Professor: Various Uses of Top Hat Discussions (Old Top Hat)

Top Hat discussions are incredibly versatile and offer professors an infinite number of possible use cases. In this article however, we’ll dig into the three most common uses: facilitating a dialogue between students, probing students with free-response questions, and providing a space for students to ask questions themselves!

Facilitating Dialogue Between Students
This is probably the most obvious use of Top Hat discussions. You can initiate a Top Hat discussion independently inside or outside of the classroom, or in parallel to an in-class discussion. Facilitating a Top Hat discussion simultaneously to an in-class discussion provides a great opportunity for those students who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in class, or if you have a large class and not all students’ voices can be heard. Most professors choose not to grade this style of discussion, but you certainly can if you’d like! As for response options, be sure you set your discussion up in such a way that responses can been seen by everyone!

Short or Long Answer Questions
Top Hat discussions allow you to ask students subjective and interpretive questions that require longer, more reflective, and often more opinionated answers. This is great for short, or even long, answer questions on quizzes, pre-lecture reading responses, or 1-minute papers. If you’re planning on grading the responses you may choose to have the responses visible only to you and not the rest of the students, but the choice is yours. Do keep in mind that if you want to reward students for their submissions that you want ensure that students are not anonymous to everyone!

Questions from Students
You can also utilize Top Hat discussions to gain real-time feedback during lectures by allowing students to seek clarification and assist their peers. Top Hat discussions provide a safe space for students to ask questions they may have from that day’s lecture material.

Many professors will activate a Top Hat discussion at the beginning of their lecture and keep it open for the entire lecture so students can post questions as they arise. How you choose to moderate these feeds is up to you - you may have a teaching assistant check in periodically and respond to student questions, or perhaps you set the expectation that these discussions will be unmoderated and you simply provide a space for students to seek clarification from their peers, or maybe you choose to set aside a few minutes at the end of the lecture or the beginning of the next lecture to address students questions. Regardless of what works for your teaching style, this is a great option for students to seek clarification when they many not feel comfortable speaking up in class.

Another great discussion feature that enhances this use case is the ability for students to “upvote” or “like” a discussion post. If a student posts a question and other students are also confused by the same concept, they can simply upvote the post to show their agreement. When viewing the posts, you can easily identify the content areas that seem to be problematic for multiple students!



Again, this is in no way an exhaustive list - there are as many uses for Top Hat discussions as there are professors using Top Hat! We encourage you to step out of that comfort zone and explore some other uses for discussions in your classes!

For additional information on Top Hat discussions please see the following articles:


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