IT, CELT introduce new interactive teaching, learning platform

A new service promises to give instructors more options in creating interactive lectures for their classes.

Following a successful pilot program during 2015-16, information technology (IT) and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) are introducing Top Hat, a cloud-based teaching and learning platform. The service, which begins this fall, will replace clickers -- the remote control-style devices used at ISU for the last 10 years -- with students' existing devices, enhancing functionality for instructors and students.

New features

Top Hat offers instructors new technology-based, pedagogical opportunities in the classroom. Among features are:

  • Six types of questions for student responses
  • Synchronous and asynchronous modes of participation
  • Methods for instant feedback via open-ended discussions
  • New ways for instructors to create interactive content and customize student access

Students will benefit from the new service as well. They will be able to use their existing devices -- like smartphones, laptops and tablets -- to access Top Hat. They can access content outside of class time and track progress through their Top Hat accounts.

Since students will use their own devices, IT and CELT support for clickers has been discontinued. Likewise, the TurningPoint 5 software used with clickers is no longer supported by the vendor or ISU.

Blackboard integration, transition help

"We believe both instructors and students will be very pleased with Top Hat," said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, CELT director. "It allows instructors to engage students pedagogically in ways we have not been able to before at ISU. It's very intuitive to use and is accessible through virtually any device."

Top Hat integrates with Blackboard, ISU's learning management system. The current integration is simple, but a more advanced and expanded Grade Center integration is expected this fall, if not sooner.

Instructors transitioning from TurningPoint 5 to Top Hat can get expert help from Top Hat staff in transferring their legacy clicker course content and using Top Hat in courses.

VanDerZanden emphasized that faculty seeking this service should contact the IT Solution Center as early as possible to avoid the mid-August rush.

Students: How to switch

Students using Top Hat will pay for a license rather than hardware clickers. They can get licenses through the University Book Store when ordering books, or directly through Top Hat. They can create Top Hat accounts for free, but will be prompted for a license code when they try to join their courses.

Top Hat student licenses are $50 for five years, $25 for one year or $17 for one semester. Students with legacy clickers can exchange them at the bookstore for a $25 Top Hat license credit.

Making the transition

An ISU Top Hat website is available, which includes these transition tips:

  • Create a free Top Hat account at, via the "sign up" link in the upper right corner of the page. Select ISU as the institution and use an ISU email address for discounted pricing.
  • Users who need support, including instructors who want to use Top Hat's transition help, should use this online form or contact the IT Solution Center.
  • Top Hat representatives will visit campus the week of July 18 and at the start of the fall semester to offer training and assistance. Watch Inside Iowa State for details.

"Our hope," VanDerZanden said, "is that the features of the new Top Hat service will entice more instructors to use this type of technology in their classes."