Top Hat Monocle Helps Students Learn More Using Classroom Tools Powered by Twilio SMS

Walk into any school lecture and you will notice how many students are looking at their phones and how few are looking at the teacher. It’s no wonder that so many teachers try to discourage the use of cell phones and tablets. But Mike Silagadze, the co-founder of Top Hat Monocle, wanted to try a different approach. He wondered what would happen if the power of modern communications devices was harnessed on behalf of learning. It turned out teachers who incorporated Top Hat Monocole into their classes were able to increase engagement by turning a student’s phone into a tool for responding to polls and quizzes and participating in tournaments. The results: among students who use Top Hat Monocle comprehension of complex concepts is up 25 percent, grades are up 3 to 5 percent and attendance has doubled. We caught up with Mike Silagadze, Founder and CEO of Top Hat Monocle, to learn more.

What is the backstory of Top Hat Monocle?
Top Hat Monocle provides a web-based tool that teachers can use in the classroom to engage their students, using polls, interactive demos, and discussion tools. Students can participate in class using pretty much any device they happen to have such as their cell phones, smart phones, or laptops. It was started in mid 2009 by engineering grads from the University of Waterloo. The motivation behind the idea was that mobile devices were so cheap and commonplace that it had become possible to radically transform the classroom environment form being passive to being active and engaging without imposing huge costs on the schools to provide hardware for classroom interaction to all students.

Mike Silagadze, CEO, Top Hat Monocle

What are your future plans?

We’re currently at over 70 universities around the world, used by tens of thousands of students. Of course we plan to improve and iterate on our current product and constantly make it better and easier to use, but also we will be expanding our services to include many other tools that benefit students, such as note taking, online homework, and tutoring services. We are in good position to grow because we are already profitable.

What technologies are you using to build and support Top Hat Monocle?
We’re hosted on EC2 and are built primarily in Python on Django. We use a wide range of tools and services, including Twilio SMS for our SMS functionality. Recently, we’ve actually started expanding our use of Twilio for our marketing efforts as well, and it’s been awesome.

How did you get started developing with Twilio?
We needed an SMS solution for the US and Twilio was the most user friendly and simple to integrate one we could find. Over time we’ve found it to be by far the most reliable and well documented service of any that we’ve tried. I was particularly happy that Twilio announced SMS-enabled phone numbers in Canada this year.

Top Hat Monocle Team

How was the experience of integrating Twilio with your chosen tools and technologies?
EC2 has been amazing and I don’t know what we would do without it. It’s really mind blowing how easy it makes setting up a web service. Twilio has been similarly great and has probably saved us hundreds of hours of working with other more painful-to-use SMS gateways, and thousands of dollars in messaging fees. It’s actually pretty incredible how low Twilio messaging fees are – to get $0.01 per message just a few years ago you’d have to be doing a few million messages per month minimum and deal directly with the carriers.

Thanks, Mike for schooling us about Top Hat Monocle! If you’d like to learn more, send them a tweet at @TopHatMonocle or email them at