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.

Summertime is Building Time

During the school year things are so busy that ideas to improve your course or build your teaching skill set sometimes go unaddressed. But during the Summer, when things slow down, The Office of Teaching and Learning is just heating up. We are working to put together a schedule of professional development opportunities for the summer including:
  • Course Development Workshops
  • Active Learning Strategies
  • Writing Effective Test Questions
  • Writing a Learning Outcome
  • Ed Tech Training Sessions
Are there things you would especially like to learn more about? Drop us an email at CVM-edtechhelp@osu.edu or leave a comment below.

Online Training for Top Hat

It can be difficult to break away from the day to attend Top Hat training, so the Office of Teaching and Learning has created a tutorial to help you learn how to leverage Top Hat in your lectures. This self-paced, interactive module takes about 20 minutes to complete from start to finish and includes video demos and software simulations to help you learn more effectively. If you already use Top Hat and don’t need the whole module, there is an interactive Course Roadmap to take you through to the pieces you want to learn more about.

To start the module, follow this link to Leveraging Top Hat in Presentations.

Top Hat and the Interactive Lecture

Studies show us that Active Learning helps students learn more effectively and this is especially true of critical thinking and problem solving skills. When students are using the information, rather than listening to it, they retain it longer and are more comfortable using it when they need it. The challenge is finding active learning strategies that work in a large class.

Recently, Dr. James Belknap converted and delivered an interactive lecture that walked the class through the process of diagnosis and treatment for several cases. He did this by combining a traditional slide lecture with multiple choice and click on target questions in Top Hat, transforming a lecture where the students were passive listeners to a lecture where students were actively participating. They were engaged in the process of making decisions based on the information learned in their classes during the prior week. Not only does active learning activate prior knowledge, it encourages students to synthesize that knowledge in the decision-making process.

As the students answered, Dr. Belknap addressed incorrect answers to help refine the students’ understanding. This included pointing out things that are not directly related to medicine or symptoms, but still effect treatment like difficulties of place and season. As the lecture progressed, the students improved their accuracy and speed. In addition, he had 100% participation from the students who attended the lecture. Top Hat makes this an easy task, simply upload your slides and create your questions in Top Hat, add images where needed, and deliver the lecture.

Using technology is only one way to employ active learning strategies in the classroom. You can find some great tools at the UCAT Active Learning Strategies page. We’ll be exploring more of these ideas, high-tech and low-tech, over the coming weeks.

Intro to Andragogy – Teaching Adult Students

Is there a difference between teaching non-traditional, adult students and “traditional” students in their late teens and early twenties? Research in adult education programs indicates there is. In the mid to late 20th Century, Malcolm Knowles pioneered the field of andragogy — “the art and science of helping adults learn” — and contributed a great deal to the development of adult and vocational training programs.

What is Andragogy?

Andragogy (from the Greek andros or adult man and agogus meaning leader of) is a play on the word pedagogy (or the leading of children). Methods differ simply because of the wealth of experience an adult learner possesses.

What makes teaching adults different?

Four characteristics differentiate how adults approach learning.

  1. Their self-concept moves from one of being dependent toward being self-directed.
  2. They accumulate experience that becomes a resource for learning.
  3. Their readiness to learn becomes oriented on the development of their social roles.
  4. They prefer immediate application to postponed application and become more interested in performance-centered learning.

As a result, we can make three assumptions about adult learners:

  1. The learning of an adult is largely determined by his or her life context.
  2. The learner takes an active, leading role in the adult learning process.
  3. The learner and the teacher cooperate in all stages of learning.

What does this mean in practice?

At the College of Veterinary Medicine, we have a mix of adults and young adults, and some of these characteristics and assumptions will apply more than others depending on which group you are teaching.

During the first year of the DVM program, we provide foundational knowledge delivered didactically. In the second and third years, we let the students make choices about what they want to learn using electives. Hands-on lab work in the third year and in the fourth year move to team-centric practice. In fact, instructors may see their students becoming more self-directed as they progress in the program.

Here are five tips for improving the learning experience of our students based on what we know about andragogy.

Think team-centric

A team-centered learning environment allows for the free-exchange of ideas and information and fosters mutual engagement, interest and respect.

Build-in opportunities for students to self-evaluate

1) Work from a model of competence, indicating how and and what students should achieve.

2) Provide diagnostic experiences that allow students to test what they already know.

3) Provide self- assessment opportunities to help the learners measure gaps between their knowledge and mastery.


Define learning outcomes, design and conduct learning experiences, and evaluate success in achieving outcomes.

Encourage student “buy-in”

Conduct learning experiences that promote student buy-in. This encourages them to treat learning as a mutual responsibility. The faculty member acts as a resource or facilitator more than an instructor. This can be accomplished through presentations and team projects conducted in small groups.


Once an activity, assessment, module or course s complete, allow for “re-diagnosis of learning needs” that highlights growth and not failure. In addition to self-evaluation, students should be encouraged to evaluate their experience and make critical suggestions for improvement.

Here are some helpful resources to learn more about andragogy:

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education – From Pedagogy to Andragogy.

Knowles, M. S. (2005). The Adult Learner.

Zmeyov, S. I. (1998). Andragogy: Origins, Developments and Trends. International Review of Education, 44(1), 103-108.

Curtain Falls on Turning Point, but Top Hat is Here

Theatre Curtains

Turning Point will take its final bow during the summer 2017 and be replaced by Top Hat for the autumn semester. There are several reasons for this change, but chiefly, Turning Point does not interface well with Microsoft Office 2016.

Pedagogically, Top Hat can be used as a student engagement tool to test student’s prior knowledge, check for understanding of material recently presented, encourage class participation and engagement, and take attendance. The question types vary in range from a standard multiple choice question to “Hot Spot” questions that allow students to click on an area in an image for identification. Continue reading

Starting with Why

“Do we need to know this for the test?”

Maybe you’ve asked it. Maybe you’ve just heard it a thousand times. But this question misses what it means to be ready to use knowledge in practice.

Instead of starting with “What do I need to know?” at times it’s more constructive to start with “Why do I need to know this?” Knowing why something is important helps you synthesize knowledge, build effective mental models, and apply those models across different categories of learning.

For example: If I memorize how to calculate a standard deviation, but don’t know why it’s important for me to memorize it or how it can be applied, then that knowledge is likely to be lost when I need it most.

If, on the other hand, my teacher tells me that I need to know how to calculate a standard deviation in order to determine whether or not my findings are statistically significant, then I am much more likely to remember that formula and apply it appropriately. Continue reading

Notetaking App Features Outlined

Having the tools and materials you need at your fingertips can help you be prepared for class, streamline your study time and make you a more effective student.

To help you make the most of the technology available, the Office of Teaching & Learning has complied a table of several notetaking apps available on the market, many of which are available for free or a one-time fee under $10 (the exception: Evernote).

All of the apps listed below are available for iOS (iPad, iPad Pro) but also run on other platforms, making it easy to access your materials and notes from anywhere. Continue reading

How Learning Works


Beginning this spring, the Office of Teaching & Learning invites you to participate in a book group focusing on best practices and pedagogy. This Friday’s Tips include bits of advice from each of the chapters comprising our featured book, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, by Susan A. Ambrose and colleagues. Continue reading