Top Hat Engage 2020 will feature four keynotes led by innovators and top industry professionals in the higher ed and educational technology space. This profile is part of our recurring series where our speakers define “Teaching with Insight”—the theme of Engage 2020—and what this has meant in their classrooms.

Higher education has long been viewed as the surest path for achieving success in life. However, despite its lofty ambitions and lauded past, higher education is increasingly viewed as out of touch with the modern technological age.

In adhering to traditional teaching methods and eschewing the use of classroom technology, lecturers miss the opportunity to engage students more fully, to challenge them in new and exciting ways and ultimately create learning environments that allow each individual to flourish.

Back Where It All Began

Technology is reshaping virtually every corner of our lives. For higher ed institutions, the key to thriving in this age of disruption means embracing the very source of disruption itself: technology. This insight has fuelled the life’s work of Top Hat co-founder, Mike Silagadze.

As an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, Silagadze had an inkling that using technology in the classroom could make learning more engaging and effective. At the time, smartphones were just coming into vogue and technology and the internet were permeating every aspect of life with one exception: the classroom. He and co-founder Mohsen Shahini believed that higher ed was missing an opportunity to use technology to engage and motivate students to want to learn.

As his thinking evolved—and Top Hat grew in reach—Silagadze has come to believe technology also plays a vital role in increasing the value of a student’s time spent both inside and outside the classroom.

This has become a driving force behind how the company thinks about creating value for professors, students and institutions alike. “More than ever, Top Hat is singularly focused on improving the return that college and university students get on their educational investment,” Silagadze says.

Leading that change are thousands of professors who have embraced the Top Hat platform over the past 10 years. However, as Top Hat’s VP of Product Marketing, Nina Bilimoria Angelo acknowledges, change comes with its own set of challenges.

“Professors are facing a lot of pressure from society, from students and their own institutions to improve students outcomes,” Angelo says. “And it’s hard work. It’s time consuming. It’s high-effort, and that’s why we’re always thinking about how we can lighten the load and use technology to make things easier.”

How Insights Make it Happen

Nina Bilimoria Angelo

Nina Bilimoria Angelo

Far from disintermediating professors, classroom technology is offering educators new opportunities to leverage their own experience to engage students more holistically and to do so before, during and after class. For Silagadze and Angelo, a vital part of this equation is providing insights professors can use to shape and continuously improve the learning experience. This has become a central motivation behind many of the new features Top Hat has launched over the past year.

“I think that what educators are doing in dabbling around analytics, around personalized learning and around feedback loops is coming to a head,” says Angelo. “The education space will soon reach a point where that’s an expectation because of the value that’s derived from being able to get that level of insight from students.”

True learning is an organic process—one defined by constant experimentation and refinement. It’s ultimately about uncovering insights to make teaching more effective, more engaging and more relevant. The key is to take work out of the process and enable professors to improve learning outcomes as students progress through the semester and even through an individual lecture.

Mike Silagadze is the CEO and founder of Top Hat. Under Silagadze’s leadership, Top Hat has become the market leader in student engagement software, and is used by millions of students at three-quarters of the top 1,000 colleges and universities in North America. Named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2018, Silagadze is actively involved with the entrepreneurial and startup community. He has been on the board of Ontario Centres of Excellence since 2014 and is an angel investor in a number of startups. Silagadze is an active speaker in the higher education, technology and startup communities, having lectured at the Rotman Commerce Entrepreneurship Organization, the ASU GSV Summit, MaRS, Tech Fest Toronto, SAAS North and TEDxLaurierUniversity.

Nina Bilimoria Angelo is Top Hat’s VP of product marketing, responsible for the company’s overall message and value proposition. With over ten years of senior leadership experience in both the publishing and technology sectors, Angelo joined Top Hat from Pearson, where she led product strategy teams that focused on personalized learning and analytics. A seasoned “intrapreneur,” Angelo specializes in leading cross-functional teams in strategy creation and execution, market research, product positioning and change management. She holds a BA in International Relations from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard University.

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