Classroom/Audience Response System (Top Hat)

Top Hat logoWhat is Top Hat?

Classroom/Audience Response Systems, historically known as "clickers", allow teaching faculty and other presenters the ability to engage and interact with their audiences.

CMU's system of choice, Top Hat, is a 100% web-based solution which offers presenters the ability to engage and interact with face-to-face and online audience members synchronously and asynchronously. Interactive elements (questions, prompts, polls, discussions, formative assessments, etc.) can be combined with any presentation style or software in order to boost interest, engagement, and interaction throughout a presentation.

If desired, points can be assigned to interactions in order to track participation, correctness, and attendance. A detailed gradebook, which is available to the professor and students for the duration of a course, tallies the points. These points/grades can also be transferred to the Blackboard Grade Center. Anonymous response options are also available.

Top Hat can also be used to assign homework, presentations, quizzes, and more, outside of of a synchronous class session.

In its most recent version, Top Hat released a system known as Marketplace. Here, faculty users can browse, import, and use content that has been created by their peers. The highly interactive content includes individual and collections of questions, presentations, course notes, and complete electronic textbooks. Some content is available for free and other material at a cost. Please, do not use paid content without first contacting the CMU Top Hat support staff. Simply complete the Classroom Audience Response Assistance form to share your plans. One of the team will get back in touch with you ASAP. Special agreements are in place between Top Hat and the CMU Bookstore regarding availability, discounted pricing, and custom tutorials for CMU students.

Who can use Top Hat?


    • Faculty who wish to use the system as part of a course (face-to-face or online).
    • Teaching Assistants (undergraduate and graduate) who are working directly with a faculty member to facilitate a course (face-to-face or online).
    • NOTE: Top Hat should not be implemented in a course without prior training and pre-semester syllabus preparation.
    • Staff who wish to use the system as part of a general audience environment (face-to-face or online)
    • In rare situations, students working with a faculty or staff member can be granted access to the system. Special arrangements and advance preparation are necessary.
    • Contact the Top Hat Support Team using the Classroom Audience Response Assistance form for more information all things Top Hat related.


    • Any student enrolled in a course that requires the use of the system will be required to purchase access to the system. Detailed tutorials are provided as part of the training process.
    • If the system is being used by a faculty or staff member in a general audience environment, instructions can be created and provided to allow for unpaid and anonymous access to the system for the duration of the presentation. Advance preparation is necessary.
    • Contact the Top Hat Support Team using the Classroom Audience Response Assistance form for more information all things Top Hat related.

System Features

Interaction Types


  • Multiple Choice - choose one or all that apply
  • Word Response - single word with option to deliver results via a word cloud
  • Numeric Response - single number and tolerance/range of numbers
  • Matching - connecting a premise with a correct response
  • Click on Target - identifying one or more hot spots within an image
  • Sorting - placing lists in sequential order
  • Discussion - responding to a prompt via threaded discussion
  • File sharing - presentations, images, documents, etc.
  • Pages - interactive handouts that can include images, questions, polls, discussions, and more
  • Timers - interactions can be facilitator controlled or automatically timed
  • Programming Syntax and Math Equations and Symbols - included and available for interaction creation and response
  • 100% web-based - facilitation occurs via laptops, smartphones, tablets, +
  • Access - web browser or via iOS and Android Apps
  • Synchronous & Asynchronous Interaction
  • Points - can be assigned for correctness, participation, and attendance
  • Wireless facilitation - possible to present from iPad or Android tablets or Android smartphone
  • Real-time Annotation/Markup - available
  • Feedback - offer during or after participant response
  • Responses - linked to student account or anonymous
  • Reporting - can be run for an individual or as a whole for any presentation
  • Grading - full gradebook within system that can be exported directly into Blackboard Grade Center and Excel
  • Student Rosters
  • Individual Student Tracking

Recommendations for Effective and Creative Use

  • Demonstrate value in your usage that justifies your students' investment in the license. 
  • Be creative in your usage. Use the system in a variety of ways or things could get stale for you and your students.
  • Don't use solely for attendance purposes. Students will revolt for having to pay for a license just so you can take attendance.
  • Don't use solely for quizzing purposes. 
  • Create content for both synchronous and asynchronous interaction.
  • Create and deliver well-developed questions and prompts. 
  • Use the system to engage your audience in a conversation.
  • Ask questions that drive additional discussion on a topic.
  • If you take the time to ask the audience to respond, you must also take the time to discuss their responses.
  • Incorporate sufficient time for your audience to respond to questions and prompts. 
  • Ask for participants' opinions on a topic.
  • Personalize statistics to your local audience and then compare to external statistics.
  • Dispel misconceptions.
  • Create a time for telling. Ask participants what they think will happen.
  • Check for understanding after a mini-lecture period. Ensure that your participants are where you want or need them to be before proceeding.
  • Assess prior knowledge on a topic before entering into related content.
  • Deliver pre- and post-chapter quizzes.
  • Create content on the fly that is directly linked to something that happens in the moment.
  • Anonymously monitor student progress on a project.
  • Allow for anonymous peer evaluation of group work.
  • Gather anonymous feedback from students about how a course is going.
  • Offer varied confidence level response options.
  • Include high-quality distractor responses within questions that have a correct answer.
  • Occasionally, offer participants an 'out' such as, "I need more information."
  • Compare audience responses by demographic.
  • Structure a presentation to include competition between individuals or teams and then offer a small reward for the winner.
  • Repeat a question more than once in a think-pair-share environment.

Related Costs


    • There is no cost to CMU faculty or staff.


    • Students enrolled in a course that requires the use of the system are required to purchase a $25 license. This license lasts 365 days from the date of purchased and can be used in any and all courses at CMU and other institutions for the duration of the license. Licenses can be renewed in one-year increments.


  • Face-to-face and online training opportunities are offered by the CETL and OIT each semester. These sessions are open to faculty, teaching assistants, and staff. Dates, times, and registration information can be found by visiting the CETL Events page
  • It is highly recommended that faculty and teaching assistants participate in training during the semester prior to when they intend to begin using the system as part of a course. This allows plenty of time to become familiar with the system, create content and presentations, and to prepare syllabi to include required course language. 
  • NOTE: Top Hat should not be implemented into a course without prior training and pre-semester syllabus preparation. 
  • Faculty who are interested in "test driving" the system can contact the Top Hat Support Team using the Classroom Audience Response Assistance form to make arrangements. 
  • Staff who are interested in using the system in a non-course environment should contact the Top Hat Support Team using the Classroom Audience Response Assistance form as much in advance of the presentation as possible.