If you teach a night class, law class, or want to try flipping your classroom, this post is for you!
Kara Bruce is a law professor at the University of Toledo College of Law and teaches Commercial Paper as a night class. With a passion for teaching and law, Kara ventured to flip her classroom in an attempt to engage students and ensure they fundamentally understand concepts that they can then practically apply when they become lawyers.
In only one semester of using Top Hat, Kara noticed dramatic improvements in students’ preparation for class, a higher level of comprehension, and performance on the final exam hit a historic high.
Night classes prove difficult to engage students, especially when the content is dense.
Commercial Paper is a fast-paced course that deals with dense and difficult-to-understand statutory text. This class is well suited to a problem-based approach, in which the legal principles are gradually explored through a series of hypotheticals that build in complexity. In an ideal class, students would work through assigned problems before coming to class, allowing class time to be spent ensuring comprehension and exploring broader implications of the legal principles covered. In practice, however, students frequently do not complete the homework to the degree required for advanced in-class learning.
Kara used Top Hat to engage students and to flip her classroom.
Kara’s overall goal was to create an atmosphere in which students would grasp the basic commercial law concepts as part of their homework, freeing up class time to cover the materials more broadly and deeply. She used Top Hat primarily to incentivize and track this out-of-class learning.
Kara says that to make best use of Top Hat, “each week, I assigned a short video or videos on the upcoming material. I also assigned a series of homework problems for students to complete ahead of class and students completed these problems using the Top Hat platform. In class, they briefly reviewed the concepts explored in the videos, working through the assigned questions to ensure that the students understood why a certain answer was correct or incorrect. We then moved more deeply through the material using a combination of lecture, hypotheticals, and class discussion.”
Students came prepared and learned faster, making Kara’s job easier.
Using Top Hat for assigned homework problems dramatically improved students’ preparation for class. Likely as a result of this enhanced preparation, students demonstrated a higher level of comprehension, allowing the class to cover material at a faster rate and deeper level than past classes have tolerated. By using Top Hat in class, she could instantly gauge what concepts required more or less coverage, and she could also leverage the collective confidence of the class to encourage discussion.
Students performed better on tests.
Kara noted that “performance on the comprehensive final exam appears to be higher than in any of my prior classes.” Principally, the mean score for the 30-question multiple-choice section of the exam rose 1.3 points from its historic high. The variance in scores was also relatively low, compared to prior years.
Students were engaged.
Many students reported a high level of engagement in the subject matter. Several students believed that the out-of-class work was particularly useful for a night class, as it encouraged preparation and lessened students’ mental workload during the 8:00-9:30 p.m. class time.
Students reported high levels of engagement both inside and out of class. When asked to rate how Top Hat affected their preparation for class, 63% of students reported that “Top Hat forced me to do the [homework] problems more thoroughly/carefully than I otherwise would have.” As one student noted, “Top Hat forced me to do the problems, so I think I understand Commercial Paper better.” Several students commented that this extra incentive was particularly helpful in a night class. Not only did Top Hat help keep students’ attention after many had worked a full day, but the effort required to complete the homework eased the mental burden of in-class learning.
Students also self-reported increased comprehension. Sixty-seven percent of students said that they felt more prepared for the final exam than they would have without the videos and homework problems. Several students also reported that they used Top Hat’s review feature to prepare for the exam.
Kara also drew the distinct impression that more students were able to navigate the intricacies in legal analysis than in prior years. Put another way, while the very highest grades predictably did not move much, the middle of the pack performed at a higher level than prior years.
Don’t take our word for it. See what Kara has to say…
“I found Top Hat to be an invaluable resource to augment my flipped-classroom. It allowed me to track and incentivize the type of out-of-class learning that makes a flipped class work. After grading my final examinations this semester, I am convinced that Top Hat had a salutary effect on students’ comprehension of the course material. For that reason, I would highly recommend Top Hat to my colleagues.
Law school professors may balk at incorporating Top Hat because of the difficulty of reducing legal concepts to multiple-choice questions and a fear of stifling class discussion. For these reasons, I would recommend that professors consider Top Hat as a springboard to conversation, rather than a replacement for it. Top Hat can ensure that students understand a foundational legal principle, and perhaps gauge how students might apply that principle in difficult factual scenarios. Top Hat might also be useful to start conversations on sensitive or politically charged concepts. Outside of the classroom, Top Hat can be an effective tool to incentivize self-guided study. As the state licensure (or “bar”) examination in every state but Louisiana features a multiple-choice component, Top Hat can serve a bar-preparation function as well.
Most importantly, I am very pleased with the positive effects the program had on my classroom.”
Thinking of flipping your classroom? Top Hat is designed to connect professors and students in the classroom and to create a more engaged and active learning environment. If you’re interested in a demonstration of how Top Hat can be used in your classroom, click the button below.