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Development of an Interactive TopHat Textbook for Engaged Learning

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engaging the Online Classroom

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Matthew M. Barry University of Pittsburgh

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Samantha E. Wismer


Tony Lee Kerzmann University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Tony Kerzmann’s higher education background began with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics from Duquesne University, as well as a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, Dr. Kerzmann began his career as an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Robert Morris University which afforded him the opportunity to research, teach, and advise in numerous engineering roles. He served as the mechanical coordinator for the RMU Engineering Department for six years, and was the Director of Outreach for the Research and Outreach Center in the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. In 2019, Dr. Kerzmann joined the Mechanical Engineering and Material Science (MEMS) department at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the advising coordinator and associate professor in the MEMS department, where he positively engages with numerous mechanical engineering advisees, teaches courses in mechanical engineering and sustainability, and conducts research in energy systems.

Throughout his career, Dr. Kerzmann has advised over eighty student projects, some of which have won regional and international awards. A recent project team won the Utility of Tomorrow competition, outperforming fifty-five international teams to bring home one of only five prizes. Additionally, he has developed and taught fourteen different courses, many of which were in the areas of energy, sustainability, thermodynamics, dynamics and heat transfer. He has always made an effort to incorporate experiential learning into the classroom through the use of demonstrations, guest speakers, student projects and site visits. Dr. Kerzmann is a firm believer that all students learn in their own unique way. In an effort to reach all students, he has consistently deployed a host of teaching strategies into his classes, including videos, example problems, quizzes, hands-on laboratories, demonstrations, and group work. Dr. Kerzmann is enthusiastic in the continued pursuit of his educational goals, research endeavors, and engagement of mechanical engineering students.

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Lee Allen Dosse University of Pittsburgh

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Lee A. Dosse is a PhD student working with the Engineering Education Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Collegiate education requires a multi-faceted instructional approach both within and outside the classroom to effectively build student comprehension and competency. There are well-documented in-class activities that increase student engagement and learning, such as in-person and computer-based think-pair-share activities and polling [1-3]. There are also complementary out-of-class activities that augment in-class learning by fortifying key concepts. Flipped course formats within traditional synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and more recently the use of Makerspaces are examples of these activities [4-10]. An often-overlooked area of out-of-class instruction is the ability to effectively utilize a textbook throughout the various stages of learning. To this end, an interactive textbook was developed in the Top Hat, implemented in a sophomore-level Statics and Mechanics of Materials course, and surveys were conducted to better understand student perceptions, understanding and

The text was built in a concept-example-question format, based on Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), where concepts were introduced conceptually, graphically, and mathematically. This introduction was followed by illustrative examples. Embedded questions test the understanding of, and competency with, the online textbook material. Thus, within the text alone, students had multiple exposures to the content, reinforcing the conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory recall [11]. Additionally, the text was co-authored by a student who had recently taken the course and who was able to provide insight into which concepts and aspects of the course their peers struggled with.

One of the novel aspects of this text are embedded questions, which bridged in-class and out-of-class instruction. Students were assigned portions of the text as reading assignments and were required to answer embedded questions. Embedded questions are adaptable by the instructor as to provide help if a student answers incorrectly, to allow multiple answer attempts, to provide instantaneous feedback in the form of showing the correct solution after the last attempt, and to count as participation and/or correctness points. Top Hat's platform tracks student performance and notifies the instructor of questions with low averages such that remedial measures can be introduced at different points in the learning process, such as during class. The implementation of the concept-example-question format, coupled with the uniqueness of Top Hat's embedded question feedback mechanisms, provides a high level of interactivity and engagement not available within conventional texts.

To ascertain the effectiveness of an interactive text on student learning, engagement and satisfaction, a mixed-methods study was performed involving four different sections of the course. The interactive text was implemented in three of the sections, while a single section utilized a traditional text. A survey composed of both open- and closed-ended questions was administered to each section at the end of the semester, and was used to gauge student interest, engagement, and perceptions of the textbook. Preliminary results indicate a high level of student satisfaction and favorable attitudes toward the extent and frequency of interactivity. Students have indicated they feel confident and competent with the course material by having recurrent interaction and instant feedback regarding their comprehension and understanding.

Barry, M. M., & Wismer, S. E., & Kerzmann, T. L., & Dosse, L. A. (2021, July), Development of an Interactive TopHat Textbook for Engaged Learning Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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