How to Encourage Your Students to Participate in Class

How to Encourage Your Students to Participate in Class

Case Study

Every semester, Dr. Steven Forsey teaches a huge number of students — sometimes upwards of 700. He wanted to make teaching more fun and loves keeping his pedagogy up to date with the latest teaching technolologies.

Dr. Forsey faces particular challenges teaching Chemistry and Nanotechnology Engineering. As he puts it, “Chemistry is a new language, like hieroglyphics.”

You get it.

Dr. Forsey faced two main challenges:

  1. Students must learn a large amount of basic knowledge and

  2. Once they have that basic knowledge, they must apply these fundamental concepts to solve problems

Not to mention, he wanted an approach that allowed him to have fun along the way!

So Dr. Forsey set out to determine “how we can engage students to start learning the material early in the semester so that they can be successful in the course.”

Dr. Forsey uses Top Hat mainly to assist in flipping his classroom, to gain students’ interest, and to increase participation from his students.

Engagement, interest, and interactivity

At the beginning of each class, Dr. Forsey goes through a very brief powerpoint presentation, shows a quick demo, and then introduces a Top Hat question, which students answer using their own devices. Based on their answers, it springboards Dr. Forsey and his class into an interactive and engaging discussion about the material.

For example, Dr. Forsey will launch a question such as the one below, where students can either answer through multiple choice, or can even click with their finger on the image that they think is correct.

Dr. Forsey especially loves it when the students’ answers are wrong or divided 50/50, as it allows him the opportunity to launch into a debate with the class, which reinforces their learning and creates interactivity.

Students go head to head.

Last term Dr. Forsey ran four tournaments through Top Hat with questions ranging in the matching, click on target, word answer, multiple choice, and numeric answer options. Top Hat Tournaments works such that without having to move from their seats and by responding exclusively through their own devices, students go head to head to compete by answering questions. Their time to answer is limited and they receive points for both the fastest answer and correct answer. This has shown to increase interest, participation, and engagement with the material.

Students said that the tournaments helped them prepare for exams and enhanced their understanding.

Over the years, Dr. Forsey has continued to add questions to his question bank, so now has about 800 practice questions that he uses to encourage participation through running tournaments. In fact, in 2012 Forsey taught 711 students and reported that the students loved the ability to “click on target” as described above, or do matching questions, which are well outside the realm of the traditional hardware clickers’ abilities.

In fact, here’s an example of a matching question Dr. Forsey has run in his class:

and a click on target question:

A Flipped Classroom

Dr. Forsey also uses Top Hat to flip his classroom, so there’s not much teaching in class, but rather just Q & A where he is able to act as a steward to the students’ learning.

Dr. Forsey asked students whether they found the practice questions through Top Hat helped them determine whether they knew the material or not, and 83%  found these questions either helpful or very helpful. The same number of students also confirmed that the tournaments enhanced their motivation to do the practice questions. Perhaps most importantly, 90% of the students found that the tournament helped prepare them for the final exam.

Not only did the students find the tournaments helpful and fun, but Dr. Forsey said that it completely enhanced his enjoyment of teaching. He has fun watching the students compete and seeing the beneficial results that come from it. He also commented that the students who do participate in the tournament and with Top Hat overall do very well in the class.

In fact, Forsey reported that the tournaments winners’ final grades were over 90%. Generally, second and third place winners finished over 85%.

More students finished with a final grade over 80%.

Since beginning to use Top Hat in 2010, Dr. Forsey has reported that in his Chemistry class, 26% of students finish with a grade over 80%, up from 23%. He’s also seen that the percentage of students who fail decreased to 19% from 21%.

In his Nanoengineering class, the stats are even more compelling. 48% of students are finishing above 80%, up from only 31% in 2010. He also noticed that the failure rate dropped to 2% from 12%.

While the Nanoengineering class is more competitive to get into, and perhaps leads to more motivated students, it is still clear that the interactivity of the classroom that Top Hat has provided and that Dr. Forsey has utilized has made monumental differences for these students.

Forsey assured us that the material is the same each year and that the difficulty of the exam is relatively the same, so he really does attribute this rise to the technology and pedagogy methods he has implemented.

Dr. Forsey explains that where Top Hat has made the most profound difference is helping the people who are usually in the 65% – 75% grade range to increase their marks.

Since using Top Hat and Top Hat’s tournament features, more students are finishing with As in Dr. Forsey’s classes. More of them are understanding the fundamental concepts and walking away with the knowledge of how to practically apply these concepts.

Dr. Forsey has maintained the most modern pedagogical methods in order to connect with his students and create a classroom experience that is unprecedented. The good news is, you can too!

Top Hat is designed to connect professors and students in the classroom and to facilitate an active and engaged learning environment. If you’re interested in a demonstration of how Top Hat can be used in your classroom, click the button below.


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