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Getting Started with TopHat

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Are you interested in new ways to engage your students during class? Top Hat is Vanderbilt’s classroom response system, available for free to all faculty, staff, and students. Using Top Hat, instructors can pose polling questions and ask all their students to respond using their phones or laptops. Top Hat quickly collects and visualizes student responses, giving instructors a snapshot of student learning they can use to inform class discussion.

See below for ideas on using Top Hat in your classroom, along with step-by-step instructions for getting started. It’s easier than you might think.

You might also want to view this pre-recorded instructor workshop for new users:

Watch Introduction to Top Hat (20 min.)

This instructor-led tutorial is designed for professors or teaching assistants who are brand new to Top Hat. It covers the basics of Top Hat, from creating your account through setting up your first course, to more advanced features like adding a teaching assistant.

Multiple Choice Questions

Q: Your sister calls to say she’s having twins. Which of the following is more likely? (Assume she’s not having identical twins.)

A. Twin boys
B. Twin girls
C. One boy and one girl
D. All three of the above are equally likely.

Ask students to respond individually to a multiple-choice question (like this one from former CFT director Derek Bruff’s statistics course), then discuss the question in pairs, then respond again. Then ask students to share reasons for their answers, guiding the discussion toward the correct answer (C in this case). Or ask questions that don’t have single correct answers. See for an example of a “one best answer” question from Vanderbilt law professor Ed Cheng.

Word Answer Questions

Q: What three words come to mind when you think of leadership?

Q: What are five or six technologies you’ve used or seen used in teaching?

Q: What counts as alien? Answer in 140 characters or less.

Top Hat’s word-answer format allows for free text responses, with results displayed as text or as word clouds, in which words appearing more frequently among student responses appear larger. These questions work well for surfacing diverse student perspectives and experiences. For more examples of using word clouds in the classroom, see “Alien” word cloud courtesy Mark Sample (Davidson College).

Discussion Questions

Q: What questions do you have about plagiarism in academic settings?

Q: What did you learn from watching the Citizenfour documentary?

Q: What is art?

For longer student responses, try Top Hat’s discussion tool, which creates question-specific discussion boards. Scroll through student responses to inform class discussion, or ask students to vote up answers from peers that resonate with them as a way to prioritize responses in larger classes. See for an example of a discussion question that led to deep learning in an art class.


Steps for asking your first Top Hat Question in Class

Create an account and course

  1. Navigate to, click the “Signup” button, and choose “Sign-up as a Professor.”
  2. Begin typing “Vanderbilt” into the school search field and select “Vanderbilt University” from the drop-down menu that appears.
  3. Login using your VUNetID/Password
    (To access your account in the future, navigate to and click “Login” in the upper right corner of the screen.)
  4. Once your account is created, you will be prompted to complete a form to create your first course. For now, you’ll only need to complete the required fields of the form. You can always add/edit the course details later. After you fill out the course creation form, you will be taken directly into your newly created course to create a question. Learn more about account setup here:

Create a question

  1. Click the blue “Create” button in the upper left corner of your course screen and then select one of the seven different question types. On the reverse side, you’ll see samples for multiple choice, word, and discussion question types. For this example, select multiple choice.
  2. Complete the question builder form, beginning with the question title. It’s important to note that the question title is for your organizational purposes (g., “Lecture 2 – Question1”). Students will be able to see the question title so be careful not to include an answer in this field. You’ll also notice you can customize your questions in many ways, like attaching images, setting a timer, marking correct answers, and assigning grades.
    Learn more about creating questions here:

Make sure students can respond

Students also need an active Top Hat account to respond to your questions. Vanderbilt students who haven’t already created a Top Hat account can navigate to, click the “Signup” button, and choose “Sign-up as a Student.” They can also download the Top Hat app and create the account using a smart device. To help them be prepared, share this URL with your students ahead of time:

Pose a question to your class

  1. On the day you’d like to ask your Top Hat question, login at and open your course. You’ll find the question(s) you created on the left side of the Top Hat interface.
  2. Click on the question you want to ask. It will appear as a preview on the right side of the screen
  3. Click the “Present” button in the upper right corner of the question preview.
  4. The Join Code and instructions for students now appears on the screen.
  5. Students should login either by web browser at or by using the Top Hat mobile app.
  6. Using the unique Join Code displayed on your screen, students will search for and access your course.
    (At this point, students will not yet be able to view or respond to your question.)
  7. Click the “Start Presentation” button on the right side of your Top Hat interface. Your question is now displayed full-screen. Students are now able to view and respond to your question using their own device.
    (A blue bar at the bottom of the screen indicates that Top Hat is actively awaiting student responses.)
  8. Give students time to respond. Use the counter at the bottom of the screen to determine how many have submitted answers.
  9. After students have submitted their answers, you can stop accepting responses by clicking the “Pause” button at the bottom of the question screen. Pausing only stops Top Hat from accepting new answers. Results will not yet be displayed.
  10. To reveal the results to the class, click the “Responses” button at the bottom of the question screen. This will display a bar chart revealing the number (or percentage) of students who chose each answer option.
  11. To exit the question, move your mouse to the upper left corner of the screen and a gray “END” button will appear. Click the button to exit or simply hit the ESC key on your keyboard. Learn more about asking questions in class here: