Subbu Kumarappan: How are you teaching?

Subbu Kumarappan, PhDA photo of Associate Professor Subbu Kumarappan
Associate Professor
CFAES, Agricultural Technical Institute (Wooster)

Dr. Subbu Kumarappan teaches courses in applied economics and business. His research includes incorporating technology for online classroom pedagogy, business entrepreneurship, and the economics of organic agriculture.


My teaching strategy

Student knowledge retention increases substantially when TopHat clicker questions are asked at the beginning and end of each class. They feel more engaged, and TopHat essay questions create a constant feedback loop between instructors and students.


My plans at the beginning of autumn 2020 were to take attendance using the Zoom polling button. But this proved to be very difficult since students logged in late, dropped off in the middle due to poor internet connections, or could not attend synchronous classes due to COVID-19 sicknesses. It would be unfair of me to grade students purely on just one or two clicks at certain times of the class period. I needed to find a more meaningful way to engage students' participation in the Zoom classes.

In practice

Beginning of the class period (multiple choice questions):
I allocated 5-7 minutes at the beginning of each class to review the previous day’s concepts and to ask specific Zoom questions. These questions provided very specific coverage of things that we discussed and helped expand on concepts (food supply chains, for example). This approach especially helped students ensure that their understanding of the material was correct. In fact, students were eager to participate and engage. To avoid penalizing wrong answers, I gave ONLY participation points and NO correctness points. Students appreciated not being penalized for very new concepts they had just heard over Zoom.

End of the class period (short 10-20 word reflections):
Students were required to write down the key lessons learned in 10-20 words. This process has evolved into a constant communication with my students, and I plan to continue this in the future in all my teaching. The combined student comments assure me they have learned the concepts very well. Students also use the daily comments section to share their progress on online teamwork and how I can help contribute to their group work. The ability to grade them based only participation is welcomed by the students, without having to be correct and while providing any feedback or opinions.

Student response

Students have repeatedly told me that they could understand the subject matter better after regular reviews of multiple choice questions and the 10-20 word reflections at the end of each class. Students have been able to share their kudos and criticisms of their team members. They have opened a new line of constant communication with me, and I am able to reply to their concerns/issues right away without any delays. Students are constantly reminded that they need to fill out those reflections to get participation points, and the majority of them respond. Sometimes, the responses are rather slow and I need to give them some time during the Zoom period.

Advice to other instructors

Students need more space and time to submit homework, attend classes, watch videos, and reflect upon what they have learned. Creating these sources of feedback are critical and can get them very engaged with the course. Even the students who normally do not speak up in the class tend to raise important points and concerns, which tend to benefit everyone. This is a much better substitute for taking attendance, where students may tune out after providing their attendance. I plan to use this even after we return to normal in-person teaching.

Additional resources

Subbu Kumarappan TopHat.pdf