Student Association and UBIT partner with Top Hat

Contract will save students money on subscriptions

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Students can expect increased savings on clicker technology required in many general education classes and large lecture halls. The Student Association and UBIT signed a contract with Top Hat for the fall semester, to save students additional costs. The web-based software tool connects to students’ mobile devices or laptops, allowing professors to take attendance, administer polls, games and quizzes and share notes.

Students are typically offered two options in classes that require clicker technology: buy a physical clicker and register it with the class, or buy a subscription to Top Hat, which offers the same services on your phone or laptop. 

The market price for Top Hat is $26 for one semester, $38 annually or $75 for a four-year subscription. As a result of UB’s contract with the company, the current pricing for students is $23, $34 and $68 respectively. At the UB Bookstore, a Turning Technologies clicker with a four-year subscription is $83. 

Last year, Vice President and Chief Information Officer J. Brice Bible held open forums on IT matters on both North and South Campus. During one forum, a faculty member asked him when UBIT was going to support Top Hat. 

“I didn’t know anything about it and so we started looking into it and found that there was a significant number of faculty and students actively using Top Hat,” Bible said. “That planted the seed about working with the company. It really wasn’t until Gunnar [Haberl] reached out that we started going ahead with negotiating a discount.”

Student Association President Gunnar Haberl said last spring semester he had to buy a clicker and a Top Hat subscription for two different classes. After paying for the same service twice, he wondered why this technology wasn’t offered to students for free like other technologies, including the Microsoft Office Suite. 

“I met with Bryce over the summer and asked him if subsidizing Top Hat for students was possible,” Haberl said. “We determined that if enough students and professors used the technology, we could work out a deal. The forums and surveys he conducted found that surprisingly, a lot of them are using it, which he didn’t realize. He reached out to Top Hat officials and worked out the current deal.”

As of Monday, over 15,000 students have interacted with a question through Top Hat this semester and a total of 13,377 enrolled in a course that uses Top Hat, –– up from 12,000 students prior to the fall semester –– according to Diana Tuorto, IT communications officer. There are currently 186 active Top Hat instructors who use the technology in 235 courses, she added. 

Haberl said although the Top Hat discount is small this semester, as more and more students transition from using clickers to using the software, the discount will continue to grow. 

“My goal for the spring semester is to offer a larger discount,” Haberl said. “If Top Hat sees an increase in usage, next fall it would maybe be even more of a discount, hopefully 75 percent and eventually 100 percent subsidized. When that happens, the university would be required to make Top Hat the sole clicker technology on campus. It would be embedded into UBLearns, and old fashioned clickers would then go away.”

Bible said the discounts being offered are a good start. He wants to receive more feedback from students and faculty who use the technology before making the university exclusive to Top Hat.

“Today, there’s no exclusivity with Top Hat, neither is there exclusivity with Turning Technologies,” Bible said. “These are two services that our faculty have said they like and so we’ve tried to make those both available. We’re very open to conversations with students and faculty to see if they prefer one over the other, keeping both or other options that maybe students would be OK with fees going towards subsidizing one completely.”

Haberl and Bible both agree that an additional benefit of using Top Hat instead of a traditional clicker program is less plastic is being disposed of after students graduate college and no longer need a clicker. 

Bible said it’s something he didn’t initially think of, but has been receiving positive feedback from students about the environmental impacts. 

Almost every student The Spectrum spoke to said they preferred using Top Hat over a traditional clicker. They said using a cheaper software that’s available on smartphones and laptops is the “perfect combination.” 

Ambra Mooney, a freshman pharmacy major, said she’s already using Top Hat in her chemistry class. Even if it’s only a few dollars, she appreciates the work SA and UBIT have done to work out a contract. 

“I really like the program so far, it’s a lot better than a traditional clicker,” Mooney said. “It’d be better if it was completely free, but it’s a good start. I think as everything is becoming more digital, this is a great program.” 

Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com

and on Twitter @Max_Kalnitz