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By Writing a Top Hat Interactive Textbook, a Professor Promotes Active Learning

George Mason University




Total Number of Students


Faculty Members in the Chemistry Department

At George Mason University, a chemistry professor’s contributions to a digital textbook promote active learning and engagement in his class

George Mason, the largest public research university in Virginia, sits just 15 miles west of Washington, D.C. It was the first university in the country to offer doctoral programs for information technology, bioinformatics and computational social science, and continues to be a leader in STEM academics at its science and technology campus.

In the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, associate professor Paul Cooper likes experimenting with the format of his lectures and the course material to see what captures students’ attention. “I’m always up for trying new things,” he says. He uses Top Hat’s classroom engagement platform to ask test-style questions during his General Chemistry lectures. He liked that students only needed their laptop or phone to participate, rather than cumbersome hardware. And since he introduced Top Hat’s classroom engagement app into his lectures a couple years ago, attendance has gone up.


“A lot of students express to me the convenience of having a digital textbook. It gives them the flexibility to take it anywhere, and study as it suits their schedule”

—PAUL COOPER Associate Professor, Chemistry, George Mason University
 Paul Cooper

Cooper also provided peer-review feedback early in the development of the General Chemistry digital textbook that Top Hat’s content team developed, which got him thinking about ways he could contribute. He’d published many research papers but had never authored a textbook before, and the process intrigued him. “A traditional print textbook lays out examples, poses questions, and then walks students through how to solve them,” says Cooper. “But when students see all this at once, it can give them a false sense of understanding. With the format of the Top Hat digital textbooks, they’d have to actually work through small steps of the problem themselves before the answer was revealed, and I knew this would mean they’d comprehend the material at a deeper level.”

So Cooper submitted two chapters for Top Hat’s General Chemistry co-authored digital textbook, which features 1,500 interactive questions, embedded videos, automatic grading, and full customizability, and now uses it in his classes. “A lot of students express to me the convenience of having a digital textbook. It gives them the flexibility to take it anywhere, and study as it suits their schedule. It’s changing where students are learning, and if it boosts their comprehension, it’s a win for everyone.”

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