As higher education institutions begin to prepare for the Fall semester, there is tremendous uncertainty. Will classes resume on campus? Will they continue to be delivered online? Or some combination of the two? What is not uncertain is that colleges and universities face unprecedented pressure to demonstrate real value to students — to provide an educational experience that is engaging, motivating and effective, regardless of where it is delivered.
Getting this right is critical to the immediate future of higher ed. But as many will acknowledge, teaching well online is easier said than done. For most, the shift online in the face of COVID-19 has been a challenge characterized by disjointed learning experiences delivered using hastily assembled Frankenstein solutions. Where students are concerned, the transition has left much to be desired.
What 3,089 students have to say about the switch to online learning
Top Hat recently surveyed 3,089 higher ed students from across North America. The results paint a troubling picture. 68% view the emergency online instruction they have received as worse than the in-person instruction they’re used to. Almost 30% noted difficulties navigating online learning tools and 22% have had difficulty accessing resources and other materials.
Educators can begin to address these issues by helping students adjust to new learning environments. What’s not so easy to fix is the lack of engagement 78% feel about the online learning experience itself and the dissatisfaction 75% expressed around the lack of face-to-face interaction with faculty and fellow students.
Absent opportunities to connect with peers on campus, the classroom has become the only place for students to find that human connection. Unfortunately, the return to the “sage on stage” model of lecturing — this time through a video stream — has left students feeling unmotivated and disconnected. While students are generally appreciative of the efforts of instructors and institutions in making the best of a bad situation, more than 25% are questioning a return to their current college or university in the Fall term.
Increasing the ROI of online learning
The pandemic is not responsible for the shift to online learning, or the desire among students to see greater return on their investment in higher education. It only accelerated a shift already well underway — bringing a greater sense of urgency to institutions to demonstrate ROI.
I believe increasing value to students — whether through online or in-person learning — starts with recognizing that the best learning has always been defined by collaboration and exploration. It is active and experiential. Above all, it means instructors leveraging insights, empathy and the power of their experience to enable every student to realize their potential. It’s vital that the technology we choose must humanize the learning experience by fostering authenticity and building a sense of community inside and outside the “classroom.”
Realizing just how much better online and blended courses can be
As the CEO of Top Hat, I believe technology gives us an unprecedented opportunity to rise to the challenges facing higher ed.
This week we took an important step forward with the launch of powerful new virtual classroom capabilities within our active learning platform. We want to show the world just how much better online and blended learning can be. To do this, we’re giving educators a complete solution that makes online learning more engaging, more interactive and more human.
We are introducing Top Hat Basic—available free of charge—to enable professors to host synchronous online classes that engage students and make them feel connected to their learning. Top Hat Basic includes:
- Remote lecturing functionality for live-streaming lectures and presenting slides, right from within the Top Hat platform
- Real-time in-class engagement tools to take attendance, host discussions and poll and quiz students to create a virtual learning community
- Presentation recordings that offer a live-replay experience that allows students to participate in discussions and answer quiz questions on their own
A limited number of professors will be able to try the free platform in beta this Summer. It will be available for all courses this Fall.
The real agents of change
We recognize even the best technology only plays a supporting role. Our mission at Top Hat is to empower educators to engage their students and unleash their potential. Humanizing the learning experience, engaging and motivating students is only possible when the right technology finds its way into the hands of those who are committed to leading this change. It is the educator’s passion, their experience beyond the classroom — their authenticity — that makes learning truly come alive.
Our job is to make it easier to do this. By enabling faculty to connect meaningfully with students, to challenge and delight them, we can turn every classroom, virtual or otherwise, into places of relevance, vitality and belonging.
The good news is that the first step is now free.
Mike Siligadze is the founder and CEO of Top Hat, the only all-in-one active learning platform that enables professors to connect with students inside and outside the classroom with engaging content, tools, and activities.