How Top Hat Helped a Liberty Professor
There was a time when Donna Donald forbade the use of digital devices in her classroom.
“One frustration I’ve always had—and I think this is across the board whether it be in college or in a business setting or wherever—is with the distracting quality of cellphones,” says Donald, a history professor who has been teaching at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, since 2001.
The era of the forbidden cellphone came to an end for Professor Donald’s students in 2016, when Liberty partnered with Top Hat and Donald, who teaches classes as large as 120 students, recognized the opportunity that was being presented to her: Since Top Hat runs on students’ digital devices, its use in the classroom would allow her to keep a large class engaged. And the anonymity the platform provided would encourage a wider variety of students to respond during her lectures, not just the eager ones or those sitting up front. The devices Professor Donald had once banned were going to work for her class.
“Cellphones are always there, no matter what you do or say—the students have them out or they might be hiding them, but they’re going to use them,” says Donald, who had already been an early adopter of technology at Liberty, making the most out of the clickers that had long been in use campus-wide.
Before Top Hat, those devices helped her simplify attendance and improve engagement. When she started using Top Hat in the fall of 2016, she took a similar tack, using the app for classroom response— adding two to three questions into her lectures—and for taking attendance.
“Top Hat support is there to walk you through every step of the way. And the students love Top Hat. If they are happy with it and it’s effective, why not give it a try?”
- Donna Donald, Professor of History, Liberty University
“It was working about the same as clickers,” says Donald of her early experimentation with Top Hat Classroom. But Top Hat, Donald quickly realized, was a lot more than a substitute for clickers—her students loved it. When Liberty’s Center for Teaching Excellence conducted an assessment of Donald’s class during that first semester in 2016, the class delivered a clear verdict: Of all the things Donald was doing, students felt that the most effective tool in her teaching arsenal was Top Hat, and because it made her lectures more engaging, they wanted her to use it more.
“I was surprised,” says Donald, “I thought, ‘Wow, if that’s the case, then let’s use it.’ So I started using it more. I still mainly use it for classroom interaction, but I’ve tried to be a little bit more creative with it and now use the polling and click-on-target features too.”
Three semesters later, says Donald, student engagement is riding high. “The in-class response does several things. First, it helps me gauge my effectiveness. If I give them a question and half the class misses it, then something is wrong. We need to back up and go over that material again. But if I give a question and all but a few get it right, those who missed it might realize their attention wandered. They need to re-engage in the class.”
Near the end of 2017, Donald tried Top Hat Test, a new Top Hat feature that allows instructors to create and securely administer exams in a bring-your-own-device environment. Now that she’s tried it, Donald plans to use Top Hat Test for all her assessment needs.
“Testing was one thing I really missed from using clickers,” says Donald. “I don’t like using Scantrons. They are cumbersome and expensive. With Top Hat, there is no scanning or alphabetizing and I can get analytical data that’s not available with Scantrons.”
For any of her colleagues who might still be apprehensive about giving Top Hat ago, Donald offers this reassurance: “Top Hat support is there to walk you through every step of the way. And the students love Top Hat. If they are happy with it and it’s effective, why not give it a try?”
Top Hat Test allows you to securely administer and auto-grade quizzes, tests, midterms and final exams, and ensure academic integrity remains high by using Top Hat’s proprietary lock-out browser. Top Hat Classroom helps you make every class feel intimate by leveraging students’ devices to drive discussion, identify common misconceptions and get real-time feedback. Find out more at tophat.com
Mar 8, 2018 | Read More >