As a teaching fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Syon Bhanot makes pedagogy a priority. He is always looking for new ways to create a more interactive and stimulating learning experience for his students, often by leveraging technology in his courses. He noticed that “in this generation, students expect to be a part of the learning experience. Syon aligns himself with the teaching standard that he says Top Hat supports.
“I could see that the Top Hat team was not only excited about the technology, but also about teaching quality, and I make that an important part of my life,” he says. And although educators have various teaching styles, he found Top Hat to be flexible enough to accommodate various pedagogical strategies. In addition, Syon says that Top Hat supports a more democratic way of learning.
Oftentimes, a handful of vocal students can dominate class discussion, leading to biased class data. With the use of Top Hat, instructors can get a full picture of what the whole class is retaining, and Syon believes the true value in the tool is in its ability to leverage this insight to improve his teaching.
Professor Bazylak teaches the largest engineering class at the University of Toronto, consisting of one thousand enrolled students. Though the course is taught by a handful of award-winning professors applying a variety of pedagogical strategies (think-pair-share, in-class design, etc.), the lecture relies heavily on its tutorial sections. This is primarily due to the challenges of creating an interactive learning environment in a course with such a large number of students.
Professor Bazylak didn’t simply want a student response system that was limited to instructor-initiated questions. He immediately liked how Top Hat allows students to submit their questions through the Discussions module. In addition, he was drawn to the ability to put questions in “Review Mode.” Using this feature, students have access to the questions and their answers after class. Most importantly, Professor Bazylak believes that Top Hat is supporting the way he wants to teach his students.
“I want to make sure that it’s pedagogy driving technology and not technology driving the pedagogy” he says.
Professor Heisler-Schafer’s physical therapy lecture seats about 80 students, but she has 30 additional students in two satellite locations. She was looking for a way to engage all of her students using an interactive system. Hardware clickers were too limiting because they did not allow the participation of her students in remote locations.
She found Top Hat to be the perfect solution, because students can engage with the content from any location. Not to mention, she was impressed by the minimal instruction needed to get her students up and running. She simply asks students to bring a charged electronic device to class, and she launches various questions in order to gauge student understanding.
Not only could the course instructors gauge student comprehension using Top Hat, but students also appreciate knowing where they stand. The tool allows for immediate reports and feedback, which students have found particularly valuable. Overall, Professor Heisler-Schafer has noticed that her students are more engaged with course material!
In Professor Miles’ American Government Course, Professor Miles’ goal is for students to watch and follow news, stay on top of current events, and think critically about questions related to the American government. He uses Top Hat as a survey and opinion instrument to engage his students’ critical thinking skills.
For example, he recently asked his students if the government should be involved in regulating banks and big businesses. The graphing feature of Top Hat's reports tab allows students to see the opinions of others in the course, which Professor Miles uses as a launching point for class discussions.
By using Top Hat, Professor Miles has found he has a new opportunity to get to know his students better, and even learn from them. “We may come equipped with assumptions about our students that we have to question,” he says. As a result, Professor Miles has restructured his lectures include more student engagement.
Professor Murray says the biggest challenge in her large, predominately freshmen and sophomore nutrition course is that not all of the students want to speak out. Not only was she looking for a way to follow her students’ logic, but she also wanted to send the message that all of their opinions and responses matter. She uses Top Hat to ask questions, and like how the reports provides an way to see what every student is thinking.
It allows each student to be involved in the learning process. “Top Hat is the perfect platform to show that everybody’s vote matters. They can see polling happen before their eyes; they know we’re all in this together. It’s a great message to send to students.” As a bonus, Professor Murray was pleasantly surprised by how user-friendly the system is compared to competitors.
In particular, she’s blown away by the amazing support team, after she received a call within 30 minutes of sending a support request! Knowing that her account director is only a click away, Professor Murray feels encouraged to try new things with Top Hat.
In her animal science course at Ohio State, Professor Hill’s curriculum contains a heavy load of definitions, technical concepts, anatomical terms, and more. She and her colleagues began to search for a way to gauge student comprehension on these items prior to testing them. Using Top Hat, she can create a variety question types, including multiple choice, matching, click-on-target and sorting.
Yet she and her students find that Top Hat’s Review Mode is most beneficial. Professor Hill puts all of her questions in Review Mode as a study aid, so that students can log on at home and review questions asked throughout the term. “It allows students to learn in a new way, instead of simply studying from class notes.”
As a bonus, Professor Hill has seen less cheating in her course, as students are less likely to bring their peers’ laptops or cell phones to class to answer questions for friends. She’s appreciated working in the comfort zone of her students by leveraging the devices that they already use on a daily basis.