Accurate Attendance & Participation with Tophat

Ensuring Accurate Attendance and Participation with Top Hat

Whether with or without technology, accurately measuring attendance and participation in your class is difficult, especially for high-enrollment courses. Top Hat does simplify these tasks, but it is not foolproof. There have been confirmed cases of academic misconduct regarding falsifying attendance with students using Top Hat at IU. While there is no existing technology that can completely guarantee accurate attendance, a multi-pronged approach combining technology, classroom practice, and policy should significantly deter students from exploiting the system.

Technology: Top Hat Attendance Options

By default, Top Hat’s attendance tool allows you to project a 4-digit code for students to enter, proving they are in the classroom. The challenge here is that unscrupulous students could text that code to classmates who are not in the room. If you use this basic attendance tool, try these variations:

  • Use Top Hat Attendance for no more than 10 seconds at the beginning and/or end of class; this shorter time frame gives students time to enter the code themselves, but not enough time to text it to a friend, too.
  • Create an additional question in Top Hat where the question prompt is verbal (not displayed in Top Hat) and the answers are displayed for no more than 10 seconds. This provides a second in-the-room-only question to confirm the attendance question. To make this even trickier, use a question format like Click-on-Target that can be harder to explain quickly via text.


Top Hat also has a newer Secure Attendance tool that combines the functionality of the regular attendance tool with location information gathered from the students’ phones or other devices. Top Hat uses geolocation to tell where the device is located and Bluetooth to determine its proximity to others answering the question; combined, these two location methods seek to determine if students are truly in the classroom. These location approaches are still relatively new in the industry, but they hold promise for ensuring accurate attendance. Secure Attendance has been found to work reliably in most classrooms on the IUB campus.

Suggestions: Secure Attendance in Action

Since Top Hat has not been universally adopted in IU classrooms, some of your students may not be familiar with it. Before the term begins, send a message to your students about using Top Hat and your expectations for their pre-class preparations. A sample message can be found in the Knowledge Base. When using Secure Attendance, leave the attendance code on screen for at least two minutes. Because Secure Attendance uses geolocation and Bluetooth, students may have to enable these features, which could take from a few seconds to a minute. Be certain to point them to information about this function before you plan to use it in class, and consider a “practice” day that doesn’t count towards real attendance data.

If students enter the correct 4-digit attendance code but fail the location check (i.e., they cannot get Bluetooth or location services enabled correctly), they will be marked as absent, and the Top Hat app will immediately let them know that happened. Have a procedure in place for having those students notify you right after class, since you can easily view the student list and make corrections to that day’s attendance. Note that even if a student is accidentally marked absent, the student will be able to respond to other questions throughout the entire class period.

Limitations of Secure Attendance

Secure Attendance does not allow for responses via SMS/text message. Because Secure Attendance takes at least 2 minutes per instance, it may not serve you or your students well if your class period is less than one hour. In that case, consider taking attendance using a different method, such as one listed under “Classroom Practice” below.

Enabling Secure Attendance

For more information on how to enable Secure Attendance in Top Hat, see:

Classroom Practice

In addition to using the Secure Attendance tool, you can also implement a few classroom practices that can help ensure accurate attendance and mitigate the chance of cheating.

  • If you give participation credit via Top Hat, make sure you compare those results with some reliable attendance data, or students at home could still click in, even without knowing the questions.
  • Distribute spot-check quizzes on paper on a random basis, comparing those results to Top Hat’s attendance data.
  • Use Classroom Assessment Techniques such as minute papers or chain notes to both gather information about student learning and know who is actually in the room.
  • Explore other creative solutions, like “Roll Call for Learning.”
  • Take a photo at the start of class—not foolproof, but a possible way of double-checking individual attendance later.


Having clear policies on attendance and academic integrity are important parts of any solution, so make sure you are clear from the start of the semester. Two samples to consider are:

  • “Sharing or entering attendance codes is an act of student misconduct. Any student caught sharing or entering attendance codes when they are not actually present will be subject to disciplinary action as described in the IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct.”
  • “You will only receive credit for participating in in-class assessment questions if you have been marked as present in class. If Top Hat marks you as absent in error, you are responsible for bringing that to my attention immediately after class.”

As with any policy, you should make sure yours align with the Student Code and any policies in your department. And if you do discover students have violated academic integrity policies, be sure you follow through with disciplinary actions; while that process can be time-consuming, the larger IU community—including students—benefits from holding everyone to high standards.

If you have any questions or concerns about using Top Hat for attendance, or if you have other creative ways of ensuring attendance to share with colleagues, please let us know. We will continue to update this page as new information on Top Hat’s attendance functions becomes available.