Educator Story

How Top Hat Helped This Professor Teach Difficult Concepts in Courses with 900 Students


Students taught across multiple sections with Top Hat in a single semester


Textbooks authored with Top Hat


Assessment questions embedded throughout a single textbook

Todd Curtis

The Challenge

Todd Curtis was looking for assessment tools to help students learn complex terminology

Everything’s bigger in Texas—even class sizes. At the University of Texas at Austin—a 134-year-old research institution with more than 50,000 students in attendance every year—Classics professor Todd Curtis knows all about big. When he looks out at his Intro to Medical and Scientific Terminology class, it’s not unusual for there to be upwards of 500 students staring back at him. It’s also not uncommon for him to teach upwards of 900 students in one multi-section course throughout a single semester, requiring him to track the progress of all those students.

Throughout the early 2010s, Curtis found keeping that many students engaged in classes focused on the likes of multi-syllabic Latin terminologies challenging. However, that wasn’t the only issue.

He also found that the multiple-choice assessments required in his medical terminology classes were not helping students comprehend the material, nor were they creating an environment conducive to learning inside or outside the classroom. “I wanted a classroom response system I could use for extra credit, to show students what they did and didn’t know,” Curtis says.

“I wanted a classroom response system I could use for extra credit, to show students what they did and didn’t know.”

Todd Curtis
Todd Curtis Senior Lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Texas

The Solution

Curtis leveraged and increased his use of Top Hat to improve student success

In 2014, Curtis started using Top Hat for its classroom response features to improve engagement and comprehension in his medical terminology class. It was just the solution he needed, enabling his students to provide long-word answers to questions asked throughout his lectures and providing him with feedback to adapt his teaching and create a better learning environment.

Over time, he incorporated more in-class features, adding his PowerPoint presentations to the course materials and leveraging polling, pop quizzes and a variety of question types (from multiple choice to fill-in-the-blanks to diagram annotations) to break up his lectures, helping make that giant room feel more intimate. By utilizing these Top Hat tools, Curtis was able to casually assess students often, improving their comprehension of the material and offering him insights on which concepts they were struggling with and which students were falling behind.

At the beginning of each class, he also started sprinkling in review questions for extra credit, which not only incentivized participation, but added a new, slightly competitive layer to reviewing past lectures and pre-class reading. “This allows me to shore up some holes and also show students what kind of questions could be on the test,” he says. “Plus, those extra-credit questions create a nice inroad for me to say, ‘Hey, that’s a good way of approaching it,’ or ‘I didn’t think about that.’ And there’s no harm, no foul—it’s extra credit questions, so I’m showing them what they know. And that’s a good thing since [as a student] you’re not being punished for what you don’t know.”

University of Texas, Austin
University of Texas, Austin

The Results

Curtis introduced Top Hat in other classes and authored two interactive textbooks boosted by graded readings

Since he started using Top Hat, Curtis has noticed a marked improvement in students keeping up with course materials and staying engaged in class. “Top Hat has been pivotal,” he says. “It creates a personal connection between the professor and the student.”

Curtis also introduced Top Hat in two other courses—Classic Mythology and Ancient Greek Medicine. And he’s taken a concrete step towards ensuring his students do the readings. He started using two textbooks he personally authored, A Programmed Approach to Learning the Grammar and Vocabulary of Anatomical Latin and Classical Mythology in the Visual and Performing Arts, as his main course materials.

He wrote the textbooks using Top Hat’s intuitive authoring platform as a way to save his students money while offering interactive learning materials that promote comprehension. These textbooks also provide learners with content that is specifically geared towards what he’ll be teaching in class, rather than the expensive print textbooks bloated with irrelevant content. He’s able to easily distribute these textbooks to students through the Top Hat platform. “I really love this format of textbooks,” says Curtis. “It allows me to modify things on the fly and I can assess student comprehension of the reading material.”

He finds it’s also a great way to keep his students focused on topics prone to apathy. “The [Anatomical Latin] textbook, for example, offers an inductive study into Latin, so students can progressively learn certain concepts—they can actively read a textbook and I can give them credit,” he says.

Building off source materials he’d been supplementing his lectures with for years, Curtis’ book—which includes activities that count towards his students’ final grades—is one of the many ways he’s helping his class succeed. “A graded textbook is a novel idea,” he says. “It’s a nice way of getting people to read and to give them rewards for spending time with the material.”

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