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Using the Top Hat Attendance Feature in a Large Course

Using Top Hat's Attendance feature in a large course.


Top Hat's Attendance feature allows an instructor to record which students attended a class on any given day. While some argue that taking attendance is punitive and doesn't treat students like responsible adults, it is important to remember that attendance data is neutral by nature. What you do with the data can turn it from neutral to punitive. Below are some rationals for taking attendance:

  1. Increased visibility — Many students in large courses report a feeling of anonymity in large classes  — feeling as if no one would notice whether they were in the lecture hall. Taking attendance can communicate to students that you expect them to attend and recognize when they are not. Some instructors provide attendance points, but it is not a necessary step. Simply taking attendance and noting the number of participants in a class session can help. 
  2. Preparation for engagement — There are a number of activities you can engage in to make your lecture more interactive. Taking attendance at the beginning of a class session can ensure students are ready to answer these questions quickly and without a long delay while they get logged in.
  3. Sense of belonging — Research shows that knowing the names of students increases their sense of belonging. Having an accurate attendance list allows you to call on students and know that they are in the room  — helping you to appear to know students' names even while you are learning them. You can view the attendance list in the Top Hat Gradebook. Select View Attendance Report from the drop-down menu for the date of class attendance.
  4. Availability of data — At some point in time, you may have a need to look at the impact of changes in your course and how it affects things like a sense of belonging or student engagement. Having attendance data allows you to look at student behaviors, identify patterns, and start to make changes based on that data.

The following are directions for using Top Hat's Attendance feature in a large course.



Top Hat allows you to take attendance in a synchronous face-to-face, online course, or hybrid courses. There are several ways to initiate an attendance session, but the outcome is the same: 

  1. Top Hat will generate a random 4-digit attendance code that will be displayed only on the projected screen in your lecture hall and/or your Zoom room. 
  2. Students may check in for attendance by submitting the session's attendance code in the field provided when logged into their Top Hat account 
    • using a mobile application (iOS or Android)
    • web browser
    • Text message/SMS (by texting the attendance code to the Top Hat SMS response number)

Depending on your course and use case, here are a number of ways to use Top Hat to take attendance.

Taking Attendance while presenting your Lecture Slides in Top Hat

Many professors begin each of their lectures by taking attendance with Top Hat. Here’s how you can do this: 

  1. Select the first slide you'd like to present. This will display in your preview pane. 
  2. When you're ready to present to your students, select the blue Present button in the upper right hand corner
    Screenshot of Top Hat with Present button highlighted
  3. Next, the presentation launch page will appear. Here, you can Start Presentation, Take Attendance or Cancel Presentation. Select Take Attendance to project the 4-digit attendance code.
    Screenshot of Join Code page with Take Attendance button highlighted
  4. In the bottom-right corner of the window, you can see the number of students who submitted the attendance code, listed over the number of students enrolled in the course. 
    Screenshot of attendance code page with attendance figure highlighted

Next, you have three options:

Disable attendance before proceeding with lecture

  1. When you are happy with the attendance figure for the lecture, select the Finish button in the lower right-hand corner of the window. This will prevent students from further submitting the attendance code. 
  2. After you have disabled attendance, select the right advance arrow to launch your slide presentation.

Keep attendance open during lecture

  1. Select Minimize and keep open in the lower right-hand corner of the window. 
  2. Select the right advance arrow to launch your slide presentation. This will allow students to continue submitting the attendance code 
  3. When you want to disable attendance, select the attendance code to return to the attendance session page. Then, select Finish to disable attendance.
    Note: attendance sessions auto-close after 4 hours.

Launch attendance during a presentation 

  1. Select the blue button in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen to open the menu.
    Screenshot of presentation with attendance figure highlighted
  2. Select the yellow attendance button.
    Note: If you are relaunching attendance at any time after you have already clicked Finish on a different session, this will generate a completely new attendance code. It will appear as a new attendance session in the gradebook.
    Screenshot of presentation menu with yellow attendance button highlighted

The data collected while taking attendance with Top Hat will be stored in the gradebook where you can review, manage or export it to an Excel spreadsheet.

