Top Hat

What is Top Hat?

Top Hat is an audience response system and interactive lecture platform.

What is the purpose of Top Hat?

Top Hat allows instructors to make their lectures more interactive through ability to annotate slides during and pose questions to students throughout the session. By responding to questions through their own device (i.e. laptop, cellphone), students get instant feedback on their thinking. Students utilize their own device for responding rather than through a purchased clicker.

How to use Top Hat

Instructors can access and utilize Top Hat through a computer (by logging in via web browser) or tablet (by logging in via Top Hat app). From their device, instructors can upload slides (i.e. a PowerPoint presentation), develop questions for audience response, present and annotate content, and pose questions to students live.

Students purchase a subscription to Top Hat on a term, annual, or lifetime basis. Students access their account through a computer (by logging in via web browser), tablet or smartphone (by logging in via web browser or Top Hat app). During class, students get a live view of instructor's slides and any annotations being made. When questions are posed to them they use their device to respond. Responses are instantly displayed for the instructor to debrief.

Top Hat offers a range of features for teaching and learning and is often used to:

  • Annotate slides while lecturing to emphasize key points, illustrate diagrams or figures, demonstrate change, etc.
  • Pose a question to the class for real time response and follow up. There are six different question styles: multiple choice, fill in the blank, numerical answers, matching questions, click on target, and sorting questions.
  • Host an online discussion during lectures to ask subjective and interpretive questions, facilitate dialogue and clarify understandings
  • Facilitate formative and/or summative assessments of learning

Tool Evaluation

Evaluated: June 2017

Functionality overall rating: 2 starFunctionality

Rating Rationale
Scale rating: 2 star


The tool can scaled to accommodate any size class but lacks flexibility to create smaller sub-groups or communities of practice

Ease of use rating: 3 stars

Ease of Use

The tool has a user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate and personalize

Tech Support/ Help Availability rating: 3 stars

Tech Support/Help Availability

In-person or email based technical support is readily available and aids users in troubleshooting tasks or solving problems experienced

Hypermediality rating: 3 stars


Top Hat allows users to communicate through different channels (audio, visual, textual) and allows for non-sequential, flexible/adaptive engagement with material. This is achieved through the various question types Top Hat allows and the ability to assign questions as homework or review.

Accessibility overall rating: 2 starsAccessibility

Rating Rationale
AODA Friendly rating: 2 stars

AODA Friendly

In general, Top Hat is accessible to students with disabilities. However, this depends on how an instructor utilizes the tool. See Utilizing Top Hat with Accessibility for strategies in making Top Hat material more accessible.

Assistive Technology rating: 3 stars

User-focused participation

The tool is designed to address the needs of diverse users, their various literacies, and capabilities, thereby widening opportunities for participation in learning

Required Equipment rating: 2 stars

Required Equipment

Instructors require either a laptop or tablet to use Top Hat (a tablet if they wish to annotate their slides). Students require a laptop, tablet, or cell phone (smartphone or SMS text).

Technical overall rating: 2 starsTechnical

Rating Rationale
Integration/Embedding within OWL rating: 2 stars

Integration/Embedding within OWL

Grades generated from Top Hat can be integrated with the OWL gradebook by manually uploading a csv file of grades. The csv file is easily produced by Top Hat and easily uploaded to OWL. Top Hat cannot be automatically synced with OWL.

Operating Systems rating: 3 stars

Operating Systems

< Users can effectively utilize the tool with any standard, up-to-date operating system (i.e. Windows 10, Apple OSX, etc.)

Web Browser rating: 3 stars

Web Browser

Users can effectively utilize the tool with any standard, up-to-date web browser (i.e. Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 etc.)

Additional Technical Requirements rating: 3 stars

Additional Technical Requirements

Users can effectively utilize the tool without any browser extensions or downloaded software

Mobile Design overall rating: 3 starMobile Design

Rating Rationale
Mobile Operating Systems rating: 3 stars

Mobile Operating Systems

The tool is fully functional with a range of electronic mobile devices (laptops, tablets, touchscreens, mobile devices, etc.) including both smartphones and SMS text phones for student response.

