In the 11 years since Top Hat was founded, higher education has undergone a dramatic transformation. Class sizes have ballooned. Student bodies have become more diverse. And the expectations of educators to provide a more impactful, personalized experience have skyrocketed. Our mission, from the very beginning, has been to empower professors with technology to engage their students in order to meet these growing demands. And more and more, we’ve realized the best way to do that is to provide professors, as the agents of change in the classroom, with greater insight into student comprehension, understanding and performance.
Top Hat’s gradebook is the engine powering that insight. And so 18 months ago, we made the decision to rebuild it in order to make it easier for educators to gather and extract the feedback they need to support the demands of today’s students. Last July, we made the new gradebook available to all our customers, and it has been exciting and gratifying to see more than 90 percent of our customers voluntarily adopt it in their courses. Over the ensuing months, we have been gathering feedback and making ongoing improvements. We are confident the new gradebook will provide all the functionality customers are accustomed to, while also providing a number of important enhancements:
- A faster, more efficient and more flexible grading experience
- Less time to complete course management tasks
- Greater compatibility with your LMS
- Greater reliability in recording and retrieving grades, particularly with large classes
In addition to all these benefits, the new gradebook will provide the foundation for the future of Top Hat’s teaching platform. You see, “gradebook” is a bit of a misnomer. In a world where many aspects of learning can be facilitated online, a digital gradebook shouldn’t just be for storing and displaying grades. In fact, that’s only the tip of a much larger iceberg. In a technology-enhanced course, the gradebook can be a repository of every digital interaction between professor and student, student and course content. It should be the source of truth, and the engine of learning.
With the leadership of our brilliant engineering team, over the past 18 months, we’ve developed a system that can support this vision. There are some technical, but incredibly important, accomplishments I want to highlight here:
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- The new gradebook can store and retrieve exponentially more data than its predecessor
- The new gradebook can load course records 3 times faster than its predecessor
- It takes 4x fewer labor-hours to develop a feature or capability for the new gradebook than it did in the older version
These technical feats bring me to where we are today, in February 2020.
For the last eight months, our teams have serviced both the new gradebook and the older version to give you, our customers, as much time as possible to familiarize yourselves with the new workflow. We understand that grades are a high-stakes aspect of the learning experience for students and for instructors. And we knew there would be a small learning curve and it would take some time to discover all the improved functionality in the new version. We felt that giving you a long runway to make the switch was absolutely essential.
But devoting resources to maintaining the older version has also meant that we’ve chosen to delay progressing our vision for the future. Which is why, now that more than 90% of customers are using the new gradebook, it’s important we say goodbye to the old gradebook as soon as possible.
We want you to feel excited about what’s next.
The new gradebook is already a much more intuitive way for you to get relevant information on student and class performance in our newly unified assessment platform — and to do it in a way that reflects the flow of your course across the semester. You can see in one holistic view what students are doing before, during and after class, get a quick view of the class average for each activity, and drill down further into the data if you choose.
We’ve also already made it easier to manipulate the data in a way that provides the greatest value to you. For example, you can use points or percentages to track student progress with no need to export data to perform calculations. You also can now choose to view correctness and participation data separately or in aggregate.
Our goal here is to reduce the time you spend making sense of what’s happening in your course, so you can focus on turning insights into action that motivates and improves learning outcomes.
And the new Gradebook also helps us make sense of this progress for you.
A good example is the quick insights that are surfaced through our new Weekly Course Report, which would not have been possible without the structural foundation laid by the new gradebook. The Weekly Course Report identifies top performers as well as struggling students along with questions your class is having difficulty with. The best part is this is sent to you proactively each week. We’ve had many positive responses to this new feature but the reality is, it only represents a fraction of what we can do based on the new gradebook’s capacity to capture course data and speed up processing times.
Still, I believe it’s not enough to share information on how students are performing in your class. As actionable as the data may be, grades are a lagging indicator. We want to be able to provide you insight into students behaviors that may be contributing to their performance, and make recommendations to help you help them. In the not-too-distant future, we imagine being able to show you week-to-week learner participation trends, including the average time your students spend reading in Top Hat. Or surface exactly which of your students may be in the most need of your assistance before a test, based on their level of interaction or formative outcomes. There are many exciting possibilities.
With the new Gradebook, the sky is the limit, but in order to get there, we need to get started.
At Top Hat, we are on a mission to help educators engage every student and unleash their potential. But we won’t succeed without your buy-in. As we prepare to retire the old system, our world-class support team is at-the-ready to address any concerns and assist those still completing the transition.
I personally want to thank you for being on this journey with us — not just for your support in where we’re going, but your appreciation for how far we’ve come.