Use Top Hat to Teach Engineering…and Just About Any Other Type of Class

Use Top Hat to Teach Engineering…and Just About Any Other Type of Class


Put simply, Professor John Schlup’s class is unique. He teaches a large number of students, about 180, who are either required to take his class or are taking it as a preferred elective. The structure of this class is probably unlike anything you’ve seen or heard. He starts the semester with 180 students and for about five weeks they cover common and overarching material. After the 5 weeks, they start a second course which also goes for 5 weeks, and is all mechanical and industrial engineers.
The third session is then largely electrical and nuclear engineers to finish the semester.

What’s most unique here is that Professor Schlup handles each session as 3, one-credit-hour courses. He schedules the class to take part in the same weekly timeslot and then teaches it 3 times a week and gets it done in 1/3 of the semester.

Professor Schlup says that “this is more efficient; students see the tie between the classes.”

Using Top Hat to transform your classroom

Professor Schlup gave us some insights into his use of Top Hat in his classroom –“Does Top Hat make my job easier? I don’t know. I do know that if I’m trying to do this [active learning] it does. It provides a means for building accountability and responsibility.

“[Top Hat] provides an environment where you’re forcing students to participate and interact; it’s a painless way to get feedback and to force passive students to participate without making it a burdensome environment for graders or faculty.”

Read on if you’d prefer an active classroom to students starting at you and (not so) secretly texting their friends!

Implementing the flipped classroom

You’ve probably heard of the Flipped Classroom by now. This semester Professor Schlup is teaching in the summer, so he thought it would be the perfect time to try flipping his class

He takes his recorded lectures, splits them up by topic, and is left with a set of about 40 hours of video split into 5-25 minute segments, making it easy for him to split the videos up by whichever topic he’s teaching that week.

This way, it’s not just 50 min of lecture every time. Professor Schlup says that, “now I ask students to view the selected video before coming to class and then we try to do problems and answer questions in the classroom time and try not to go over material that’s in the video.”

The greatest challenge facing any professor

The greatest challenge Professor Schlup faces is exploring how to implement an active learning environment in a rational way with a larger class.

Since using Top Hat to accomplish this goal, Professor Schlup says that, “my life is easier and I can do great things with [Top Hat]. What I find very useful and intriguing with Top Hat is the ability to have students respond without being limited to multiple choice. I love that as an engineer, they can type in numbers and they can see the answers in real time. That to me is just wonderful.”

How to get your class to be truly interactive

Professor Schlup shares that by using Top Hat to continually engage with his students throughout the duration of the class, he can “make sure they’re not working on their homework for their next class.”

He says that he “loves the tool!” While some students already have a clicker so wonder why they need Top Hat, Professor Schlup explains that with Top Hat he “[doesn’t] have to only do multiple choice questions; they can be doing real numbers, students can send in questions, they can text me what’s not making sense and I can either watch that as it comes up and we can talk about it, or I can take it back to my office and look at it later.”

To ensure both Professor Schlup and his students get the most out of using Top Hat, he’s incorporated in-class time as a portion of the grading so that there’s some accountability there; he explains that this is a way of keeping students involved and rewarding those who are involved in the classroom.

“This creates an environment where I get feedback from whole class even though I only talk to a few groups, and the whole class sees what’s going on in other groups, and even if they’re shy they can input a question.”

Teaching in the 21st century

Professor Schlup also takes advantage of Top Hat’s Android and iPad professor app, which allows him to control his entire lecture from anywhere in the room, and from the palm of his hand.

He points out, “I hate standing behind a lectern, and if I’m really going to have an active classroom, I’m going to move around – so being able to have a tablet and walk amongst the class and annotate on the tablet and interact with exactly what they’re doing and seeing is why I’ve been excited about the [Top Hat] prof app, and having them being able to go back and look at [the annotations I made on the tablet] is great — if nothing else, it looks cool!”

Transforming the efficacy of group work

Professor Schlup is transforming the efficacy and efficiency of group work. He puts students in groups of 3 and gives them a problem to work on.

Then, “at a certain point I open Top Hat to get their answers. Then we’ll stop and talk about that problem, and then move onto the next. This let’s us get through about 2 problems with some discussion, and automates the grading for at least participation, and sometimes they receive ½ a mark for participation and ½ for correct answer. Then, 10% of their grade from the whole semester is what we do in class.”

What about wifi?

We know that sometimes good wifi can be hard to come by, which is why Top Hat allows students to SMS text in their answers in the case that a classroom is not well-equipped with a wifi network.

Professor Schlup seems to have mastered the art of wifi in a large classroom and shares that, “the other beauty I like with Top Hat is that for example, this last summer about half of my students were actually using their smartphones to text in answers rather than going wireless from laptops.”

He continues, “it buys them some comfort to know that if they text in their answer and don’t have a connection for whatever reason, they know that their answer still gets uploaded and time stamped.”

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.

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