Today’s students are much less tolerant of a one-size-fits-all approach to their college education. Generation Z has grown up in a world where the services that give meaning to their lives are individualized—from the items they buy to the content they consume. In their eyes, their college education should be no different. For higher education institutions, the challenge of replicating this may seem daunting, especially in an online environment. Shifting from a homogeneous approach to one that is more personalized does require new tools and approaches, but it may not be as difficult as you think.

The effort is worth it. And that starts with generating data. Beyond improving performance, data from polls, quizzes and other student activities can be used to shape and improve the learning experience while creating highly effective feedback loops between faculty and students. Here are some of the ways Top Hat enables instructors to teach with insight, creating more meaningful learning experiences and deeper connections with students.

Better student insights, better feedback

Why it’s important: Insight—and the feedback it generates—is essential in virtual classrooms in order for professors to tailor the learning experience, whether to address performance issues or make learning more relevant and engaging. Feedback, in combination with frequent testing, is equally important to students who want to know where they are excelling and where they need to be more studious.

Frequent, low-stakes assessments or “temperature checks” give students a number of chances to demonstrate their understanding of course material as the semester unfolds. Gauging individual student success early and often, and acting on insights has been shown to have a significant impact on student retention.

A recent Harvard study showed that by interspersing online lectures with frequent testing, students were more focused on material, note-taking increased dramatically and students retained course content for longer periods. Learners are also more likely to stick with a class with the knowledge that poor performance on one assessment will not make or break their final grade for the course. This is especially true when assessment results are accompanied by thoughtful, constructive feedback.

How Top Hat makes it happen: Top Hat’s new Gradebook tracks student participation and results for every type of assessment in one convenient place—including homework questions, quizzes as well as secure, remote proctored and open-book exams. The more students are actively engaged in providing responses, the more insights you generate.

Working in tandem with the Gradebook, Top Hat’s Weekly Course Report recaps students’ performance and identifies those in need of intervention, based on attendance tracking, participation and assessment results. The report makes it easy for professors to pinpoint struggling students and take action right away.

Dawn of the digital textbook

Why it’s important: Research has shown that when motivated by supportive instructors, learners achieve increased success levels when interactive digital course solutions are implemented. In their Gates Foundation 2019 Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates echoed this sentiment, stating that “the standalone textbook is becoming a thing of the past,” and that digital courseware should act as “a complement to what teachers do, not a replacement.”

Online course materials are an easy entry point for professors to begin this journey. For instance, when distributed to students through a comprehensive online learning platform, professors are able to give their students an in-class experience even after the lecture ends. This includes the use of multimedia and interactive elements that keep students engaged and focused on the task at hand.

How Top Hat makes it happen: Digital courseware not only makes learning more engaging, it helps professors understand whether or not students are completing readings and homework assignments. Interspersing questions aimed at gauging comprehension throughout readings allows you to understand how students are progressing and which concepts are proving difficult and may require more attention.

Understanding and accommodating individual differences in the classroom

Why it’s important: Tailoring learning based on student performance and preferences also plays a role in creating more inclusive classroom experiences. Promoting inclusivity is ultimately about embracing rather than shying away from the unique backgrounds, identities, and experiences that students bring to their classrooms. This starts with equipping educators with the means to understand important and often invisible differences among students.

How Top Hat makes it happen: Online polling questions and anonymous discussion threads make it easier to capture the diversity of lived experiences and viewpoints throughout the learning process—even when course material may be polarizing or sensitive in nature.

Accommodating individual differences also means varying how course material is taught, and how students access it. Top Hat allows you to incorporate video and multimedia elements to accommodate different learning styles, as well as varying delivery methods to provide flexibility to students who may not be able to tune into live lectures.

Through asynchronous lecture recordings, you can capture the complete presentation experience. Interactive lecture playback mimics the live class meeting. Students can watch the class on-demand while still participating in discussions, answering quiz questions and reviewing live chats. These interactions generate student data that can be used by instructors to provide timely feedback and tailor future course content.

Focusing on the future

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for some time to come. With institutions focused on ensuring they are able to deliver courses across a variety of different scenarios—online, in-person, or a combination of the two—insights into student performance are an ideal place to start building classes for the new normal of higher education.

Learn how Top Hat’s new array of features can help you put student success at the forefront of your curriculum and course delivery. Click here to watch our webinar introducing Top Hat Pro, our new suite of tools to help educators engage their students, wherever learning takes place.

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