Top Hat launches free version of platform as universities move to online learning

Toronto-based Top Hat is launching a free version of its platform in addition to several new virtual classroom capabilities, in order to support professors whose work is being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The shift to remote teaching in the past couple of months was abrupt and unplanned.”

Top Hat’s flagship offering is an “active learning platform” for higher education. The company competes with textbook publishers, providing digital textbooks and course materials for professors and students at postsecondary institutions.

A limited number of professors will be able to try the free platform, Top Hat Basic, in beta during the summer, and the platform will become publicly available when the fall semester begins. Top Hat Pro, the paid offering, comprises all the tools in Top Hat Basic and integrates them with the Top Hat platform.

Top Hat Basic will allow professors to stream their lectures live, present and edit slides, host live chats, administer polls and quizzes, take attendance, and record lectures to ensure all students have access to the learning material. These new online teaching capabilities are aimed to address student dissatisfaction with remote learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A recent survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed found 85 percent of college and university presidents are concerned about COVID-19’s impact on rates of student attrition. Eighty-nine percent of those presidents were also worried about the long-term impact of the pandemic on overall financial stability.

“The shift to remote teaching in the past couple of months was abrupt and unplanned,” said Mike Silagadze, founder and CEO, Top Hat. “As a result, students and educators had no choice but to accept the disconnected experience delivered by a mismatched set of poorly integrated tools.”

Since post-secondary institutions, like many schools, have been forced to move online due to the crisis, many university students across Canada are demanding their schools lower tuition and other fees, saying this is causing them to receive an education that is “sub-par.”

When Top Hat raised its $72 million Series D in February, the company said it was looking to disrupt the traditional print textbook market. Top Hat’s digital textbooks feature videos, rollover definitions, chapter summaries, and expansive study guides. Professors can adjust content in each textbook to fit their curriculum, and the average Top Hat interactive digital textbook costs $35.

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“This announcement [of Top Hat Basic] couldn’t have come at a better time as educators are trying to leverage technology to continue to offer their best possible courses under challenging circumstances,” said Demian Hommel, senior instructor of geography at Oregon State University, a Top Hat customer.

Hommel called the product’s online offerings “a huge leap toward what’s desperately needed.”

As part of its COVID-19 response, Top Hat is also offering resources and a team of instructional designers to help professors transition to online teaching.

“With today’s announcement, Top Hat will empower educators to motivate their students, deliver valuable and engaging learning, and drive student success, regardless of whether the upcoming school year is taught online, in person, or some combination of the two,” said Silagadze.

Image source Top Hat via Glassdoor.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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