Top Hat classroom response system to come to IU



For years, IU students have purchased small, handheld response systems to respond to quizzes in their classrooms. But the devices, frequently called clickers, are on their way out.

Students will no longer have to remember their clickers when they go to class. Instead, they’ll just bring their laptop or phone with a program called Top Hat installed on it.

Top Hat, a classroom response system that has been around since 2009, will be available to all instructors and students in the fall. The personal device-based program is being implemented at IU-Bloomington after a year-long pilot program exploring how students and instructors received Top Hat.

All seven IU campuses will use Top Hat as their primary classroom response system.

Top Hat can be accessed on students’ personal devices, smartphones and non-smartphones. The program is available in app-form and online, or students can respond to answers via text message.

There’s also an offline mode, in case Wi-Fi malfunctions, Nina Angelo, the vice president of product and customer marketing at Top Hat, said.

“Students really seem to love using Top Hat because it gives them the option to use their own devices,” Angelo said.

The program can be used in the classroom to take attendance and complete quizzes and tests, Matthew Gunkel, director of teaching and learning technology at IU, said.

It can also be used for anonymous polls to gauge whether students have grasped a particular subject. Doing so helps engage students, especially in large lecture halls where it can be difficult to speak up.

Professor Ehren Newman used Top Hat for two semesters while teaching a psychology course. There are 106 seats in his lecture hall, so a classroom response system is necessary to communicate with his students.

He used Top Hat to take attendance through small polls that were incorporated into the lecture. Depending on the amount of correct responses Newman received to his questions, he would open up a discussion with students about why they chose the 
questions they chose.

Because Top Hat delivers the responses to a poll in real time, Newman was able to gauge how much students were struggling with a concept based on how long they took to respond.

Tools like these can give professors a sense of the class at large and a more representative sample, Gunkel said.

IU began exploring alternative options to its old system in 2014 after their vendor underwent significant price changes, Gunkel said.

Top Hat is available to students through a subscription system. Students can pay $30 for a yearlong access to the program.

The subscription can be used in any class during that period. Students are also able to choose a five yearlong subscription for $55.

“We wanted to provide students with a great experience,” he said. “But we try to be cognizant of the cost to students.”

Before committing to a new vendor, though, IU ran a pilot program during its spring and fall 2016 semesters.

The pilot program involved 62 instructors and 3,544 students. In a report published by University Information Technology Services, the pilot program found that 95 percent of professors and 82 percent of students found the program easy to use.

A majority of professors and students also responded that Top Hat increased student engagement, with 86 percent of professors and 58 percent of students responding positively.

Although some respondents in the study expressed concern about connectivity issues, Gunkel said IU is working hard to ensure sufficient Wi-Fi capacity.

Students who experience connectivity problems with Top Hat or who need help setting the program up on their devices are encouraged to find help online or at the Assistive Technology and Accessibility Centers in Wells Library.

Consultants will also be available at the beginning of the year to help with connectivity problems, Gunkel said.

“I think that it’s a fresh, new way to engage students in large and small courses,” Angelo said. “I’m really excited that IU has decided to be on the cutting edge of innovation and adopt Top Hat.”

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