Promoting active learning through mobile: Introducing Top Hat

In this edition’s digital column,  Professor Neil Morris, introduces the University’s new mobile voting software to support and enhance student engagement across teaching at Leeds.

The University has recently agreed to implement an institutional mobile voting solution from August 2019, available to all staff and students, following an extensive cross-institutional pilot.

The solution is provided by Top Hat.

In this article, I will explain the rationale for implementing a single institution-wide solution for mobile voting, and the benefits we anticipate from use of Top Hat for our students and staff.


Mobile voting tools have been used within the University for many years, to support and enhance student engagement and learning within teaching sessions.

Traditionally, these were physical handsets which allowed students to answer simple multiple-choice style questions presented on screen, and in some schools and faculties these have been used extensively with student cohorts.

In recent years, mobile voting tools have evolved to make use of the functionality of mobile devices, and most solutions now offer mobile apps or web-based voting tools, which allow a much wider range of methods to interact with students in classrooms, including multiple choice, numerical answers, free text etc.

SCREENSHOT: A glimpse of what the software looks like on the screen.


Recently, we have recognised the significant demand for high-quality mobile voting tools from teaching staff across the institution, and initiated a project to gather functional requirements and seek a provider through a competitive tender process.

Through this process, we selected Top Hat as our partner for mobile voting.

We believe their tool has the best range of functionality for our needs, is deeply integrated with our systems and they have a strong and successful culture of supporting educators and universities to enhance learning and teaching.

The Top Hat tool will be available to all staff and students from early August 2019, with communications and training, to support use of the tool in learning and teaching activities from September 2019.

During the cross-faculty pilot, over 170 staff and 3800 students have used Top Hat, and the system has collected around 37,000 responses to quizzes.

Staff participating in the pilot were supported by the project team, led by the Digital Education Service Systems Team, and provided feedback on the functionality of the tool throughout the pilot.


Comments anonymously provided by staff about Top Hat include:

Overall it has worked well in my lectures so far. Students seem to have enjoyed using it. There was an audible “ooh!” in this morning’s lecture when I showed them heat map results from one question!’

 ‘The Top Hat presentation tool is exactly what I have been looking for one of my modules.’

 ‘I generally think that most staff will be able to use it efficiently and will find it useful.’

I would use this resource and think it would be more useful than simpler offers… This saves results so you can track progress over time. I would like to use Top Hat at the start of sessions to make sure that students have undertaken the reading and understood the content; I think Top Hat is good tool for meeting these requirements.

Overall, most staff participating in the pilot were positive about the tool, but there were some concerns about how intuitive the tools are to use, given the wide range of functionality available within Top Hat.

We will be providing extensive training and support to staff to overcome this initial hurdle, and Top Hat are introducing a range of initiatives to make the tool more intuitive and easier to navigate.

Student testament

Students involved in the pilot also provided feedback on the value of the tool to support their learning, and the use of Top Hat as an application; in general, students gave very positive feedback about Top Hat:

This app got the students more engaged and helped in understanding the module better.

 Thoroughly enjoy the convenience of using Top Hat to contribute to class discussions.’

 ‘Very useful to use, especially for a large interactive class.’

 ‘Love it, very easy to engage with the quiz and helps to understand the content and to confirm and clarify information.’

‘There is extensive literature on the benefits of in-class interactivity with students, to promote active learning, and mobile voting tools are particularly useful for increasing interactivity in large classes.’

Research in a wide range of disciplines shows that student engagement, motivation, knowledge-retention and learning are all increased by pedagogically appropriate use of in-class formative quizzes, questions and interventions which promote student collaboration, interaction, debate and discussion.

Additionally, these quizzes offer individual students immediate feedback on their knowledge and understanding, and offer teachers immediate feedback about the class’ understanding of challenging topics.

These are all important facets of an active learning approach, and mobile voting covers three of Chickering and Gamson’s principles for good practice in undergraduate education.


As Top Hat is also integrated with Minerva, and students will be logged into the tool when answering questions, we will be able to build up a better picture of students’ knowledge and understanding over time, across multiple topics, and use these data to inform module tutors and leaders, programme leaders and personal tutors about students’ progress, in a learning analytics system.

It also provides an enhanced student experience as students can review their responses outside of their lectures and reflect on their learning.

This is one of the key reasons for selecting Top Hat over other freely available mobile voting tools, which are anonymous, and store data in external locations.

Over the coming year, we will be encouraging colleagues to move away from other mobile voting tools to use Top Hat.


Mobile voting can also be used to support other aspects of student education, and experience.

For example, students can be asked to complete quizzes in advance of classes, or at the beginning of a class, for example, a Health and Safety quiz at the start of a practical class, to ensure understanding of important information.

In-class quizzes have also been used very successfully in a range of disciplines to challenge students’ beliefs and to stimulate debate.

Mobile voting can also help us to digitise key student experience activities. For example, Top Hat can be used for in-module feedback, to seek students’ view about the quality of individual teaching sessions, or progress of modules.

We hope that Top Hat will add significant value in these areas, and reduce our reliance on paper registers and printed in-module surveys, supporting our sustainability plan.

More information about Top Hat will be available in August 2019.