Elaine Bohórquez Named as a Finalist for Top Hat’s Most Innovative Educator

Cropped shot of hands using a smartphone
Elaine Bohórquez head shot on gray background.
Elaine Bohórquez is a teaching associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Teaching Associate Professor Elaine Bohórquez is an innovator. As the core professor for the Physiology Graduate Program at NC State, she prepares students for rewarding careers in medicine, dentistry and pharmacology. With team-based learning at the forefront, she strives to create courses that are tailored to NC State’s unique student body. 

Such courses require innovative teaching to match. Bohórquez has not only met this demand but exceeded it, leveraging Top Hat — NC State’s student engagement tool — in ways that not only enhance student learning but set a precedent for effective use of the tool at NC State. In March 2020, she was chosen as a finalist for Top Hat’s Most Innovative Educator Award. We caught up with Bohórquez to discuss her path to the nomination. 

How did you become interested in Top Hat?

I first became interested in Top Hat after completing my second year at NC State. I had recently introduced team-based learning to the core physiology courses and subsequently began exploring ways to promote engagement during the traditional lecture sessions as well. Top Hat stood out to me as a way to contain all course content and delivery tools in a single platform. I saw numerous advantages in this platform, including student access to lecture slides in real-time for annotation, a variety of question types, and the ability to collect data on both participation and correctness of questions posed during lecture sessions. The benefit of such an array of options was that it allowed me to engage the class in a variety of ways by posing questions that more accurately reflected what they needed to know.

What are your favorite features of the tool?

The variety of question types particularly appealed to me. Physiology is a very image-heavy subject, with diagrams of anatomical arrangements and cell signaling cascades being an essential part of communicating the function of the system. The click-on-target question option is what sealed it for me because I could ask an open-ended question and have students click on part of an image for their answer. The class-wide results show up as a heat map, which gives instant feedback to me, and perspective to the class, on their understanding.

How do you use Top Hat in innovative ways?

The interactive questions were the initial draw, but as I grew more accustomed with the technology, I began to employ other features to improve comprehension and engagement among the students. Perhaps the most useful tool for my courses is the annotation tool. While presenting lecture content through the Top Hat iPad app, I am able to annotate the slides to emphasize specific concepts as I present. The unique feature here is that any annotations that I add during class not only show up on my students’ personal devices in real time, but the annotations are also automatically saved so that students may revisit them after the lecture has concluded.

Another feature that I use frequently is the ability to assign questions only to specific students. I employ team-based learning and a team capstone project as part of the course assessments.  Students are sorted into small groups at the start of the semester and work with their teammates both in and out of the classroom for the entire semester. I create a separate discussion board for each team, which is only accessible to members of that team. This allows them to communicate with each other within the course website without posting to the entire class. It also allows them to pose questions from the team directly to me so that I can provide team-specific feedback to all members of the group.

The changes that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the university provided the opportunity to explore how technology could be used to ease the transition from a strictly in-person instructional environment, like my courses, to a strictly online one. Because the Top Hat platform already provides an instantaneous link between my device and the devices of my students, adding Zoom to the process allowed me to replicate the in-person experience in an online setting with real-time interaction and feedback between instructor and student. I look forward to trying out the new virtual classroom and messaging features that are being released for the fall semester.

Why were you nominated for Top Hat’s Most Innovative Educator award?

When I started teaching at NC State, I had to generate everything from the ground up. As such, I was able to start with a blank slate and create capstone physiology courses that are specifically tailored to our unique student body.

Many of the features of Top Hat can be employed for individual assessments and use in traditional lecture classes. Utilizing these features in a way that engages students in small groups not only gave the students an avenue to stay connected outside of the classroom but also provided a more personal approach for me to communicate with teams regarding their specific projects and challenges, even after we transitioned the class to a fully online format.

Being selected out of such a large number of nominees as a finalist was, to me, recognition that I have created a unique learning environment that propels our students forward. It confirmed to me that if I cannot find a tool or method that does exactly what I want, then I can keep the parts that work and modify the rest to ensure that the needs and goals of our particular group of students are met.

How have your students reacted to Top Hat?

As I become more adept at implementing the various available features, the students have expressed more positive impressions of the platform. Because I adopted it before NC State had the university license, I originally made it optional, and some students elected not to buy it for the semester. Once it became part of the university’s freely available platforms, my students have grown to prefer some of the features that it provides. Now that I am starting my 5th year of using Top Hat for my courses, there are many new features that were not available when I began. Top Hat has now become essentially a one-stop-shop for running my entire course, including the small group work amongst students.

Congratulations to Dr. Elaine Bohórquez on her nomination!

In the past year, more than 20,000 NC State students used Top Hat. Want to leverage Top Hat in your course(s)? Browse our collection of Top Hat resources to get started. For help using the tool, check out one of our Knowledge Base articles or contact the DELTA LearnTech Help Desk.