Top Hat Gains Traction at NC State

An instructor using Top Hat in his course. He is standing at front of large classroom using a Tablet. Students have cellphones in hand.

In just over a year, Top Hat has taken off at NC State. Since DELTA obtained a campus-wide license for the interactive classroom tool in May 2017, more than 300 instructors and 11,000 students are actively using the tool at no cost them.

Top Hat is a comprehensive teaching platform that allows instructors to host lecture slides, find customizable educational content, ask graded questions, discussions and polls, assign homework quizzes and create interactive textbooks.

For many faculty, Top Hat has been instrumental in creating a more interactive classroom experience, using devices students already use every day such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and even ordinary cell phones.  

DELTA has also been hard at work implementing new features, creating support and training resources, and working with ComTech to enhance the instructional Wi-Fi in classrooms across campus.

We reached out to a number of faculty in different disciplines to hear how they’ve implemented Top Hat into their classrooms and to seek advice for new instructors looking to get started with Top Hat.

Tailor Your Teaching

For Professor of Accounting Bruce Branson, gauging his student’s understanding using Top Hat’s question feature is extremely helpful in his courses. “I can poll the class and get immediate feedback regarding proficiency and adjust my teaching on the fly to spend a bit more time on a concept or move on to something new,” Branson said.

“I can have fun with some of the multiple choice responses to a particular question and my students can have a laugh at my often stale jokes. It’s a great way to create engagement and to keep students interested. Let’s face it, financial accounting is a tough sell to many students, and I find that using Top Hat really helps with keeping them on their toes,” he added.

Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics Zodiac Webster said Top Hat’s free response questions have allowed her to have more two-way conversations with her students instead of a traditional lecture where parts of the message may be confusing.

“The opportunity to ask a free response type of question allowed me to poll the class to see if there were any questions about material and actually get questions back. Students are reluctant to raise their hands, but were very willing to post their questions electronically,” said Webster.

These type of discussion questions are especially beneficial in keeping students engaged in large courses.

Active Engagement in Large Courses

Many instructors agreed Top Hat has been instrumental in their large courses. Professor in the Department of Chemistry Chris Gorman said, “Top Hat is a good way to engage a large number of students, giving them an opportunity to actively participate in what would normally be a lecture-only class.”

The ability to participate and feel heard among many other students is beneficial for not only the student but the instructor as well.

Graduate Teaching Assistant in Forestry and Environmental Resources Dillon Dunn said, “Top Hat is a platform that helps make large class lectures into a personal experience for students. The in-class lecture quizzes keep students engaged through long lectures.”

Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences Miles Engell said Top Hat has impacted both her large courses and smaller classes.

“I find it easier, and thus more likely, that I will use interactive questions in my large classes, and that I will foster in-depth discussion about more ‘controversial’ issues in my smaller classes. The ability to respond anonymously, as well as to answer with phrases and sentences, rather than just multiple choice, is terrific,” said Engell.

Using Devices in Your Favor

Leverage students’ existing devices as a learning tool with Top Hat. Since students are more than likely always carrying their cell phone or laptop, you can use those devices in your favor instead of them being a distraction.

Research Associate Professor in Forestry and Environmental Resources Roland Kays knows many students are on their devices during class and may drift to social media. “Top Hat allows me to directly engage them through the screen during class,” said Kays.

In addition, since most students already own Wi-Fi capable devices, there is no additional purchases or equipment needed to use Top Hat.

DELTA’s Role

To help instructors manage their Top Hat courses, DELTA enabled a plugin that allows Top Hat and Moodle to work together. With a click of a button, grades can be transferred from Top Hat to Moodle and student enrollments can be synchronized.

“Practically speaking, the ability to synchronize Top Hat with Moodle makes it feasible to include interactive, in-class assignments in a class with 250-300+ students and one teaching assistant,” said Director of Environmental First Year Program Steph Jeffries.

DELTA has also collaborated with ComTech to ensure classrooms have sufficient instructional wireless for online tools, like Top Hat, to work well. A majority of the 110 classrooms (the general use classrooms on campus) have been equipped with instructional wireless and ComTech plans to upfit the rest by the end of the calendar year. Check this room inventory to see if instructional wireless is available in your classroom.

Support and Training

During DELTA’s fall workshops series, several Introduction to Top Hat workshops will be offered where participants can learn the key functionality of the platform as well as the pedagogical benefits of using Top Hat. Later in the fall semester, DELTA will offer advanced Top Hat workshops to help instructors learn more sophisticated features and tools, such as group-mode for questions, tournaments, and interactive textbooks.

You can also request a consultation and a DELTA staff member will meet with you one-on-one and get you quickly up and running.

Visit go.ncsu.edu/tophat for more information and resources.

Interested in more advice on getting started with Top Hat? Check out some of these tips from your colleagues at NC State.

“Dive in! It’s a pretty straightforward adoption and there are so many helpful and valuable resources available to assist you in getting started and taking advantage of all Top Hat has to offer. I know I am still learning more each time I use Top Hat in my classes and that has been very refreshing for my teaching career,” said Professor of Accounting Bruce Branson.

“Take time to play around with it before using it in class. We had TAs set up student accounts so we could see how different types of questions would work. The Top Hat support team is quick to respond and very helpful if you ever have questions or problems,” said Research Associate Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources Roland Kays.

“If you are teaching a big lecture class, consider how you can use Top Hat to promote more discussion between students in their chairs with each other. Don’t just use it as a way for you to take attendance,” said Teaching Assistant Professor of Physics Zodiac Webster.

“I have found Top Hat tutorials and support to be very helpful both when I started and now that I’m adding to my class. I was initially concerned that some students would have difficulty bringing a Wi-Fi device to each class, but it hasn’t been a problem. I also post questions to be answered outside of class, and I’ve found that creating questions in Top Hat is easier than in Moodle. Thanks to the university’s license, you can try Top Hat for a day or a week with no cost to your students,” said Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Nancy Moore.

“I don’t seem to have the ability to do anything but jump into the deep end, but it is possible to adopt a few aspects of Top Hat, then expand. You could start small, with one Top Hat question each class, or use it only occasionally. I used Top Hat to replace Google forms, and for the most part it is much better since I can sprinkle questions in throughout the lecture to break up the class a bit,” said Director of Environmental First Year Program Steph Jeffries.

“The initial set-up seems a bit daunting at first, but customer/faculty support is great, and it really is worth it!” said Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences Miles Engell.

“Be sure to play around with it before actually trying it in class. It might also be beneficial to visit a colleague’s class that is currently using it so you can learn more about the functionality and also ask questions of them after seeing an actual demo of it being used,” said Assistant Professor in Forestry and Environmental Sciences Zakiya Leggett.

“Integrate current events that are relevant to the course lecture to spur additional conversation.  Identify the benefits of Top Hat at the beginning of the course to ensure they understand the value and how Top Hat will be used as part of their overall grade,” said Senior Lecturer in Business Management Thomas Byrnes.

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