The Charger Blog

Criminal Justice Professor Passionate about Creating Interactive and Engaging Online Classes

For Dan Maxwell’s students, their academic experience didn’t change much during the transition to remote learning, as he worked with them – and the company behind a leading remote-learning platform – to ensure their educational experience was as seamless as possible.

May 8, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Top Hat platform.
Students in Prof. Maxwell’s "Criminal Law" class answer questions through the Top Hat platform.

When Mason Kletter ’22 began his "Criminal Law" class at the beginning of the semester, he started learning how to use Top Hat, a platform that enables students and professors to connect online. Although students were still in the classroom, and not yet learning remotely, Kletter’s professor, Dan Maxwell, MPA, integrated the technology as an important part of his in-person classes.

"When we switched to remote instruction, I did not really see much of a difference," said Kletter, a fire science major. "Our class was still regularly meeting at the same times, and I feel that I was fully prepared to learn remotely this semester using Top Hat."

Top Hat technology, Prof. Maxwell said, helped him lead rich online classes and to foster real-time interaction.

"It’s very interactive, and it is just like being in class in person, but online," said Genesis Feliciano ’22, a forensic science major. "It is amazing to me because it’s so easy to work with."

Image of Dan Maxwell, MPA.
Dan Maxwell, MPA

During their virtual class meetings, students watched short videos, answered interactive questions, and had discussions, just like they would in the classroom. The format also enables students to learn from each other.

Scott Bauman ’23, a criminal justice major, says he likes that the platform is very "user-friendly."

"The technology used in this course has allowed me to learn in a better way than in any other course I have taken," he continued. "It provides a tool for the professor to get active feedback from us in order to keep us engaged and to foster an open and respectful discussion."

‘This is a gamechanger’

Prof. Maxwell was approached by Top Hat to transform his class into an interactive digital textbook, and he has been working with them since to create and develop additional content. He has found advantages to teaching remotely with Top Hat, among them, are increased student engagement.

Image of Gabrielle Bates ’23..
Gabrielle Bates ’23.

"When you have discussions in a typical classroom setting and you asked students to raise their hands, they might not," he explains. "But online, they do participate. One question leads to another. This is a gamechanger."

Prof. Maxwell records all his online classes via Zoom. He has engaged in more than 200 Zoom sessions since the University transitioned to remote learning.

Through the Top Hat platform, whether he is teaching online or in person, he asks students questions in real time – including multiple choice, matching, or fill in the blank – and students record their responses and then discuss them. The platform also keeps track of class participation – so Prof. Maxwell doesn’t have to.

"I like that Top Hat not only engages all of us, it keeps us engaged," said Gabrielle Bates ’23, a forensic science major. "We do all of our homework through this program, and it gives us instant feedback when preparing us for a test."

‘Whether I am on campus or learning virtually from home, the process is the same’

When comparing quiz scores from five years back, Prof. Maxwell found his students’ scores were better when they were using Top Hat, even though the material was the same. He recently invited a prospective student to join one of his online classes to experience Top Hat and get a flavor of what one of his courses is like.

"One of the biggest things we’ve learned from the last couple of months is just how difficult it is to do online teaching well," said Nick Stein, Top Hat's chief marketing officer. "Students expect to receive an engaging, interactive, and human experience, and extraordinary educators like Professor Maxwell have worked hard to deliver just that. During a time when students are feeling anxious, worried, and isolated, he has managed to foster a sense of belonging and community while maintaining a high-quality and effective educational standard."

Image of Scott Bauman ’23.
Scott Bauman ’23 learning remotely.

Students have access to the platform for life – not just for the duration of the semester. Prof. Maxwell has been continuing to update the content.

For Elisa D'Egidio ’22, this is her second semester using the platform as part of Prof. Maxwell’s courses, and she is grateful that it has eased the transition to remote learning.

"It is different from other online learning platforms as it encourages us to engage and participate in class," said D'Egidio, a criminal justice major. "It is very easy to use, since all lessons, assignments, and homework are in one spot. I love that whether I am on campus or learning virtually from home, the process is the same."

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