Program offers technological approach to education

By Matt Daray


The university is testing a supplemental program for Desire2Learn, one designed to enhance technology across campus.

Many instructors and professors are using Top Hat, a program allowing instructors to ask questions, start discussions, launch demonstrations and display grades, all on a trial basis. The program is accessible on computers, tablets, smartphones and cellphones, allowing students to use their devices for in-class work and instructors to manage larger classes.


J.P. Dunn, specialist for the Center for Teaching Excellence, said Top Hat — accessible at www.tophat. com — is not being used as a replacement for such programs as D2L, the web system students use for online classes and to access class content, but as an enhancement to those programs. He said the program allows a student’s device to act as a clicker and is different from D2L in almost every way.

“It’s still a completely different system,” he said. “It can work in conjunction with D2L or another learning management system.”

Dunn said several classes, such as basic mathematics courses, are piloting the program. Top Hat is one of several programs being tested, such as MyLabsPlus, as well as the inclusion of different electronic textbooks to improve the overall quality of classes and make teaching larger groups of students easier for professors, he said.

“There’s always new stuff, new technology coming out, and one tool never does everything,” Dunn said. “That’s why in your toolbox you have some screwdrivers, a hammer, wrenches … not one product can do everything.”

Thara Lowndes, a mathematics lecturer testing Top Hat in her courses, said the program helps her manage classes in a large lecture hall.

“There’s 240 students in the class, so it’s my way to record attendance and make sure they’re paying attention as well,” she said.

Lowndes said the program helps students stay interested in the class because most of them are able to answer questions correctly when posted on Top Hat.


Lowndes has discovered a few minor problems with the program, but the issues only affect a few students and do not affect the overall learning experience, she said. One of Lowndes’ students cannot use the program because he has a cell phone with poor reception, so he sits in the front of class and answers each question off a piece of paper, she said.

Time will tell if the program has any bugs or other outstanding issues, Lowndes said.

“No major issues so far, but I’m sure there will be,” she said. “We’ve only had three lectures with it, so the first couple (of lectures) are to see if it works.”

And while the university is still in an early testing stage of the program, several students said Top Hat is a modern way to get an education in class and make the learning environment more interesting and accessible.

Sheldon Butler, a junior from Peoria studying civil engineering, said he would like to use the program for his classes if it does help students learn and pay attention.

“If it’s a way to ensure that students are going to class and that they’re participating and things like that and they’re getting knowledge, that’s something I could do,” he said.

Calvin Shade, a freshman from Chicago studying criminal justice, said Top Hat would help out new students because they are used to using their phones and tablets for multiple reasons already.

“Especially for the incoming freshmen, because with our tablets, we’re more in tune with our tablets anyway,” he said.