Taking attendance with Top Hat without using the Canvas integration

You can use Top Hat for taking attendance without linking your Canvas and Top Hat courses. Any attendance data gathered in Top Hat will have to be manually entered or manually downloaded from Top Hat and uploaded into the Canvas gradebook. To take attendance:

  1. Create a Top Hat account and course if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Students can join your Top Hat course by entering the Join Code displayed in your course. They only need to join once, they will be enrolled in your Top Hat course afterwards.
  3. Select the blue Content button and the Take Attendance button next.
    Screenshot of Top Hat with Content button highlighted
    Top Hat screenshot with Take Attendance button highlighted
  4. This will produce a four digit attendance code that students can enter. 
  5. In the bottom-right corner of the window, you can see the number of students who submitted the attendance code, listed over the number of students enrolled in the course
  6.  When you are happy with the attendance figure for the lecture, select the Finish button in the lower right-hand corner of the window. This will prevent students from further submitting the attendance code.
  7. Or, If you want to keep attendance open throughout the lecture, select minimize and keep open in the lower-right corner of the window. 
  8. Then, select the right advance arrow to launch your slide presentation.
    • This will allow students to continue submitting the attendance code until you end the attendance session. Return to the attendance session page and disable the attendance session by clicking Finish.
    • Note: attendance sessions auto-close after 4 hours.
      Screenshot of attendance page with finish highlighted
  9. The data collected while taking attendance with Top Hat will be stored in the gradebook where you can easily review, manage or export to an Excel spreadsheet.

Taking Attendance with Top Hat in a Hybrid Course

Enabling Hybrid Attendance

To enable hybrid attendance, instructors must first navigate to their Course Settings. 

  1. To access course settings, select your name in the top-right corner of your Top Hat course page.
    Screenshot of name in corner of Top Hat page
  2. Select Course Settings from the menu that appears
    screenshot of Name menu with course settings highlighted
  3. From the Course Settings page, navigate to the Attendance tab.
  4. Select the Configure attendance for hybrid classes checkbox and then the Save button
    Screenshot of Attendance settings page with "Save" and "hybrid classes" checkbox highlighted
  5. Once the setting is saved, the hybrid attendance configuration will apply to any attendance session launched in the Top Hat course. Instructors can find full details on how to launch attendance sessions in Professor: Taking attendance

What will students see?

When you enable hybrid attendance in your course, students will see the question, “Are you attending class in-person?”, below the attendance code field. Yes is auto-selected, so remote students will need to select the No response.
Screenshot of page where students enter code. "Attending in person" question is highlighted.

Note: Students submitting the attendance code via SMS text message cannot indicate whether they are attending class in-person. Please see Student: Attendance from Top Hat for full details on how to submit attendance as a student:

Reviewing Hybrid Attendance Records 

Instructors can find records for any attendance sessions launched in Top Hat, using the Top Hat Gradebook.

  1. Selecting the Gradebook tab in the course header to navigate to your course gradebook.
    Screenshot of Top Hat menu with Gradebook highlighted
  2. Check attendance by selecting the Attendance column. It will expand to reveal nested columns for each individual attendance session that has been run in the course. 
  3. To see which students attended a class in-person, open the Attendance Report for the corresponding attendance session. 
    • Select the blue report icon at the top of the desired attendance session column
      Screenshot of attendance report icon
    • Or select View Attendance Report from the modal that appears after clicking the column date header.
      Screenshot of View Attendance Report menu
  4. Find the Response Time column on your Attendance Report. It will show whether a student attended in-person or remotely (next to the date and time stamp). Hybrid attendance records are also reflected in the Attendance section of individual Student Reports in the Gradebook.
    Screenshot of Response Time column

Taking Secure Attendance in Top Hat using Geolocation


What is Secure Attendance? 

Secure attendance adds an extra layer of certainty to student attendance submissions. 

Like regular attendance, students need to submit an attendance code to be marked as Attended. However, students also need to be present in the classroom. Top Hat determines presence based on geolocation alone, or geolocation and proximity. 

Note: if a student is marked as absent, they can still submit responses to questions in class. Their absence will not affect the student's course average because grades and attendance are completely independent.

How Does it Work?

Geolocation works on web browsers, iOS apps and Android apps by sending coordinates to Top Hat’s servers. Top Hat uses the geolocation of students that submit the attendance code to confirm their location, which determines if they are in the classroom. Top Hat checks both geolocation and proximity when students use Bluetooth-enabled iOS or Android devices. Proximity determines how close a device is to other participating devices in the class.

Note: Some students may have geolocation disabled on their device for privacy reasons.

