Quick Tips: Pedagogical Uses of Top Hat

4-minute read – 3 tips for using the Top Hat student response functions to engage students, assess learning progress, and prompt discussion.

What is Top Hat?

Top Hat is an active learning platform that provides instructors with several options for engaging students in real time, including asking questions, presenting polls, giving quizzes, and launching in-class discussions. It’s a powerful tool for engaging students and making classes more interactive. For example, you can quickly check student understanding, ask students to make a prediction and follow along on a class experiment, or offer a ‘back channel’ for student questions and comments.

Top Hat is a bring-your-own-device solution, meaning students can use any web-enabled device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) to participate. Students with feature phones (cell phones without Internet access) can text responses using SMS.

Top Hat is now available to all UW–Madison instructors and students under an enterprise license, eliminating out-of-pocket costs for students.

How can I use Top Hat to engage students?

You can use Top Hat’s Classroom functions to:

  • Test students’ ability to recall knowledge of facts, such as checking their comprehension of a reading or lecture.
  • Engage higher-order thinking skills through questions that assess conceptual understanding.
  • Apply ideas through decision-making scenarios or predictions about outcomes. 
  • Expose students to their peers' opinions and see how they fit into a larger group.


Quick Tip 1: Use questions for knowledge and progress checks

Top Hat can give you a real-time indicator of students’ progress in learning. You can pose a question or give a short, low-stakes quiz at the beginning of class to see how well students have absorbed a pre-class reading and are prepared for in-class discussion and problem-solving. You can build on their current learning or review and remediate incorrect answers using their responses.


Screenshot of a Top Hat question - How many Assembly districts are there in Wisconsin? A. 79 (17% ) B. 89 (33%) C. 99 (33%) D. 109 (17%)

Response and next steps

The mixed response indicates an inconsistency in students’ preparedness. The instructor gives the correct response, c, and reminds students that pre-class readings are necessary to prepare for in-class activities, that these short quizzes will be given frequently in class, and that points for correct answers can add up over the semester.

Quick Tip 2: Use questions to reveal common misconceptions

One strategy to assess whether students understand, or perhaps misunderstand, key concepts is to provide response options that include common misconceptions.


Screenshot of Top Hat question - Which of the following factors most leads to the phenomenon of seasonal changes on Earth? A. Size of the sun (10 votes) B. (highlighted) Tilt of the earth's axis (21 votes) C. Distance between the earth and the sun (32 votes) D. Lunar cycle (0 votes)

Response and next steps

The instructor highlights the correct answer, b, for the students and notes that answer C is a common misperception. The results from this question may indicate a need to provide a demonstration and address follow-up questions.

Quick Tip 3: Use questions to prompt discussions

You can pose a question to students, allow them to give their first response through TopHat, and then have them discuss their responses and the reasoning behind them with one another. Consider posing the same question again later to review changes in response patterns.


Screenshot of Top Hat question: You are a home health nurse visiting a patient with Parkinson's disease. You notice the following in the home. Which is of most concern? A. Small throw rugs (33%) B. Two cats (17%) C. Detached garage (17%) D. Second-floor bedroom (33%)

Response and next steps

The instructor does not share these initial results with the class. Instead, the instructor uses a Think/Pair/Share activity for students to share their responses and why they chose it. This is followed by a whole-class discussion on the characteristics of each response option that may be concerning. The instructor then poses the question in Top Hat again, this time displaying the results. The instructor identified which option was the best response and why.

Additional resources

Who can I talk to for more information about the pedagogical uses of Top Hat?

If you have questions or would like additional support on this topic, please contact the CTLM. We look forward to working with you!

More from the  CTLM

KeywordsTop Hat, active learning, student response, clicker, discussion, engagement,Doc ID104928
OwnerMeredith M.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-08-13 14:40:11Updated2024-04-16 08:20:55
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring, Learn@UW-Madison
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