It's not a technology which is often given much thought, but the use of hand-held "clickers" which allow large lecture theaters full of students to respond to their professors -- in ways such as submitting quiz answers or polls -- has grown over several years on campuses across the West.
However, the clicker reign may be short-lived -- at least, that's what Top Hat Monocle hopes.
The Toronto-based company is developing technology that would replace clickers with software that would change a mobile device, such as a smartphone or laptop, into a tool that offers more flexibility in the classroom.
Launched in 2008, Top Hat Monocle's main customer base is in the United States and Canada, although the software is found in over 150 colleges worldwide. On Wednesday, the company announced a new cash injection of $8 million in funding, which will be used to more aggressively push into the higher education market and bump up sales.
Mike Silagadze, CEO and founder of Top Hat Monocle said:
"The idea is to transform the student experience from passive to active and engaging. In the last couple of years, every student has a mobile device that they bring with them into the classroom. This presents a remarkable opportunity to transform the classroom without having to go through the university."
Instead of following the traditional model of selling clickers directly to universities, Top Hat Monocle approaches the professors themselves. The educators use the software platform provided by the company for free, and students can opt-in with a $20 per semester subscription to use the technology on any of their personal mobile devices.
According to Silagadze, opt-in rates are approximately 90 percent when professors choose to use the software. $20 a semester may be a lot to ask of cash-strapped students, but the reasoning behind it is if more teachers choose to use the technology, the benefit to students will increase -- as the software can be used for any class.
Top Hat Monocle's software goes beyond the limitations of a clicker, enabling live quizzes and discussions in a Reddit-style forum thread layout. Students are able to pitch questions and respond to their classmates; professors can use the platform to host supplementary content and demonstrations.
For students able and ready to adapt to technology that increases the interactive element of lecture-based learning, this kind of software may become a natural progression in the higher education industry -- already experiencing disruption through e-books, applications and distance-based courses.
Top Hat Monocle previously raised a $1.5 million seed round in November 2011. The $8 million round is led by Emergence Capital Partners, iNovia Capital, SoftTech VC, Version One Ventures and Golden Venture Partners.