Top Hat enterprise partnership enhances learning experience


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Iowa State has entered a new enterprise partnership with the company behind Top Hat, eliminating the need for students to pay subscription fees for classes that use the program.

Iowa State has entered a new enterprise partnership with the company behind Top Hat, eliminating the need for students to pay subscription fees for classes that use the program.

Gretchen Anderson, an instructional technology specialist for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, said the partnership will remove the barrier preventing some faculty from taking advantage of Top Hat.

“A lot of instructors really care about their students and what they are expecting their students to spend money on for their courses,” Anderson said. “And so by removing this, we kind of make it easier for faculty to test it out in their courses, it’s a little lower risk.”

Anderson said the partnership will not require that any courses use Top Hat, rather, it makes it easier to integrate the program into courses.

“There’s no right or wrong way to incorporate it; if an instructor chooses to use it, it’s really just meant to be there as a way to enhance students’ learning,” Anderson said.

Anderson said Top Hat has continued to develop its content offering and assessment spaces over the past years. She said through the pandemic, Top Hat has adapted and addressed the technological needs of the university.

Anderson said one example of this is dynamic content that allows professors to include videos and more interactive elements with courses.

“They’ve been working to develop different types of questions that can be created,” Anderson said. “Particularly in some of the more STEM fields where multiple choice isn’t going to really assess all of the students learning. So they’ve been working to build up those types of questions and make it a better environment, a better assessment of students learning.”

Misty Zimmerman, an instructional technology specialist at the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, said Top Hat is set up in a way to encourage students to take more of an active role in their courses.

“It’s gonna allow students to be able to see their materials before they come to class and they could have a richer and deeper conversation in class,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said depending on how instructors use the program, students may have the ability to go back and review content from lectures after they have taken place.

“It’s really big on active learning and student engagement,” Zimmerman said. “The more the students can participate in the course without just sitting in the lecture listening to the lecture drone on, then hopefully they’ll have more interaction or engagement.”

Zimmerman said tools within Top Hat can be useful for hosting discussions on sensitive topics. She said in cases where students do not feel comfortable answering a question with their names attached, tools like anonymous polls can help keep students engaged.

“So that’s kind of an example of active learning,” Zimmerman said. “It’s really about student engagement with the material rather than just kind of rote memorization, but really getting a hands-on feel of what they’re doing and being able to discuss and interact with it.”

Zimmerman said students could access Top Hat and use it to engage with courses on any number of devices, from mobile phones to laptops.

Marie Bolton, a senior in biology, said she used Top Hat in a BIOL 212 class for which she’s a peer mentor. She said Top Hat is used in class to incentivize peer-to-peer interaction, allowing the professor to award points to students for participating in the class.

“The content we cover in that class is really important for all your future classes you’re going to take so making sure that they’re not just like memorizing the content, but they actually know how to like think about it and then apply it is important,” Bolton said.

Bolton said Top Hat is helpful in making courses accessible and engaging, even in online formats. She said in some classes, professors have avoided using the program in order to not require students to pay the subscription fee, but she said the programs professors use instead are not easy to use and often don’t work.

“So it’s nice that they make that free if that’s something that is like a university-wide thing because it’s basically required, so many classes use it,” Bolton said. “But especially because I’m an out-of-state student so there’s already like so many more additional fees and stuff that it’s nice that they’re trying to make it more affordable.”