The University of Iowa

Student response systems can promote active learning, allowing the physical classroom to become a collaborative space. Instructors ask questions via a software platform and students respond using their personal devices. The instructor can display the results collected, so the class can see a visual representation of all student responses to the question.

The following videos give an overview of Top Hat and some of its features as well as strategies for implementing Top Hat in your classes:

  1. What is Top Hat?
  2. How do you create and utilize the discussion feature in Top Hat?
  3. How can an instructor best prepare their students to use Top Hat in class?

Determine if student response systems are right for your teaching style:

  • Is your main reason for using Top Hat to enhance interactive teaching and learning?
  • Are you able to shift discussion based on the students’ responses to questions?
  • Are you prepared to devote more class time than usual to questions using the student response system?

Watch the What is Top Hat? video to learn more about Top Hat and determine if it is the right tool for you.

Communicate with your students

  • Include Top Hat information in your syllabus so your students know how to access their account.
  • Share your reasons for using Top Hat to promote engagement in the course.
  • Add a statement to your course syllabus, such as:

This course will use the Top Hat response system in class and requires a license to participate. Access your Top Hat account through your ICON course site. You may opt out of this content, but the consequences of doing so may affect your outcomes in this course. Students who change their minds after the opt-out deadline and wish to participate may purchase a license from Top Hat at the full retail price. One active Top Hat license will cover multiple courses at once.

Carefully select questions and answer choices:

Consider the following questions when drafting your questions:

  • What student learning goals do I have for the question?
  • What do I hope to learn about my students by asking this question?
  • What will my students learn about each other when they see the results of this question?
  • How might this question be used to engage students with course content in small-group or class-wide discussions?
  • What distribution of responses do I expect to see from my students?
  • What might I do if the actual distribution turns out very differently?

Learn more about Top Hat's discussion board feature in the How do you create and utilize the discussion feature in Top Hat? video.

Use student response questions during lecture sessions:

Prepare the audience with a warm up question.

  • These can be simple ice breaker questions or fun trivia related to the course material.
  • This allows students to check if their response device is working.

Build in one or two minutes for presenting and polling each question and at least 2-3 minutes of discussion.

  • Never leave a polling slide without responding to the distribution of responses.
  • Include the students in the discussion of the results.  Have them explain why they chose what they did.

Use response questions when the understanding of a concept is critical before proceeding with new content.

  • Allow class discussion and student questions to clarify the question and any potential ambiguities.
  • Be prepared to adjust your lecture if students’ answers reveal gaps in knowledge or understanding.

Use a question to wrap-up lectures.

  • Make connections to related questions and topics, pose “what if” alternative questions for future pondering, and segue into next question.
  • Use before and after polls to see how students changed their minds after discussion.

Integrate student response questions throughout your course:

Explain to students the learning objectives of the course and the reasons behind particular assignments.

  • Clarify how student response systems will contribute to the class participation.

Use anonymous responses on difficult or controversial questions to generate discussion.

  • Allows for honest answers when students know they aren’t being tracked.
  • Allows students to see how their peers feel about certain topics.

Have students respond individually before discussing a question in small groups

  • Use sound cues to identify the progress of small group discussion: noise rises as they discuss, drops when they reach a resolution, and rises again in small talk.
  • Re-poll after discussion and compare the results.
  • Discuss why answers may have changed.

When discussing the results, focus on the reasons behind why an answer is correct and why the others are not.

  • Have students share their rationale behind why they chose as they did.  It gets them critically thinking about why they picked a certain answer.
  • If the students find a question difficult, have them re-engage with the question in small group discussion.

To learn more about readying your students to use Top Hat, watch the How can an instructor best prepare their students to use Top Hat in class? video.

Consider whether in-class responses will be graded:

  • If responses are worth points, use Top Hat for a minimal part of the course grade.
  • Do not grade responses during the first week of class.
  • Provide timely feedback to students regarding their scores.
  • Consider awarding participation and correctness separately in responses.

For more information, visit the Top Hat Teaching Strategies site.


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