Top Hat – the new and improved clicker

When I was completing my undergraduate degree, the “clicker” was often used in large lecture halls. Students would be required to purchase a clicker online or at the school bookstore, but it could then be used for multiple classes and during each semester. Implementing clickers in the classroom was a way to take attendance in classes of a few hundred students, when otherwise taking attendance probably wouldn’t be possible. Clickers were also used as a means of reviewing questions where students could click in and contribute to the larger answer poll. Sometimes answering clicker questions earned a student points towards their grade as an incentive to come to class and to take a serious attempt at the questions being asked. However, there were also many downsides to using the clickers within the classroom. If students forgot their clickers, they wouldn’t receive the attendance/participation points for that day. This would cause an unwanted increased amount of communication between the students and the professor, as this was a frequent occurrence. The usage of clickers also created an environment where cheating was easy: students could have others bring their clickers to class to receive participation points when they did not attend.

Recently, my department has begun to integrate Top Hat into the undergraduate classroom setting. Top Hat has multiple features, but the professors within my department are concentrating on the lecture component of the app (1). Students are able to purchase the app so that they can follow along the lecture materials on either their phones or computers. Students may also answer questions or take quizzes via their phones. Top Hat has proven to have both pros and cons related to its usage within the classroom but has shown a lot of promise with over two million student users (2).

I would say with confidence that in this day in age students are more likely to bring their cellphones to class rather than remembering to bring an extra item like a clicker. This also minimizes cheating because students are less likely to have a friend bring their phone to class to receive attendance/participation points. Top Hat questions can be used as a means of breaking up long lectures or transitioning into new topics. It can also be used to review for exams. A few professors within my own department are using it as a way to administer quizzes during class time too.

Professors must allow students to bring their phones to class since the app can be accessed via phone. Because students must be ready to answer questions at any time, they must also have their phones readily available. This can distract students to use their phones for other activities as well, especially if it is being kept nearby. There is also the chance that students will forget their phone and therefore not be able to participate in class. Top Hat also comes with a cost; students must pay about $20 per semester for the app. My department is still in the beginning stages of learning whether this technology is something that will be continued throughout future semesters.







6 Replies to “Top Hat – the new and improved clicker”

  1. I’m not totally familiar with this technology, but I know it is popular in other departments, and I can see the advantages in terms of convenience and cost. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for posting!

    1. That’s interesting that it is popular in other departments too. I had no idea. It must be sort of “taking off.” Something else to note is that someone in my department recently gave a presentation on some research she did in relation to this technology and the students seemed to respond well to it. My peer is also doing an additional study to attempt to observe if students become more distracted when using it (i.e. using their phones to text, using their laptops to browse the Internet).

  2. Thanks for providing this info on clickers and Top Hat- I have never used either but I have heard of others doing so. It seems like Top Hat has a lot of advantages in large classes, which you discuss. Plus, I would guess that a lot of students in large classes are already distracted by their phones and $20 isn’t that much compared to other things students have to buy for classes. I always really struggled to pay attention in big classes, so I think I would have liked using this as a student.

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