Ohio State University has tried to increase student engagement in the classroom before. Professors have used in-class polling tools, asking students to respond to prompts and track in-class communication. The university’s newest platform, however, will go beyond simple polling and give professors a more well-rounded digital communication tool with technology students already have.
Ohio State is in the middle of a campus-wide rollout of Top Hat, which utilizes a “bring your own device” framework for classroom learning environments. Students will be able to access interactive slides, participate in class discussion, and respond to instructor questions from their own phones, tablets, or laptops.
Mike Hofherr, vice president and chief information officer at Ohio State University, said instructors, students, and staff members conducted a search for a new classroom engagement tool, choosing Top Hat in part because students can use technology they’re already carrying around anyway.
“Because of the BYOD nature of Top Hat, we anticipate a much broader adoption rate than with previous clicker solutions,” Hofherr said. Using existing technology also prevents the massive university from having to purchase new equipment.
Ohio State has nearly 65,000 students and 7,000 faculty members who will be able to incorporate Top Hat into their classrooms this summer and during the 2015-16 school year. The university joins Seton Hall University, the University of Georgia, and 500 others already using Top Hat technology to make classroom learning more engaging for students.
And they’re not the only ones focusing on in-class engagement. Cengage Learning launched a new partnership with Echo360 this month that will bring similar engagement tools to faculty across the country. Colleges and universities are increasingly focusing on retention as a measure of their success, and one way to keep students enrolled is to engage them in the classroom.
Top Hat CEO Mike Silagadze said in an announcement about the OSU partnership that colleges and universities have so far shortchanged efforts to improve the in-class experience in favor of focusing on improving online coursework and increasing that segment of enrollment.
“This has resulted in an outdated sub-par classroom experience and terrible student graduation rates,” Silagadze said in the prepared statement.
Many colleges expect classroom engagement tools like Top Hat and Echo360 to give them measurable results when it comes to student outcomes. As students participate in classroom polls or respond to discussion questions, platforms like these track that data. Hofherr said Ohio State has already integrated Top Hat into its learning management system, giving instructors the ability to see scores from classroom activities in their gradebooks.
Just as colleges can now track student engagement with the learning management system and see how that factors into course outcomes, they will be able to use the data from in-class engagement tools to find out how certain groups of students perform relative to others. And with Top Hat and other BYOD platforms, instructors won’t have to pass out clickers at the beginning of their lectures or require students to buy them. Students will walk into class with the digital technology they need.
Besides data-tracking, Hofherr said the new platform should also increase the amount of communication among students and between them and their instructors, improving relationships across the university. And it might just make classrooms more fun.
“Because of the diversity of question types and the lack of dependence on PowerPoint, we think that instructors will begin exploring new, more creative classroom applications,” Hofherr said. “We are excited to be a part of enhancing classroom engagement through Top Hat."
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