Industry Insight

Industry Insight

“Kids today cannot go into a classroom and turn into a passive consumer; they are wired differently every other moment of the day.”

A conversation with Promethean’s Jim Marshall on where education technology has been—and where it is going.

Jim Marshall joined Promethean in 2011 as President of North American Markets. He has held a number of high-profile executive positions, including CEO at Agentis Software and Vice President of Apple’s U.S. Education Division. Marshall specializes in helping technology companies build and develop accomplished management, sales, marketing, professional services and channel teams.

Walk us through the evolution of educational technology.
I see that as we advance technologically, a lot of things have happened to our natural environment that have put pressure on the “factory line” approach we have taken to education. If you go back 130 years, there were various ages in one classroom. The teacher raised or lowered his or her instruction based on the individual child. This was possible because the group was small enough. When we moved to the factory model of splitting up students by age, we started teaching to the middle. Now we are going back to that “one room” method, but in a technology-enriched environment.

What do you see as the pivotal moment in this process?
When I helped launch the first 1:1 Apple initiative, teachers were afraid of the “lids-down” moment. What child would want to look at a dry erase board when they have the web at their fingertips? Having laptops in the classroom took the anvil away from the teacher. There was a great device in the students’ hands and teachers could still work with each child individually. But when teachers wanted to have whole-class instruction time, what tools did they have then? It wasn’t until the computer board arrived that teachers had a tool that could focus on whole-class instruction and compete with the individual devices.

What are the student benefits to making a classroom technology-rich?
When you put a device in a student’s hands, you are connecting them to a learning moment. It doesn’t matter what they have in their hands, just that they are connected and engaged. They are no longer passive consumers. Kids today cannot go into a classroom and turn into a passive consumer; they are wired differently every other moment of the day. They would be powering down.

Educators don’t just want technology; they want technology to improve learning. What’s the key?
If you have a classroom today that is completely manual, without any technology, and start adding in technology, you need a fabric that connects all of the different pieces together. You need software and a network to link them centrally. Once you connect iPads and computer boards, you can can move seamlessly from individual learning to small- and whole-group learning. Questions, answers, and information can flow from device to device. You can learn what works for each student, each teacher, each day.

You say “link them centrally.” Why?
If I don’t link tablets to anything else, it is difficult to know what is going on in an individual classroom without frequent, in-person interaction between a teacher and principal, which is time prohibitive. However, when you link devices and pipe information somewhere, you have data. You have it and don’t need to gather it. We can track everything a student does by object—what they did, how they did it.

So linking machines gives access to data—but how can that improve learning?
By linking machines, there is also a chance to connect with parents by providing them with the data reaped from the devices. It is easy to take digital lessons and send them to parents to show them what their student learned. Throughout the month, we can engage with parents digitally. When parents are engaged, students learn better. If you roll devices in the classroom and don’t connect them, at the end of the week, you won’t know what happened. Precious data is needlessly lost.


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