Integrated into Top Hat’s active learning courseware platform, Community provides students and educators with digital spaces to easily communicate, collaborate and build connections inside and outside the classroom.

Built on principles of community, collaboration, and connectedness, Community helps educators create an engaging virtual classroom experience, fostering student success and belonging during a time when human connection is needed more than ever

Community enables higher ed instructors and institutions to easily consolidate and facilitate cross-campus connections, course communications, real-time discussions, and project collaborations from anywhere

More than 3 million students are enrolled in courses using Top Hat at 750 of the top 1,000 higher ed institutions in North America 

TORONTO — July 30, 2020 — Top Hat, the leading active learning platform for higher education, today unveiled Community (formerly called Slate),  the free communication tool purpose-built for higher education, providing students and educators with digital spaces to easily communicate, collaborate, and build connections that will improve their academic and social lives. Community is integrated with the Top Hat platform and available to all users, effectively empowering educators with a full set of tools to incorporate active learning, improve student engagement, and build community in their courses in any teaching scenario — whether classes are taught in-person, online, or a hybrid combination of both. 

As higher ed institutions were forced to move courses online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have been challenged to provide a meaningful and impactful educational experience to students. According to a recent survey of more than 3,000 current higher education students, almost eight out of 10 (78 percent) respondents said their online courses lacked the engagement of in-person classes. In a separate survey of more than 800 higher ed instructors, focused on understanding how they are preparing for the Fall academic term, almost nine out of 10 (87 percent) educators responded that fostering a sense of community amongst students in their class is moderately to highly important. When it comes to their biggest concerns about teaching in the Fall academic term, some of the top issues identified by educators include:

  • The ability for students to feel connected to their classmates (68 percent of respondents)
  • Their own ability to build connections with students (61 percent)
  • Their own ability to build a sense of community with students (60 percent)

“As most educators and institutions plan for a primarily online or hybrid teaching format in the Fall, they’re facing an uphill battle to deliver educational ROI to students in a virtual setting,” said Mike Silagadze, founder and CEO, Top Hat. “We know students are expecting a more engaging, interactive, and human experience than they had during the last academic term. With today’s launch of Community, we’re releasing a powerful tool to all Top Hat users that replaces simple bandage solutions that were used to stay in contact with students in the last academic term. During a time when students are physically dispersed all over the country and even the world, Community will help educators and institutions maintain that sense of community and belonging even after students can safely return to campus.”

Community Brings Faculty, Students, Conversations, and Content into One Centralized Hub

Community is built on three core premises to support student success:

  • Build a learning community: Community provides a dedicated environment within Top Hat for educators and students to share and discuss class news and updates, facilitate real-time discussions about virtual lectures, and enable post-lecture dialog. It offers the flexibility to connect more than 200,000 students across a campus while also creating intimate spaces for classroom discussions and one-to-one direct messaging.
  • Enable seamless collaboration: Educators can create opportunities for students to engage in active learning outside the classroom by leveraging Community for team-based learning activities and project collaboration via chat or video conferencing. 
  • Maintain connections between classes: Community enables and encourages professor-to-student and student-to-student interactions. Using direct messaging and video-conference functionalities to facilitate virtual office hours, small group engagement, class-wide discussions, and cross-campus connections, they can easily connect with each other from anywhere.

Designed specifically for higher education and available on any desktop browser as well as iOS and Android devices, Community makes it easy for educators and students to maintain communication and connection:

  • Integrated with Top Hat: Every course in the Top Hat platform will have a Community environment within which students are automatically enrolled and can immediately participate before, during, and after class. 
  • Streamlined course experience: Community’s integration with Top Hat minimizes the number of accounts and technologies users need to manage.
  • Functionality for STEM courses: With the commonly used expression language KaTeX built in, users can express equations in the chat channel in the correct format.
  • Community moderation: Community offers controls and insights to support organic conversations in safe environments through enabling users to report questionable or offensive behavior. Top Hat works with institutions to identify undesirable content and language, and enables users to report behavior. 

What Professors Say About Community

“We are just as isolated in the online environment as students are. Community makes it easy to do a pulse-check with my students to see how they’re doing. I can also easily monitor the chitchat amongst students and jump in to the conversation to offer support with resources or a reminder about my office hours. What I really love about Community is the conversation between students that mimics those that they would have had in person at the beginning of class.”

– Laura Freberg, Professor, Psychology, California Polytechnic State University

“Community allows me to be more responsive to my students. I am able to have richer conversations in real-time rather than waiting for emails back and forth. The ability for students to share together in a common space is profound.” 

– Demian Hommel, Ph.D., Senior Instructor of Geography, Oregon State University

Community Strengthens Top Hat’s Active Learning Platform Used by Educators to Deliver Engaging and Effective Learning Experiences in the Fall and Beyond

Top Hat is the only all-in-one courseware platform that enables active learning — a proven student-centred teaching pedagogy that promotes deep understanding, critical thinking, and subject mastery — by encouraging students to engage with the content before, during, and after class, in both in-person and online courses. With the addition of Community, Top Hat makes it easy for educators and students to engage with one another in class — and continue the discussion and the learning when class ends. 

As the complete solution for any teaching scenario, Top Hat offers tools for in-person as well as synchronous and asynchronous online learning, while creating active engagement and connections with students inside and outside virtual class meetings. It includes remote lecturing functionality for live-streaming lectures and presenting slides, real-time in-class engagement tools for hosting discussions and polling and quizzing students, interactive assignments and readings, assignment creation and auto-grading, content customizability, detailed actionable insights to identify struggling students and difficult topics, and formative and summative testing. Additionally, in time for the Fall academic term, Top Hat will be making a subset of these features available for free for professors to host synchronous online classes that engage and motivate students.

Top Hat’s Support Team Provides Dedicated Assistance to Educators

Top Hat offers an array of dedicated resources to help customers plan for and deliver their courses. Instructional design support, onboarding services, and technical assistance are available to ensure a successful teaching and learning experience in the Fall and beyond.

What Professors Say About Top Hat

“I am going all in with Top Hat. It is clear to me that the ability to pivot quickly is essential for the next school term and the foreseeable future. On top of that, we already know that Gen Z and beyond want us to keep things active in the classroom. Top Hat makes it easy and allows faculty like me to respond quickly to personal life issues and societal-level impacts. I will be adopting Top Hat for all my classes from this point forward. It is a difference maker.”

– Eric Davis, Associate Professor of Sociology, Bellevue College

“Top Hat enables me to streamline my students’ online experience by storing all recorded lectures, discussions and homework assignments on the platform. With all class materials in one place, I’m able to connect the dots between homework completion and content comprehension, using data-driven insights to identify the content areas with which students are struggling. I can then tailor my online class time to follow up on these areas and answer student questions. I now feel like I’m able to meet my students where they are and shape the direction of the class in response to their specific needs. It’s the closest I come to feeling like I’m actually with them.”

– Nicole McNichols, Ph.D., Lecturer in Psychology, University of Washington

To learn more about Community:

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About Top Hat

Top Hat is the only all-in-one courseware platform that enables active learning — a proven student-centred teaching pedagogy that promotes deep understanding, critical thinking, and subject mastery — with interactive content, tools, and activities. Millions of students at 750 leading North American colleges and universities use Top Hat to teach and engage with students before, during, and after class, in both in-person and online education.


Top Hat
Dianna Lai Read