam. “We were able to build in options that really mirrored the traditional experience that students would have writing exams on campus,” Alati said. “Everything from additional time to different question types. It was all there and easy to customize for individual students.”

Andrea Hendricks, Associate Department Chair, Online Math and Computer Science Department and Associate Professor of Mathematics at Perimeter College at Georgia State University, is wrapping up her 19th year teaching online. However, the spring semester brought many new challenges. “Some of my students, overnight, became essential workers, remote workers, or lost their jobs altogether, and were also dealing with their own kids,” Hendricks said. Balancing the need for empathy while maintaining academic rigor was challenging as was providing the flexibility and support students needed to be successful in the face of so much disruption. In teaching online, Hendricks notes the importance of ensuring that each piece of content has a purpose and that this purpose is communicated to students. When a student is learning away from the instructor, it can be easy to get stuck or confused. For Hendricks, in online learning environments, it’s even more important to focus on communication and making sure things are clear.

Top Hat has always offered engaging tools for in-class and online learning. With the launch of Top Hat Pro, we’ve added new capabilities for interactive virtual class meetings, independent student learning and secure remote testing—all in one place. One of the most important guiding principles behind the new release is enabling educators to create and deliver an online course that drives real human connection and engagement. Click here to watch the webinar and learn more about Top Hat Pro, and how educators are using it to their advantage.