Educator Story

How an interactive Top Hat textbook helped this professor succeed in the move to remote learning


students per class


textbook authored with Top Hat


students saved on course materials

The Challenge

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.

The Solution

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 pre-class assignments that students could complete at their own convenience. She continued to assign chapter readings embedded with active learning exercises and homework from her interactive textbook. 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.”

Katie Thompson-Laswell Senior Instructor of Human Development and Family Science, Kansas State University

The Results

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 real-time lectures. 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 says. “It warmed my heart no end.”

Join a community of 750+ campuses that use Top Hat
Auburn University
Rutgers University
California State University
University of Florida
University of Buffalo
Vanderbilt University
Indiana University
University of Georgia