Mobile Functionality rating: 3 stars

Mobile Functionality

There is little to no functional difference between the mobile app and the main tool, except in the case where a student is using an SMS text phone where responses are limited to multiple choice style questions

Offline Access rating: 3 star

Offline Access

Top Hat has been designed to function even when students are offline, have weak reception in class, exceed their data limit, or lose wifi connectivity. See Offline Mode Submissions for details.

Usage and account set up overall rating: 1 starUsage and Account Set Up

Rating Rationale
Sign Up/Sign In rating: 1 stars

Sign Up/Sign In

All users (instructors and students) must create an external account or additional login, and personal information is collected

Cost of Use rating: 1 stars

Cost of Use

Use of the tool requires students to purchase a subscription for Top Hat for the term, the year, or lifetime access. See pricing here

Archiving Saving and Exporting Data rating: 3 stars

Archiving, Saving, and Exporting Data

Users can archive, save, or import and export content or activity data in a variety of formats. Instructors can save presentations and questions. Students may export presentation content in PDF format (when an instructor permits). To download, the student must access Top Hat through a web browser on a laptop or desktop.

Data Privacy and Ownership rating: 2 stars

Data Privacy and Ownership

Users maintain ownership and copyright of their intellectual property/data; data is stored on both US and Canadian servers.

Social Presence overall rating: 2 starsSocial Presence

Rating Rationale
Collaboration rating: 3 stars


The tool has the capacity to support a community of learning through both asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for communication, interactivity, and transfer of meaning between users. The discussion feature supports this best.

User Accountability rating: 3 stars

User Accountability

Students are identified in the system by their name. The tool provides technical solutions for holding students accountable for their actions, i.e. when inappropriate comments are made in a discussion, instructors can delete the comment.

Diffusion rating: 2 stars


Student familiarity with the tool is likely mixed, some will lack technical competence with its functions

Instructor Presence overall rating: 3 starsInstructor Presence

Rating Rationale
Facilitation rating: 3 stars


The tool has easy-to-use features that would significantly improve an instructor’s ability to be present with students via active management, monitoring, and engagement

Customization rating: 3 stars


Tool is adaptable to its environment: easily customized to suit the classroom context and targeted learning outcomes

Learning Analytics rating:3 stars

Learning Analytics

Instructor can monitor students’ performance on a variety of responsive measures

Cognitive Presence overall rating: 3 starsCognitive Presence

Rating Rationale
Enhancement of Cognitive Task(s) rating: 3 stars

Enhancement of Cognitive Task(s)

Given the range of question types, Top Hat offers the opportunity for enhance engagement in targeted cognitive task(s) that were once overly complex or inconceivable through other means

Higher Order Thinking rating: 3 stars

Higher Order Thinking

Use of the tool easily facilitates students to exercise higher order thinking skills (given consideration to design, facilitation, and direction from instructor)

Feedback on Learning rating: 3 stars

Feedback on Learning

Through the tool, students can regularly receive formative feedback on learning (i.e. they can track their performance, monitor their improvement, test their knowledge, etc.)

View the rubric for an explanation of this evaluation
Leave feedback to comment or request that the tool be re-reviewed

Related Information

Additional Resources

Case Studies

Van Nuland, S. E., Roach, V. A., Wilson, T. D., & Belliveau, D. J. Head to head: The role of academic competition in undergraduate anatomical education. Anatomical Sciences Education, 8(5), 404-412.

Peisachovich, E. H., Murtha, S., Phillips, A., & Messinger, G. (2016). Flipping the classroom: A pedagogical approach to applying clinical judgement by engaging, interacting, and collaborating with nursing students. International Journal of Higher Education, 5(4), 114-121.