We recently put on a workshop ‘Using and Learning from Top Hat’. We found out about the problems and pitfalls of using Top Hat, but also how it can promote engagement, improve the experience of students and help lecturers to assess learning. Most importantly, we found out how planning for engagement fundamentally changes the way that teaching and learning occurs in your classroom or lecture theatre.
Our aim was to get the invited academic and learning support staff to tell us about their experiences of using Top Hat in their teaching, and to introduce them to each other to learn what their colleagues had been up to. This would all inform our evaluation of Top Hat, and the decision about whether to adopt it as an officially supported software across the university.
Fifteen people were able to come along, and they saw a couple of short presentations, followed by a focus group activity to share their experiences. We also used Top Hat to gather some information about Top Hat!
Terese Bird, from the School of Medicine, showed us how they are using Top Hat with medical students. Questions are created, then half of them are used in lectures, followed by the other half when the students split into smaller groups. The lecturers all sign up as co-professors to Top Hat courses, create a set of folders with questions, and the questions are shared by copying them from one folder to another.
Dr Volko Straub presented his innovative use of Click on Target questions. He had struggled with the limitations of the question types in Top Hat – complex questions with multiple correct answers can require setting up many different questions, which becomes time-consuming and complicated. Volko found that he could provide a graphical representation of the possible answers to a complex question, or provide a table or grid of answers. This was then incorporated as an image into a Click on Target question.
Some of the findings from our workshop
Top Hat is used across different types of learning environment, but mainly in lectures and workshops. Multiple Choice and Word Answer are the most popular question types; most ‘agree somewhat’ that Top Hat is easy to learn to use, and that it improves the student experience.
A few of the participants mentioned how it was difficult to write good questions that would test the students, and give the information required to assess learning.
There is also an issue with ‘bringing the students back’ – regaining their attention once they have started discussing issues and questions set for them.
It’s all about engagement
One important point that came out of discussions in the session is that using Top Hat is not a facile exercise. Also – it’s not really about Top Hat – it’s all about engagement and active learning.
While Top Hat can be used as a quick way to test for understanding, you can’t just look at the answers and move on – although that might be easier to do if the students are answering correctly (but then there’s the issue of whether your questions challenging enough!), and that can throw off your session plan, and affect what content you can get across.
Dealing with responses effectively requires more time in your teaching session, which means that you will have to make some choices about which content you need to teach, or whether you even need to teach some of the content at all – the less time you spend ‘telling’, the more you can spend teaching. You can also think about teaching the content in different ways, such as using a blended approach (a mix of F2F and online). Both options will need adjustments to your course plan, and possibly even the curriculum. Blended learning is not just a matter of adding some aspects of technology, it involves changes to the constructive alignment of your course (Intended Learning Outcomes – Assignments – Assessment).
The issues with using Top Hat:
Increases to workload
- It requires changes to your preparation for teaching
- You have to learn how to use and apply it effectively
- It can require changes to your course or even curriculum
- It can require learning to use a blended approach
Engagement and improved student experience
- It fosters dialogue and active learning
- Used appropriately, students like it
- Allows formative assessment and immediate responses
- Saves time longer-term by creating reusable resources
Find out more
If you would like to find out more about delivering engaging lectures, or using digital technology in your teaching, get in touch with Leicester Learning Institute.