Recent college graduates: remember when you had to buy a clicker for your chemistry class? Or your bio class, or your physics class — any class whose professor you kind of resented for making you shell out $40-60 for those devices? And then there were the semesters where you had to buy two or even three clickers, one for each class that required them.
As useful as clickers could be in helping professors poll students during lecture and assess their understanding of the material, the fact remained that having to buy a new clicker for each class started to add up for students. Because clickers had never before been standardized, professors chose clickers from multiple different brands, ultimately resulting in students having to buy several different devices. Luckily for today’s college students, there were two grads who asked this question: how can we utilize this effective concept in a way that’s affordable and more convenient for students?
Enter Top Hat Monocle, a Canadian startup that developed out of an idea for a grad school project. In 2009, company founders Mike Silagadze and Mohsen Shahini realized how under-utilized mobile devices were in the classroom, considering almost every college student already owned one. As a result, they saw their opportunity to develop a platform for interactive learning using mobile technology.
Top Hat Monocle caters to professors in the same way textbook companies do: the company gives the software to professors for free, and if the professors decide to implement the program in their classroom, it’s sold to students for a fee of $20 a semester, or $38 for up to five years. Even if students only use the software one semester, they’ve only paid half of the amount they would have spent on a clicker. Also, students don’t have to remember to bring their clickers to class because all the software is either on their mobile device or laptop.
Top Hat offers more capabilities than the traditional clicker, including poll or quiz conduction, interactive demos, open-ended Q & A, file share, review and homework features, and a gradebook feature for professors. Case studies have shown professors who assigned interactive demos for homework found that students responded positively to the interactive modules. Students also like the file share feature, as professors are able to upload course notes, lab materials, or other documents to the program. Watch how professors have implemented Top Hat Monocle in their courses:
Implementation of the program has achieved better results in attendance, information retention, and grades among classes. The company reports that professors saw attendance rates double and noticed an overall grade increase of 5 percent compared to previous semesters when not using Top Hat Monocle. Now, the startup boasts over 60,000 customers in over 70 universities around the world.
So what if a student doesn’t own a cell phone? Although over 98 percent of college students own mobile devices, there have been less than 10 Top Hat users that didn’t have any kind of mobile device. In such cases, the company was happy to send the students $20 vouchers for prepaid cell phones.
In a digital age where the typical college classroom ironically still incorporates the traditional lecture model (see Top Hat CEO Mike Silagadze’s article in HuffPost), it’s nice to see that professors are starting to implement technology that keeps students engaged during class time — and that such technology doesn’t break the bank for students, either.