Top Hat launches new communication tool to help students, professors adapt to virtual education

Online education

Toronto-based EdTech startup Top Hat has launched Slate, a new free communication tool that allows students and educators at high education institutions with digital spaces to easily communicate and collaborate.

Slate will help educators and institutions maintain that sense of community and belonging even after students can safely return to campus.”

Slate is now integrated with the Top Hat platform and is available to all users. The product is designed to give educators tools to incorporate active learning, improve student engagement, and build community in their courses, whether classes are taught in-person, online, or a hybrid combination of both. The tool is aimed to be a resource for higher educational institutions forced to move courses online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As most educators and institutions plan for a primarily online or hybrid teaching format in the Fall, they’re facing an uphill battle to deliver educational ROI to students in a virtual setting,” said Mike Silagadze, founder and CEO, Top Hat.

“During a time when students are physically dispersed all over the country and even the world, Slate will help educators and institutions maintain that sense of community and belonging even after students can safely return to campus,” Silagadze added.

RELATED: Top Hat restructures, makes staff reductions as COVID-19 affects higher education

Universities across Canada have announced that they may adopt a remote learning model and provide courses online in the upcoming semester. Top Hat conducted a survey in May that found approximately eight out of 10 higher education students said their online courses lacked the engagement of in-person classes. According to a separate survey conducted by the startup, nine out of 10 educators said fostering a sense of community amongst students in their class is moderately to highly important.

With Slate, Top Hat aims to provide a dedicated environment within its existing active learning platform for educators and students to share and discuss class news and updates, facilitate real-time conversations about virtual lectures, and facilitate post-lecture discussions. The product is also aimed to enable team-based learning activities and project collaboration through chat or video conferencing.

Although Slate is tech-enabled and was created in the midst of the pandemic, Top Hat said the communication tool can still be used if or when students and instructors return to classes in-person.

Top Hat has been working on various initiatives and offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the company launched a free version of its platform in addition to several new virtual classroom capabilities in an effort to support professors.

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

At the onset of the pandemic, when Top Hat restructured internally, resulting in staff reductions, the company told BetaKit it had seen a high degree of uncertainty in higher education. This led to the startup shifting away from outbound sales to focus on driving adoption for the Fall semester.

The following month, Top Hat acquired the Canadian domestic higher education textbook businesses of Nelson Education, one of the country’s largest education publishers. The deal saw Top Hat digitize Nelson’s print-only textbook titles. The startup said that deal pushed the company closer to its goal of being a leading player in the industry, and expressed that the acquisition would help educators facing uncertainty around the upcoming school year.

In addition to the acquisition of a massive education publisher, Slate appears to be another push from Top Hat to adapt to the rapidly changing education landscape.

“In terms of affordability and the university experience, we’ve seen data … that shows students have concerns about the online learning experience that they’re going to get this Fall. The expectation is enrollments are going to decline,” Silagadze told BetaKit in May. “That obviously impacts Top Hat.”

Top Hat announced Thursday it would also make new features available for free for professors to host online classes closer to the Fall.

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Dan Dimmock.

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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