Top Hat Monocle raises $8M for classroom participation

Faith Merino · July 18, 2012 · Short URL:

The company has developed a device-agnostic classroom response system

Technology in the classroom has different meanings for different people.  The common image that comes to mind is the ancient 1980s-style computer with the green blinking monitor sitting in the corner.  Remember those?  Obviously, we’ve moved past those days.  One advancement in classroom technology that’s getting results is the classroom response system—a system of handheld devices (clickers) that allows students to respond to a lesson quickly and anonymously (to their peers).

Top Hat Monocle is putting a new spin on the classroom response system by making it device-agnostic.  And the company announced Wednesday that it’s raised $8 million in a Series A round led by Emergence Capital Partners and iNovia Capital, with help from SoftTech VC, Version One Ventures (Boris Wertz), and Golden Venture Partners.  The new capital follows Top Hat’s $1.5 million seed round in November 2011.

The classroom response system has been generating buzz for the fact that it not only increases classroom participation, but even boosts attendance rates.  One Penn State classroom increased attendance rates to 84% from 50%.  And students reported feeling more engaged and satisfied with classes that used classroom response systems.

But other classroom response systems require schools purchase the necessary hardware: ancient-looking remote controls that can be pretty costly.  Top Hat, launched in September 2010, takes the hardware out of the equation by allowing students to use whatever they have on them, whether it’s a laptop, smartphone, tablet, or even just a regular feature phone that allows them to send text messages.

Top Hat Monocle now has 65,000 paid customers across nearly 200 universities.

“The funds will be used primarily to build out our sales and marketing organization and accelerate adoption of our platform in universities across the globe,” said Chief Revenue Officer Andrew D’Souza.  “We are also going to invest heavily in product development, launching new features to engage students in some unique ways (cross-campus tournaments, interactive labs) and build out a content marketplace for professors to build, share and discover content for our class. We're already working with a number of professors and publishers to build this out.”

The company says that professors using Top Hat’s system have reported doubled attendance rates, higher grades, and overall higher comprehension of material.  Thus, Top Hat claims it has a “near-perfect” renewal rate among professors and is already profitable.

"We are actively looking at the leading industry platforms," said Gordon Ritter, Founder and General Partner at Emergence Capital Partners, in a statement. "Top Hat Monocle has created a highly-disruptive platform that is transforming teaching in the classroom. This is our first investment in education technology and we are excited to help the team scale their unique distribution model into every classroom across the globe."

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Top Hat Monocle is a web-based classroom response and homework tool. Using our platform, professors can ask questions and polls in real-time, facilitate discussions, create interactive demos and even launch classroom-wide tournaments. 

We created Top Hat Monocle to bring active learning into the classroom by using tools students already own. It works on virtually any mobile device (smartphones, laptops, tablets, & even SMS cell phones) and it requires no infrastructure or IT setup aside from WiFi or cell phone reception. 

Using our product, professors have seen attendance rates double, grades increase 5-7% and comprehension fo complex concepts increase 25%. Our goal is to make learning more active, engaging and effective by leveraging tools students bring with them to class already.