Educator Story

This Professor Uses Top Hat to Provide Students with More Opportunities for Success


Exam scores earned by students who used Top Hat the most in class and at home

The Challenge

John Redden’s large classes made it difficult to engage students and cater to the needs of those looking to improve their grade

Redden’s challenge was two-pronged. First, the tiered, stadium-style seating of his physical classrooms didn’t lend itself to creating an environment of inclusiveness and engagement. In order to make his large classes feel more personal, he was looking for an affordable student response tool that complemented both his teaching practice and the digital lives of his students. Redden had previously used iClicker and Poll Everywhere in his lectures, but the price point and lack of customization available prompted him to seek out a different solution.

The second challenge came from his students. A number of them were eager for extra coursework to help improve their grades, thereby increasing their chances of gaining entry to competitive professional programs. Redden wondered if a technology-based solution was the answer.

The Solution

Redden co-authored an interactive textbook to increase participation and give students opportunities to earn extra credit

To address these challenges, Redden decided with a colleague to author an interactive Anatomy and Physiology textbook on the Top Hat platform. In the process, he decided to implement Top Hat Classroom alongside his Top Hat textbook to comprehensively address the issue of participation across both at-home and in-class learning environments.

Following a successful summer pilot, Redden started using Top Hat Classroom in the fall semester of 2017. He liked how students were able to use devices they already owned to answer questions, and participate in polls and discussions. Addressing his students’ wishes, he also began assigning the textbook he co-authored as a means for students to complete additional readings and assignments to earn extra credit. Redden then used Top Hat’s gradebook to give each student a score that combined their in-class participation and the work they completed from the textbook.

“There is something to be said for the fact that students are more enthusiastic and are exhibiting a more positive attitude towards the course materials. Based on what we’re seeing, it seems that Top Hat has had a positive effect on them.”

John Redden professor
John Redden Associate Professor, Physiology & Neurobiology, University of Connecticut

The Results

Students who participated most through Top Hat Classroom and Top Hat Textbook received the highest final exam scores

Redden took student scores from the gradebook and plotted them against the average exam scores to see if there was any correlation between the two.

When Redden contrasted the group who scored well on the exam and looked to see if they’d also participated in class and completed extra credit work, he found a positive two-way relationship.

“[Grades aside] I also think there is something to be said for the fact that students are more enthusiastic and are exhibiting a more positive attitude towards the course materials. Based on what we’re seeing, it seems that Top Hat has had a positive effect on them.”

Redden also took non-Top Hat factors into consideration. He wanted to know if a student’s major, or the time they spent studying had an impact on their exam scores. “I was surprised to find that a student’s major had no impact on whether or not they performed well. I was even more surprised to find that beyond two hours, the length of time spent reviewing wasn’t related to students’ exam scores.”

Redden surmises that this last finding has to do with the way students learn. “It’s not necessarily the length of time but how they use that time [to learn]. Passive actions, such as reading and re-reading a slide or study guide over and over won’t yield the results they’re looking for.” But an active studying approach—like the one Top Hat facilitates— will, says Redden.

As for the textbook Redden trialed in class: “Students overwhelmingly have said they prefer it. They’ve not only responded to the in-text questions, but also the narrative style of writing.” And then there’s the cost. When he tells them the cost of the book, the reaction is usually ‘Wow.’ Finally, Redden stresses that an improvement in grades only says so much.

“There is so much that can’t be captured in a grade. Hearing students get excited about anatomy—to the point that some of them consider switching majors because they’ve developed a passion for the subject as a result of the textbook and in-class learning exercises—that’s a great feeling.”

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