Classroom/Audience Response System (Top Hat)

Top Hat logoWhat is Top Hat?

For many years, Classroom/Audience Response Systems, historically known as "clickers", have allowed professors/presenters the ability to engage and interact with their audiences. The original systems were hardware-based and required students to purchase a physical remote control device. Presenters and audience members would sync the devices and a receiver via line of sight (similar to television remote controls) or radio frequency. Modern systems work via web-enabled devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets. 

CMU's system of choice, Top Hat, is a 100% web-based solution that offers presenters the ability to engage and interact with face-to-face and online audience members both 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 so 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 all of the points. These points/grades can then be transferred to the Blackboard Grade Center. Anonymous response options are available when necessary and appropriate. Top Hat can also be used to assign homework, presentations, quizzes, and more outside of class. 

In it's most recent version, Top Hat has rolled out a portion of the 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 full blown electronic textbooks. Some is available for free and other at a cost. Please, do not  use paid content without first touching base with the CMU Top Hat support staff. A simple email to that contains your wishes and plans is sufficient. 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) that are working directly with a faculty member to facilitate a course (face-to-face or online).
    • NOTE: Top Hat should not be implemented into 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 that are working with a faculty or staff member can be granted access to the system. Special arrangements and advanced preparation are necessary.
    • Contact the Top Hat Support Team at for more information all things Top Hat related.


    • Any student that is enrolled in a course that requires the use of the system by a faculty member 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. Advanced preparation is necessary. 
    • Contact the Top Hat Support Team at 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 possible
  • 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 - possible
  • 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/Mark-up - 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 - available
  • Individual Student Tracking - available

Recommendations for Effective and Creative Use

  • Provide and show 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 will 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. You could do that in Blackboard or on paper.
  • Create content for both synchronous and asynchronous interaction.
  • Create and deliver well thought out 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 if or when this or that happens.
  • 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/topic/lecture 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 is good for 365 days from the date that it is purchased and can be used in any and all courses at CMU and other institutions for the entirety of life of the license. Licenses can be renewed in one-year increments for the duration of time that a student needs to use the system.

  • Face-to-face and online training opportunities are offered by the CETL 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 at to make arrangements. Training and support will be offered to the best our team's ability.
  • Staff who are interested in using the system in a non-course environment should contact the Top Hat Support Team at as far in advance of the presentation as possible. Training and support will be offered to the best of our team's ability.