Enabling Secure Attendance

  1. From your Top Hat course page, select your name in the upper banner and then Course Settings.
    Screenshot of name and course settings in upper right corner of top hat
  2. Under the Course Settings heading, select the course you want to edit.
  3. From the upper menu of options for your selected course, select Attendance.
  4. Select the Enable location-based "secure" attendance checkbox.
    Screenshot of course settings window where Secure Attendance is enabled
  5. Select the blue Save button.

Taking Secure Attendance

Once enabled, launching an attendance session will automatically launch secure attendance.

Note: When you take Secure Attendance, leave attendance open for 2-3 minutes to allow Top Hat to establish the location.

The attendance session will display Secure Attendance Enabled when launched, if configured properly. It will display:

  • The number of students that have submitted the attendance code over the number of students that are enrolled.
  • The percentage of students whose proximity and geolocation has been verified (whether absent or present). 

When you are ready to stop taking attendance, select the Finish button in the lower right-hand corner of the window.

Screenshot of Secure Attendance window with Finish highlighted

Students will be marked as absent If they enter the correct 4-digit attendance code, but fail the location check (geolocation and proximity). When you end your attendance session, Top Hat will show the number of students who were marked absent because they failed the security checks.

You can review this list of students by clicking the blue show list of students who failed security checks button. If you would like to change their attendance status for this session, select the Attended button associated with the student.

Screenshot of notification that students failed security check

List of students who failed security check

Note: You can also adjust student attendance statuses at a later time in the gradebook. Please see Professor: Gradebook Attendance Tab for more info.

Taking Attendance with the Top Hat Presentation Tool

You can also take attendance using the Presentation Tool. For a full overview of the Presentation Tool and how to take attendance, see Top Hat - Top Hat Presentation Tool [UW-Madison]

Note: Since the Presentation Tool has a different layout from the rest of Top Hat, we recommend reading the entire Top Hat Presentation Tool KB document.

Attendance Comments & Reports

Add Attendance Comment

To add an attendance comment in the Gradebook:

  1. Select the cell of the student's score you wish to change. 
  2. Change that day's attendance record for that student to
    • Attended (scored on the attendance record as 1 point), "
    • Absent (scored on the attendance record as 0 points) or "
    • Excused (which will drop that point from the student's overall attendance record). 
  3. You can add your comment to a student's attendance record by typing them into the text field.
  4. You can also add attendance comments to Attendance Report
  5. To access a session's Attendance Report, hover over the total score column header and select the blue report icon.
    Screenshot of Comments Report icon
  6. Or, you can select View Attendance Report from the modal that appears after clicking the date column header.
    Screenshot of View Attendance Report page

What can I do with the Attendance report?

In the Attendance Report you can view the details of each student's entry for the session including

  • View Record (Attended, Absent or Excused)
  • View Comments 
  • View response time
  • View summary information for the session (including total attendance)
  • Sort by student name, record and response time. 
  • Edit Students attendance record
  • Add or edit comments.
    Screenshot of instructor editing comments

Change the title of an attendance session

  1. Select the Edit button next to the title of the report (which is by default the date and time the attendance was taken).
  2. Add the desired title and select Save.
  3. The new title of the attendance session will show in the column header of that session; once you exit the report and return to the grid view of the Gradebook.
    Animated screenshot showing attendance name change

Exporting comments

You can also export attendance comments as a .csv file. Select Export Comments at the top of the report.
Screenshot of Export Comments button

Screenshot of attendance report spreadsheet; comments highlighted

What will my students see?

As with regular attendance, students can use their laptop, smartphone, or tablet to submit the attendance code.

  • If they are using a laptop, students will be asked to allow Top Hat to determine their location. 
  • If they are using the Top Hat app on a tablet or smartphone, they will also be asked to enable bluetooth technology so that Top Hat can determine their proximity to other devices in the class.
  • Students will receive a notification letting them know whether they were marked Absent or Present. 
  • To learn more about the process for students see Student: Secure Attendance

Student Attendance Submissions

  • Students who submit attendance to Top Hat via SMS/text message will simply send a text with the attendance code as projected on the front screen to the region-specific SMS response number that is indicated.
  • Students who access Top Hat by web browser or mobile application will be prompted to input the attendance code into the provided field.
    Mobile screenshot of attendance code entry
  • Students only get 3 attempts at entering the correct code (to prevent misuse of the system)


KeywordsTop Hat, attendance, participation, engagementDoc ID128279
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2023-05-15 07:14 CSTUpdated2023-11-15 13:31 CST
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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