Hilary Bergsieker: Enhancing Classes with Live Feedback
Hilary Bergsieker, chatting with a student.
Written by Zahra Razavi, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE.
“What is your relationship status?” asks Dr. Hilary Bergsieker in a lecture about relationships in her Social Psychology course. After making it clear that responding to this question is completely optional, and that responses are anonymous, Bergsieker asks this question using Top Hat, a classroom engagement technology developed in 2009 by two uWaterloo graduate students. After students answer, Bergsieker realizes that 20% of the individuals who responded have never been in a romantic relationship. With this new information about her students, Bergsieker tailors her lecture for that day. “I knew to talk more about family relationships and friendships, and make the lesson more relatable for these individuals,” states Bergsieker.
Making her lessons more relatable for her students is one of the many ways Bergsieker, an Assistant Professor in Psychology who joined the University of Waterloo in 2012, modifies her lessons in order to make them more effective. “I believe that a course’s framing influences students’ receptiveness to and engagement with its content,” Bergsieker explains.
Professor Bergsieker states that for her, a main concern in teaching is that it is often hard to gauge what the student response is after a long lecture in a large class. In order to solve this issue, Bergsieker collects feedback in class using multiple methods, and adjusts her lessons using this feedback. Because the Top Hat technology allows the instructor to ask several types of questions, Bergsieker uses this tool each lecture to collect thorough and rich information from her students, a task that would otherwise be very challenging in a class of 300. Using this information, she decides how much time she needs to spend on an idea, the depth to which she should delve into a subject, and which teaching strategies work best for each concept.
Having a live Top Hat discussion thread active during class is another method Bergsieker uses to collect feedback and adapt her lectures. Bergsieker explains that many students have expressed anxiety about commenting or asking questions in class, stating that they are concerned about what their peers might think of them. Not wanting this concern to prevent students from participating in her class, Bergsieker uses an anonymous discussion thread every lecture that is monitored by herself as well as a teaching assistant. Students have the ability to “endorse” a question asked by another student on the discussion thread, allowing Bergsieker to know which questions will be the most beneficial to answer in class.
Students express high levels of satisfaction with Bergsieker’s efforts to increase their engagement, and to incorporate their feedback into her classes. One student states, “Professor Bergsieker was amazing. She really put a lot of effort into the presentation of the material, and she was able to get the class involved in the discussion. I’ve never seen a psych class this large have so much involvement. She was great at provoking discussion.”
Another concern stated by Bergsieker is that students often defer their weekly readings to the last minute, resulting in them being overwhelmed by an overly large reading load the night before an examination. In order to prevent this accumulation of readings, Bergsieker asks a number of questions exclusively from the readings during class using Top Hat. She explains that these questions only account for a very small percentage of their final grade; however, this approach does provide an incentive for students to complete their readings on time.
Dr. Bergsieker’s passion for her field is evident to her students. She strives to make the content of her course relatable to them and applicable to their lives, and to have her students appreciate social psychology as a science. As a student in her Social Psychology course noted, “Dr. Bergsieker’s use of technology in class helps her be responsive to student needs and interests. It creates an effective feedback loop that really enhances the course.”
Read more Teaching Stories
CTE has developed more than 100 Teaching Tips. Each one is a succinct document that conveys useful ideas and practical methods for effective teaching. Some of the Teaching Tips that are relevant to the strategies mentioned in this Teaching Story include the following: