Teacher’s pet Top Hat Monocle grabs $8m to revolutionize student engagement

Teacher’s pet Top Hat Monocle grabs $8m to revolutionize student engagement

It’s been nearly 10 years since I left the education system but, following my graduation, mobile phones and tablets have grown into a massive distraction for students and the bane of teachers’ lives. Top Hat Monocle is a startup believes that this shouldn’t be the case, and the young company has raised an $8 million Series A round to further develop its Web-based student-teacher communication platform.

Led by Emergence Capital Partners and iNovia Capital, the new investment follows $1.5 million of seed funding which the Toronto-headquartered firm raised in November 2011 to scale its system.

The premise of the Top Hat Monocle product is straight forward and it hosts slides and guidance for lectures and lessons. Once it is integrated with a school’s IT systems, professors can load presentations into the service, with the option of adding some nifty custom features. This gives them a ‘living’, digital handout which students can follow during lectures using laptops or smartphones via a WiFi or cellular connection.

The company ironically began as a grad school project for future co-founders Mike Silagadze and Mohsen Shahini. The duo saw an opportunity to tap into the ubiquity of mobile phones to encourage interactive learning, and the fruits of their labour have been enjoyed by students at more than 200 educational institutions worldwide to date.

The solution is a compelling one because it hits a number of pain-points for both educators and students alike.

Clickers have been touted as a tool to improve student engagement for some time, but the Top Hat Monocle builds on that promise by alleviating the need for students to buy the dedicated hardware (and remember to bring it to lectures). Furthermore, the gamified elements encourage higher attendance rates and improved scores, as the testimonies attest:

In one case study, a professor saw attendance rates double and also observed an overall grade increase of 5% as compared to the previous year when not using Top Hat Monocle. Another observed comprehension for material increase by 23% when using Top Hat Monocle to explain a concept as compared to not using it at all.

The software is popular with professors for its non-technical approach, and high level of customisation open to them. The bevy of features for educators include live multiple-choice quizzes, demos, in-built gradebooks, file-sharing and more items that help bridge learning gaps.

Top Hat Monocle says that the funds will be used enhance the platform, with a particularly focus on heightening engagement, while it will also enable an expansion of its sales and marketing efforts.

The company launched in 2010, it is currently turning in profit — which explains the impressive funding — and it recently stepped into Silicon Valley in an official capacity, after opening an office in San Francisco.

If the pedigree of its early-stage backers is any indicator of its potential– Emergence backed Salesforce.com, Yammer and Box — we’ll be hearing plenty more from Top Hat Monocle and its efforts to improve the way young people are educated.

Image via Flickr / ajschwegler

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