How an interactive Top Hat textbook helped this professor succeed in the move to remote learning
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textbook authored with Top Hat
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Engaging over 200 students with relatable course material in and out of class
Making the entire human lifespan digestible, relatable and engaging is no easy feat. As a Senior Instructor of Human Development and Family Science at Kansas State University (KSU), Katie Thompson-Laswell recognized that in order for her students to really learn the course material, they needed to view it through a personal lens—and understand how the information could be applied to their future studies and beyond. “It’s no longer good enough for professors to be the sage on stage,” she says. “It’s crucial to help students understand the interconnections between the material and their own lives.”
Thompson-Laswell did her best to cultivate an engaging in-class environment. But in a course as large as Human Development, giving all 200 students the opportunity to raise their hands was challenging at best. More troubling, however, was the textbook her students used outside of class. For one, it was expensive for students already stretched thin by tuition costs. It also didn’t personalize the learning experience by relating information to the lives of her learners. Thompson-Laswell needed a solution for real-time and self-paced learning, built on active learning principles. She also wanted course material that related to students’ lives—something that would help them think more deeply about the subject matter.
A high-impact interactive textbook that smoothed the transition to remote teaching
Ahead of the fall 2017 semester, Thompson-Laswell adopted Top Hat for its classroom response capabilities to engage her large classes. A year later, she started taking steps to create a holistic active learning environment inside and outside of class by authoring her own interactive, media-rich textbook. Titled Introduction to Human Development, the book was introduced to her class in spring 2019. “I realized I had a unique opportunity to really tailor the material to meet my students’ needs,” she says. “I also liked that I could edit the book as my needs changed.”
Students were delighted to have a more interactive reading experience, in addition to the fact that the interactive textbook saved them $70 on course materials. “The way she incorporates the reading, and then the questions, and then goes back to the reading and then there’s a video—you just know that she wants you to learn,” says Human Development student Tracey Roudebush. Packed with active learning exercises, the textbook incorporates upwards of 75 assessment questions in each chapter, as well as videos, high quality images and even Shakespearean monologues. In fact, it was so effective, Thompson-Laswell was nominated for and won the Top Author Award at the 2020 Top Hat Engage user conference.
After COVID-19 led to the cancellation of in-person classes in spring 2020, Thompson-Laswell elected to proceed with recorded lectures, which students could watch at their own convenience. “Because of how I use Top Hat during class in collaboration with my online text, the transition was practically seamless,” she says. “The work was already available in an online but interactive format, so it didn’t change significantly how the students interacted with the material.”
Thompson-Laswell continued to assign chapter readings embedded with active learning exercises and homework from her interactive textbook. Students could complete this work before they viewed the lecture recordings. Thompson-Laswell directed students to view lecture replay alongside that day’s assignments in Top Hat, which had assessment questions students could answer while they watched the video, improving asynchronous participation. In class, Thompson-Laswell had created a playlist of songs that were broadcast as students settled in to create a fun, engaging environment. Remotely, she was able to embed her YouTube playlist at the beginning of her textbook chapters to continue adding a little fun—and keep a level of consistency in her course.
“After using Top Hat and the interactive textbook, students were able to engage in deeper-level thinking and/or hands-on activities.”
Improved grades, an easy transition to remote teaching and the flexibility to teach in any modality during the next semester
While face-to-face learning was still in play, Thompson-Laswell’s classes were known throughout the department as epitomizing an engaging learning environment. It didn’t hurt that the textbook served as the cornerstone of her course, better preparing her students to succeed. “After using Top Hat and the interactive textbook, students were able to engage in deeper-level thinking and/or hands-on activities,” she says. “I could see them enjoying the learning process. I was connecting with them and the material was connecting with them in a way that was meaningful and enjoyable for them.” As an added bonus, Thompson-Laswell noticed fewer of her students were failing the course and learners earning A grades were more plentiful.
Thompson-Laswell’s students reported that the transition in spring 2020 was easy and stress free. In fall 2020, her large classes remained remote, but with synchronous lectures. “I chose to use Top Hat’s virtual classroom capabilities for live video meetings,” she says. “It’s far less cumbersome than using Zoom and Top Hat at the same time—and I’ve only received positive feedback so far.” Thompson-Laswell’s students tell her they really look forward to lectures, despite the online setting. “One student even said, ‘This is how an online class should be,'” she added. “It warmed my heart no end.”