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Top Hat—the supported student response system at IU—helps instructors using active learning to better engage their students
The largest public university system in the state of Indiana is best known for its business, music and medical schools, and for being part of the historical Big Ten intercollegiate sports conference. But it’s also home to the world’s first school of philanthropy, and the country’s first school of informatics, which is the study of how information technology impacts all academic disciplines. Pioneering new fields of study is nothing new for the cream-and-crimson clad Hoosiers.
That willingness to innovate and experiment continues today on IU campuses, where the Top Hat classroom engagement app is now a supported student response system. Thirty-five instructors across four campuses and multiple disciplines, including Sociology, Public and International Affairs, and Chemistry, introduced Top Hat to their classes in the fall of 2016. The positive feedback has been overwhelming.
“Top Hat flows seamlessly into my style of teaching,” says assistant professor of nursing Barbara White, “which is very interactive, multi-faceted and uses many different active learning techniques.” White teaches pediatric nursing, and worked for over 20 years as a bedside nurse, before earning advanced degrees that focused on pedagogy, curriculum development and active learning. “What I liked about classroom response systems is they help me keep a pulse on the class, so I know when I’m losing them and when they need a break,” says White. “If my students can’t take in the information and make connections and be able to recall the information, we’re in trouble. In nursing, patients’ lives will depend on students’ ability to recall what they’ve learned.” White says that part of the magic of Top Hat is its ability to supplement her lecture material with questions, exercises and quizzes that add meaning to why students are learning what they’re learning.
And she cites two more reasons why she’s on board with Top Hat: “The customer support that I have gotten from Top Hat has met my expectations every time. No matter what my question was, I received a response within 24 hours. In addition, the students love using Top Hat. They have told me it’s easy to use—from loading on their devices to answering questions. And they’ve said that they like how answering Top Hat questions breaks up the class time and tests their knowledge.”
“Top Hat flows seamlessly into my style of teaching, which is very interactive, multi-faceted and uses many different active learning techniques“
Top Hat has proved popular with other departments, too. Kathleen Marrs teaches an intro to biology lecture-hall class of 620 that captures a wide range of students, including those with honors standings, and those who are bright but dealing with additional responsibilities, like part-time work or family commitments. Her biggest teaching challenge is keeping such a large, diverse group with different needs engaged in the course material and understanding whether the lessons are resonating with her students.
Marrs had experimented with clickers for her large-format classes, but found them cumbersome and hard to use, eventually deciding they were way more trouble than they were worth. Top Hat’s system was more attractive because of its versatility—students could use it with devices they already had (smart phones, tablets, laptops), and it synced with the campus LMS and gradebook. Plus, “Top Hat is easy to use, very intuitive and it’s quick to set up because there’s virtually no tutorial support needed,” says Marrs. “And it really does engage students. It gets them talking to each other, participating and thinking critically about the material in class.”