Customer Story

How Two Custom Top Hat Interactive eTexts Speak to 4,000 Students in a Required Course


students enrolled in English 101 during Fall 2023


sections of English 101 effectively managed during Fall 2023


total cost of both Custom Authored Interactive eTexts

Nicole Fisk headshot

The Challenge

Finding the right Composition content solutions to engage 4,000 non-major students and support more than 100 teaching assistants

Nicole Fisk is no stranger to managing large classes. In her role as the Associate Director of First-Year English at the University of South Carolina, she oversees upwards of 4,000 students across two freshman-level English Composition courses. Not only is her goal to help students develop confidence in writing for various applications, it’s to equip them with the close reading and critical thinking skills necessary for upper-year courses and the workplace. “These are the only two classes that all undergraduate students are required to take for graduation. This is a writing generation: If you’re a science major, you’ll be writing lab reports. If you’re in fashion design, you’ll be writing artistic proposals,” Fisk says.

Fisk has taught at the institution for nearly 17 years. With ever-evolving student needs, Fisk quickly found her textbook couldn’t keep up. Case in point: her team of more than 100 teaching assistants were consistently supplementing the printed text with additional readings and assignments. After years of using a static textbook, Fisk began exploring interactive alternatives that could help fulfill two important course objectives: a) let students learn from multimodal course activities and b) develop the skills required to compose and revise text. Plus, she wanted the ability to keep materials pedagogically and topically relevant.

In 2022, she embarked on a journey of converting her print textbook into a Custom Authored Interactive eText that preserved some of the readings students connected with while empowering her teaching assistants to customize chapters in the process. On top of that, Fisk created a second Top Hat eText that would help students sharpen their writing and researching skills.

The Solution

Creating two Custom Authored Interactive eTexts that meet course objectives

Fisk had previously experienced the often drawn-out timeline that can come with drafting and revising print textbooks. To her delight, the process of converting her print text to a highly Custom Authored Interactive eText, entitled The Carolina Reader, took a fraction of the time. Top Hat’s Learning Solutions team was quick to uncover Fisk’s teaching goals and determined which literary works from her print book could translate well to a digital medium, one such reading being The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 

In addition, Fisk produced a second eText with Top Hat, entitled The Carolina Rhetoric. She pulled in content from two Top Hat interactive eTexts that provided English Composition fundamentals students needed for success: The Evolving Essay and Signs: A Grammar Handbook. Case in point: She can provide students comprehensive instruction on revising essays for various genres with multimodal materials from The Evolving Essay. If students need to brush up on essential grammar skills or refer to citation conventions, they have access to a fully interactive resource with Signs. On top of that, Fisk’s instructors have easily added multimedia and interactive discussion questions where students can complete a close reading or writing assignment. In doing so, she and her team of instructors have greater say over how learning occurs. “With Top Hat, it’s a living text. If something goes viral, we can incorporate that immediately into our book,” Fisk shares.

Moving to a Custom Authored Interactive eText has led to greater student and instructor satisfaction. Before class, students are encouraged to complete readings and long-form discussion questions to help cement their understanding of core concepts. Plus, this process gives students a glimpse into the principles of writing and close reading skills they’ll need for the class ahead. In class, instructors can hold more productive conversations with the text serving as an anchor for writing activities facilitated in real time.

“With Top Hat, it’s a living text. If something goes viral, we can incorporate that immediately into our book.”

Nicole Fisk headshot cropped
Nicole Fisk Associate Director of the First-Year English Program at the University of South Carolina

The Results

Improved analytical skills, confidence in writing, and better course evaluations

After running her first semester with The Carolina Reader in Fall 2022, Fisk noted overwhelmingly positive feedback on her course evaluations. She captured the following sentiments from students: “I think my professor’s use of Top Hat was positive and helped enrich our learning experience” and “It helps better your writing skills. It especially betters our ability to communicate through multiple genres.”

The nature of the Top Hat platform comes with additional benefits for students. Timely case studies and media-rich chapters have laid the foundation for more meaningful and productive discussions in and out of class. Not only has faculty morale risen, students are now able to connect what they’re reading about in relation to the real world. “Students tell me they’re not able to watch a commercial or Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video the same way. We’ve helped them read closely and dig deeper into arguments and hosted larger conversations than we would have had otherwise,” says Fisk. 
Fisk is also thrilled that students receive lifetime access to The Carolina Reader and The Carolina Rhetoric via the Top Hat platform. “Students will always have citation guides and pointers to complete research and analyze information. Top Hat has allowed us to build a course that lets students assess, categorize and understand what’s valuable in our world,” she says.

A sample discussion question embedded in Nicole Fisk’s Custom Authored eText.
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