Michael Silagadze is a revolutionary. He doesn’t smoke Cuban cigars, doesn’t sport knee-high boots and a factory uniform and certainly doesn’t throw his enemies out of a plane (at least not to the best of my knowledge), but he has revolutionized the nature of revolutions by starting his own from the comfort of his living room.
A former graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Electrical Engineering program, and now founder and CEO of Top Hat Monocle, Mike now leads a team of 10 people on a mission to revolutionize the way education is dispensed in the classroom. Top Hat Monocle designs a set of interactive teaching tools that are compatible with popular handheld wireless devices, smartphones and laptops, allowing teachers to engage their students more meaningfully and productively.
Mike lives the entrepreneur’s life, 12-hour-plus workdays interspersed with take-out meals, number-crunching and time spent fleshing out his vision of the future.
Ever since I was an undergrad at the University of Waterloo, I knew I’d love being an entrepreneur. One of my last coop placements was at a start-up in the local area, Miovision Technologies. After working for there for a couple of years, I realized that I had to do my own startup. There’s just nothing that compares to being able to have full control over the direction of your work.
So, what's new?
Among the many features offered by his new technology (check out their great video), Top Hat Monocle sports an interactive teaching console that teachers can load up on their laptops, and then magnify with a projector. Students would then point their smartphones or connect their laptops to a web application, which in turn would allow them to try quizzes, polls and activities created and activated through the teacher console.
Unlike the standard “clicker” tools used by many university-level classes these days, Top Hat Monocle’s technology is more affordable for students and provides access to information and content that isn’t normally present in their curricula.
A student who accesses his course’s content via our software can also use our software to gain access to interactive content from any other class whose professor also happens to be using our software. So if, for example, you know a Roman history class that uses our software, and you also happen to have a subscription to our software through your biology class, then the course content of both classes will be available to you as part of your subscription. This accessibility is all bundled up in our subscription fee, and better yet, you’ll also be able to try out the same activities that those Roman history students were given.
These tools serve to help students review and study content outside of class, hold discussions, and benefit from cross-disciplinary exposure. By enabling access to multiple courses and subjects at once, Top Hat Monocle also functions as an open platform with free information flow. Its software can be used to create tailor-made content and activities that can be deployed and activated at the drop of, well, a hat. And since students are only charged a nominal fee to use this service (at both their, and the professor’s, discretion), the cost of having access to more engaging information is ultimately quite negligible – much less than what you’d end up paying for an expensive textbook or study guide (or a clicker,) yet much more valuable.
Opportunities to find a use for this software are endless. With already thousands of students on the system, Mike admits to harbouring a revolutionary streak of megalomania, or maybe it’s just ambition, or business sense, or both.
We’re getting some great results from the University of Waterloo, as well from many other prominent universities in Canada. But what we’re concerned about here is scale. How do we help more students study, collaborate and learn more efficiently? How do we help teachers and professors engage their students more effectively? That’s the question, and now we’re working hard to find the answer.