Review by Amy Cox, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2017

Top Hat

Useful slideshow/student-response tool doesn't outshine other options

Subjects & skills

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Interactive slideshows and lectures can have a customizable student-response system built in for quick formative assessment.

Cons: Features that are more college-centric might discourage K-12 use, when compared with other similar tools.

Bottom Line: A decent choice for interactive slideshows and presentations, though others are more streamlined and offer tools that may appeal more to K-12 teachers.

Top Hat was created to help increase student engagement and retention during lectures, so it's best used for that purpose. Keep your presentations simple, yet fun and engaging, with limited multimedia elements. It's best to create your questions and assessments ahead of time. Use a variety of question types (not just multiple choice) so students don't become too passive.

During presentations, see if you can sprinkle in a few on-the-fly questions to check for understanding. Afterwards, once you've gathered students' responses, make sure to show everyone the correct answers, as this isn't an automatic feature. Top Hat's discussion feature would be great to use after a lecture, or as a prelude to an essay or writing assignment. Encourage students to post their own questions, but middle- and high-school teachers should be aware that this will likely require some moderation.

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Top Hat is a platform for building and conducting interactive slideshow presentations -- through a built-in student-response system, students can use their own mobile devices to take part in ongoing, live assessments during a lecture. The tool can be used within any subject area -- when used effectively teachers can better support students with valuable formative assessment data.

Teachers can prepare slideshows -- including assessment items and discussions -- on the Top Hat website, Chrome app or mobile app. Students respond using any web-enabled device or via text message, though there's also a Top Hat app for iOS and Android. It's important to note that Top Hat seems primarily geared toward college students and classes. However, teachers can turn on or off many of the site's features, including questions, attendance, demos, feedback, and more, making K-12 use more feasible.

As a tool, Top Hat isn't that different from a number of other options for interactive slideshows -- tools like NearPod and Apollo offer similar features. The student-response features, in particular, are similar to those found in tools like Socrative or InfuseLearning. However, Top Hat's built-in demos are what set it apart, as they provide interactive practice for targeted subjects. However, these are mostly targeted at more advanced students, likely college-level. Top Hat might do well in the future if they created more demos targeted at younger students, as well.

Another standout feature includes the ability to mirror presentations between a teacher's and students' devices. The tools here include the ability for teachers to doodle on or annotate slides -- these additions should appear almost immediately on students' devices. Be aware, however, that teachers using media-heavy presentations could encounter uploading or downloading issues when presenting -- this could limit the platform's usefulness. In the end, to get the most out of any tool like this, teachers will need to create thoughtful, meaningful interactive content for their students. Despite a few drawbacks, Top Hat could be quite useful in the hands of a patient and creative educator.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Students will like participating in lectures more than simply listening and taking notes. There are more opportunities for every student to have a voice. However, engagement will rely mostly on the type of content being taught.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The formative assessment features create opportunities for powerful learning, though some comparable tools offer more options. Success is also dependent on how teachers interpret, and respond to, students' responses.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

It's great that students can pose their own questions digitally, when they might not have otherwise. More in-line guidance on using the tool to increase learning could improve the experience.

Common Sense Reviewer
Amy Cox Classroom teacher

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Jeff N. , Other
I have not used this product, and I will never use this product. Their marketing strategies of harassing and browbreating are incessant. I've never had to endure the abuse of creditors, but I think I now know how it feels.
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