Top Hat’s online education programs are used by more than two million students at more than 700 universities.
Its expansion now includes Texas Tech, where use of Top Hat in classes been met with mixed feelings from students, particularly regarding its cost and usefulness as a way for instructors to give quizzes and take attendance.
The interactive teaching platform, which is available to students on their tablets, laptops and smartphones via app or website, was launched in 2009 from Canada’s Waterloo University by students frustrated by the costs of textbooks and clickers.
Alex Wing, a senior Russian language and area studies major, believes Top Hat is more of a hindrance than a helpful learning tool.
“It is an extra fee just to take attendance,” Wing said. “Part of being an adult means that you are responsible for going to class and having the materials. You shouldn’t be rewarded for what you are supposed to be doing. It is completely and utterly pointless in terms of usage seeing as most students who use it are one-time users, like myself.”
Victor Ledesma, a junior sociology major, thinks Texas Tech should invest in a standardized attendance program, much like Blackboard.
“When I found out I had to buy a separate program just so my professor could take attendance, I was heated,” Ledesma said. “We have to pay for classes already, you know? If you don’t come to class you shouldn’t dock us. It’s our education.”
Top Hat’s vision is “to make teaching fun and effective,” but some students seem to think Top Hat does the opposite.
Mike Silagadze, co-founder and CEO of Top Hat, understands Texas Tech student’s concerns and sympathizes with them.
“What happens when professors come on board is that they’ll just start with simple things like taking attendance or posting a question or two in class,” Silagadze said. “I totally sympathize if all a class does is take attendance with Top Hat, that’s frustrating and I’d feel exactly the same way.”
Bill Dean, associate professor of public relations, uses Top Hat in his two freshmen seminar classes.
“Since I have classes of 180, 272, and 430, this is a very efficient way to take roll,” Dean said. “I also have used Top Hat for short assessment exams. Some students have technical problems from time to time, but I allow for that. It certainly saves my teaching assistant an enormous amount of time.”
Although Texas Tech does not financially benefit from Top Hat subscriptions, the university could potentially save students money by standardizing the software.
Presently, not all instructors are required to use it in their courses, but Texas Tech currently has 5,555 students enrolled in Top Hat.
Ohio State University has standardized Top Hat and its students pay $3 a semester for the service. At universities where Top Hat is not standardized, students can pay $24 for a semester, $36 for 12 months or $72 for a lifetime subscription.
“The best solution for the university would be to standardize the software across campus,” Silagadze said. “In aggregate, Texas Tech could save students around $400,000 per year in clicker programs with one standardized license.”
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