Creating a Classroom Backchannel for Student Questions Using Top Hat

How to create a classroom backchannel for student questions using Top Hat

Instructional Challenge

A backchannel is where students can record comments, ask questions, and even have on-task conversations while the class is engaged in an activity. A back channel can support instruction in several ways, two of which stand out: 

  1. Students can voice a problem, learning barrier, or question at a distance. Typically, a student might raise his/her hand while working on a problem, and the instructor or teaching assistant might come over and work individually and privately with the student on the problem or question.
  2. Students can ask questions and signal gaps in understanding without bringing them to the entire class's attention. An anonymous backchannel can provide a safe way for a student to signal a question or gap in knowledge without exposing his/her identity to the class.


Setting Up Instructor's Top Hat Account 

Top Hat is a Student Response System (SRS) that allows you to ask questions, take polls, give quizzes, and receive feedback from your students during class. Top Hat is a bring-your-own-device solution, meaning students can use any web-enabled device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) to participate. It also allows text messaging to submit answers so students can use older or flip cell phones. UW-Madison now has an enterprise license for Top Hat — allowing all UW-Madison instructors and students to use the tool without paying for a subscription. Follow the links below to set up your Top Hat account and connect your courses to the Top Hat system.

  1. Top Hat - Account Setup (Instructors) [UW-Madison]
  2. Top Hat - Syncing Grades and Rosters with Canvas (LTI 1.3) [UW-Madison]

Creating a Backchannel in Top Hat Using Discussion Question Type

  1. In your Canvas course, select Top Hat from the navigation bar. You will be brought to your Top Hat course space.
  2. Select the Create button to create a new discussion question.
  3. Select Discussion from the Create Content section.
  4. Under Title, enter Classroom Backchannel.
  5. In the topic space, enter "Enter a question you have that you want to be addressed in class. All posts are anonymous." This will display on the screen when you present the question to students.
  6. Under Response Options, Responses can be seen by..., select Everyone. This will allow all students to see others' responses.
  7. Under Response Options, Participants are anonymous to... select Participants only, so the results will be anonymous to students, but you can track comments back to students. This will prevent students from making inappropriate comments in the back channel.
  8. Click Save.

Setting Up Students in Top Hat

UW-Madison has procured an enterprise license for Top Hat. The new license allows all UW-Madison instructors and students to use the tool without paying for a subscription. Students should use their UW-Madison credentials to log on to Top Hat. Before students use Top Hat, they should ensure their account is set up correctly. Send students to the following site for directions on setting up their accounts:

Starting the Backchannel

  1. Direct students to use their laptops or mobile phones to interact with the classroom backchannel. Have your students select Top Hat from the navigation bar in your Canvas course. They will be brought to your Top Hat course space.
  2. Assign a student to be the backchannel monitor. Check with the monitor occasionally or direct them to make you aware of questions as they come in.
  3. Select the Classroom Backchannel question(s) by clicking on the square to the left of the questions.
  4. At the start of the course, open up the Classroom Backchannel question by clicking the Present button at the top right corner of the screen. 
  5. The Join Code screen will appear. Click Start Presentation to release question(s) to students.
  6. Students will see the backchannel listed under Questions and Attendance.
  7. Students can post a question by clicking the Reply button. Click Post to send it. It will be displayed on their and your screens.
  8. Because the question was set up to hide participants' names from students, each post will be displayed with Hidden. On your laptop, clicking on Hidden will reveal the student identity of the post. Students will not be able to reveal this information on their screens.
  9. While responses are being displayed, other students can like and comment on a post using their devices.

Other Resources

Keywordstop hat, back channel, back channel backchannelDoc ID104806
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-08-10 12:24:32Updated2024-04-16 09:10:06
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring, Learn@UW-Madison
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