Educator Story

Increasing Engagement in a Research Methods Course at Macquarie University with Top Hat Textbook

The Challenge

Mem Mahmut’s course textbooks seemed wasteful and ineffective at engaging students in independent learning

Mem Mahmut needed to make some changes to the research design portion of his Introductory Psychology course. Given a hard copy textbook was used and students were progressing through the chapters independently, Dr. Mahmut didn’t have an objective or efficient way of determining whether students were engaging with the content. Then there was the challenge of sustainability, given that hundreds of students were purchasing huge volumes they didn’t seem to use.

Before Dr. Mahmut could make the switch, he had to convince his department of two things: 1) That doing so would not significantly increase their workload; and 2) That the quality of content was high and relevant to the Australian context.

“To expect students to purchase the hard copy textbook (currently retailing for approximately $130) and then perhaps not even read it, was a huge waste.”

Dr. Mem Mahmut Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University

The Solution

Top Hat Textbook would allow Dr. Mahmut’s students to test their understanding of concepts while reading

Dr. Mahmut had a breakthrough with his colleagues when the group discussed why Top Hat Textbook might be better, acknowledging that while a switch would be more work up-front for the lecturers, the benefits to their students would be worth it. “There existed this possibility for them to learn more and lecturers could track engagement. Plus, it was substantially cheaper and better for the environment.” After that discussion, Dr. Mahmut’s colleagues “saw the light,” as he puts it.

With the previous hard copy text, only some students would purchase, read it and then complete a mandatory digital quiz based on what they’d learned.

With Top Hat offering customization of all digital materials, Dr. Mahmut and his colleagues were free to tailor the interactive textbook to their needs. They re-sequenced the content from the Top Hat textbook to better align with their course flow and embedded the quizzes associated with the readings into each chapter. This meant students didn’t have to leave the interface and could immediately test and put their knowledge to use, while the lecturers didn’t have to significantly adapt the way the course was delivered.

The textbook was also provided at no cost to students who didn’t want to purchase a digital copy through the Free Access Zone program. “The way it’s tracked,” Dr. Mahmut explains, “is by using GPS to establish that students are located in the library. And then they have to be on the library’s Wi-Fi.” If those two conditions were met, students would be able to freely access the textbook.

Macquarie U students on campus

The Results

Dr. Mahmut could tell student engagement improved based on increased communication from students referencing the readings and quizzes delivered in Top Hat

The benefits were plentiful. The new setup meant students wanted to buy the text. Once they had it, they were engaging with the material in a way that they hadn’t before: this was the first year Mahmut received comments and e-mails from students referencing their responses to quizzes and asking questions about material in the extra readings.

Following his positive experience with integrating Top Hat Textbook into his course, Dr. Mahmut wonders what’s next. “I’m always thinking of engagement. I’m aware that I’m their first [psychology] session, their first semester, their first year [of university].”

Dr. Mahmut sees it as his responsibility to set the tone and make sure students are focused. “I don’t want them to turn up and just nod their heads, then disengage,” he says. “I try to foster the idea that they’re independent learners. And I want to set them up for future success in the years to come.”

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