10 Top Hat Strategies for Active Learning

Top Hat provides for active learning, beyond the multiple choice “clicker” question. Below, you’ll find 10 activities to implement using Top Hat — from taking attendance and posing basic multiple choice questions to creating metacognitive “wrappers” that help build engagement.

To learn more about how to build questions and presentations in Top Hat please see our eModule: Leveraging Top Hat in Presentations.

  1. Attendance: Top Hat can be used to take attendance. Simply click on the Attendance icon at the top of the presenter pop-up or presentation screen before beginning your presentation.
  2. Summative Assessment: Top Hat can be used for graded activities, such as multiple-choice quizzes. We advise that Top Hat be reserved for low-stakes assessments.
  3. Formative Assessment: Top Hat can be used to pose questions to students and collect their answers for the purpose of providing real-time information about student learning to both the instructor and the students. Students can use this feedback to monitor their own learning, and instructors can use it to change how they manage class “on the fly” in response to student learning needs. Some instructors assign participation grades to these kinds of formative assessments to encourage students to participate. Other instructors assign points for correct answers to encourage students to take these questions more seriously. Other instructors do a mix of both, assigning partial credit for wrong answers.
  4. Homework Collection: Through the Review feature of Top Hat, students can record their answers to multiple-choice or free response homework questions and submit their answers via Top Hat outside of class. In addition, instructors can use the Pages feature of Top Hat to create high quality, multi-media content for review. Such content can be constructed with text, in-line questions, and videos all in one page.
  5. Discussion Warm-Up: Posing a question, giving students time to think about it and record their answers via Top Hat, and then displaying the results can be an effective way to warm a class up for a class-wide discussion.This approach gives all students time to think about and commit to an answer, setting the stage for greater discussion participation.
  6. Contingent Teaching: Since it can occasionally be challenging to determine what students understand, Top Hat can gauge understanding in real-time during class. If the Top Hat data show that students understand a given topic, then the instructor can move on to the next one. If not, then more time can be spent on the topic, perhaps involving more lecture, class discussion, or another clicker question. This approach has been called “agile teaching” by Beatty et al. (2006), who write, “This contrasts with the common practice of teaching according to a ‘ballistic’ lesson plan: designing a plan for an entire class meeting, ‘launching’ the plan, hoping that it hits reasonably close to its target, and waiting for the next exam to know for certain.” Certainly there are other ways to determine if students are understanding course material as one progresses through a course, but Top Hat can provide a convenient way of doing so. See also Draper & Brown (2004) for more on this approach.
  7. Peer Instruction: This is a tech adaptation of Think-Pair-Share. The teacher poses a question to his or her students. The students ponder the question silently and transmit their individual answers using the Top Hat. The teacher checks the histogram of student responses. If a significant number of students choose the wrong answer, the teacher instructs the students to discuss the question with their neighbor. After a few minutes of discussion, the students submit answers again. This technique often (but not always!) results in more students choosing the correct answer as a result of peer instruction. This approach can also set the stage for a class-wide discussion that more fully engages all students. See Mazur (1997) for more on this approach.
  8. Repeated Questions: In the peer instruction approach described above, students respond to a given question twice–once after thinking about their answer individually and again after discussing it with their neighbor. Some instructors ask the same question several times, with different activities in between rounds of “voting” designed to help students better answer the question. For instance, an instructor might have the students answer the question individually, then discuss it with their neighbor and respond, then participate in a class-wide discussion and respond, and then listen to a mini-lecture on the topic and respond. For particularly challenging questions, this can be an effective technique for helping students discover and explore course material. This can also be used as a prediction method, as suggested in James Lang’s Small Teaching. The instructor asks a question ahead of the lecture or activity to activate prior knowledge or get at misconceptions or preconceptions. Then the question is repeated after the lecture or activity to solidify the correct information (Lang 46).
  9. Muddiest Point: In this approach, students answer a discussion board question at the end of class asking asking them what concept they have not mastered or understand poorly. The instructor reviews responses and re-teaches or re-emphasizes that information during the next class, via video posted to Carmen, or in an email or discussion board.
  10. Top Takeaways/One Minute Essay: This approach is similar to the Muddiest Point, but asks the students to summarize the main ideas of the lecture. The instructor can choose to make this an essay or a bulleted list of top takeaways. The essays or takeaways should mirror the learning outcomes of the lesson. If not, the instructor can address this in the next class or via the LMS.

Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International License – Original Source: Vanderbilt University – The Center for Teaching © 2017 – “Classroom Response Systems (“Clickers”) – Derek Bruff, Director Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. Adapted and appended by Katie O’Keefe, The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Office of Teaching and Learning, 2017.

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