Interview | Bringing the Light of Knowledge to Students

Throughout his career, Jim Marshall has been driven by a single focus: improving the lives of people by harnessing the power of technology. “There’s no question that technology has had a tremendous influence technology on today’s students,” says Jim. “Now, it’s time to ensure we are leveraging the power of technology positively effect change in every classroom across the country.” Since joining Promethean as President of Promethean North America, Jim has spent a lot of time in schools visiting customers to see and learn what’s working. “As we all know, there are a lot of great teachers who are effectively using technology to personalize learning, to increase collaboration and to engage students on core subjects,” he observes. “Some of the most excited classrooms are when students are so engaged in an activity and the technology is part of the fabric of the classroom.” What’s great about visiting school, he says, is that you have an opportunity to see all types of classrooms and can witness first-hand all types of learning styles and varying levels of engagement. “You see the curiosity on their faces when they things are unclear, and delight when they find the solution or answer.” Nonetheless, Jim is disheartened when he visits classrooms where learning is static, when students are disengaged and when he sees tools teacher has in the classroom are not used effectively. In talking with Ron Clark, a Promethean customer and founder of The Ron Clark Academy, Jim says that Ron refers to these as “molasses classes” because they are stuck in the past. “This is why I joined Promethean. I wanted to help ‘unstick’ learning for all students and to be part of a global revolution to change education.” It’s a large undertaking, a global task—and probably one that’s fit for the gods—but who’s to say we can’t be godlike in our quest toward success? Here, Jim has a lot more to say about the magic of touch-screens, what inspires participation, the power of teamwork—and the true value of collaboration.

Victor: Could you talk about the name and its meaning?

Jim: We are named after the Greek God, Prometheus, who is known for bringing the light of knowledge to the mortal world. Like our namesake, we seek to unleash the potential in everyone with innovative, real-world experience, scientific insight and bold action to transform classrooms and power-up learning for students everywhere.

Victor: Fascinating—and what a great connection!  So, what’s new, and what are the benefits?

Jim: Technology is constantly evolving. Even though the first ActivBoards were installed here in the U.S. over 10 years ago, less than half of our schools are equipped with an interactive whiteboard.

And, as these classrooms work to catch-up and embed technology within their fabric, teachers begin to re-imagine how to engage students and guilde instruction. By using technology to increase participation and collaborations among students, the flow of learning evolves and expands.

Some of the newest interactive solutions capitalize on the touch-screen technology and increasing desire for multi-media content (video, web and sound). This added functionality lends itself to more natural interactions and what happens is technology supports the moment-to-moment flow of teaching and learning.

This spring, we released a new collaborative and interactive tool that will help teachers re-imagine learning and boost the level of activity in classrooms around the World. The ActivTable, a touch-screen interactive learning table, empowers students to take a more active role in their learning and, with more than 30 game-based activities, inspires greater participation in small-group or project-based activities.

During a visit at an elementary school, a group students were taking the ActivTable for a test drive and after a few minutes, one of the students looked up and say, “Hey, I get it now. It’s all about teamwork.” So, you asked about the benefit – we believe the benefits start with increased engagement and excitement, go right onto more collaboration and teamwork among students to building critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Last year, we announced the multi-touch screen ActivBoard that empowers users to simultaneously engage in gesture-based with a finger, while maintaining the precision of the pen. We also created classroom-friendly applications giving teachers ready-to-use tools to increase collaboration and boost participation from every student in the class.

Now, once you seamlessly connect these tools to a Learner Response System – like our ActivExpression –the entire experience is altered. Every student has way to participate and teachers immediately gather data so they know how much a student has grasped. The whole class is engaged, but by giving students an outlet to provide feedback that is unique to their thoughts, they are more engaged and are vested in the lesson. This is, in my opinion, the ultimate benefit – engaged, excited and active learning.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products and services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Jim: I really like to think about the end result – how are we helping teachers transform how they teach and how students learn?

We believe that any 21st-century learning experience must include interactive technology, but it’s not the technology on its own that creates change. I believe change happens when teachers are empowered with support and training, modern instructional materials and technology.

Giving teachers the rest of the resources they need to really leverage the power of our interactive solutions has been a key focus for us. In the past year, we have joined leading publishers and small, independent content partners to co-develop interactive, digital lessons.

This past month, we release over a thousand, ready-to-use lessons with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to help teachers address Common Core standards for mathematics. We are actively working on another set of lessons for reading. Smaller content publishers – such as Virtual Nerd and Inanimate Alice – are working with our content team to customize their content for use on ActivBoards and with ActivExpressions.

Last June, we launched an interactive broadcast content with embedded training and assessment for learning activities. In partnership with Channel One News, we created high-quality daily news broadcasts that are delivered to the classroom on a daily basis. The relevant news broadcasts have with quizzes or feedback questions woven in, links to additional resources and professional development activities for teachers.

Each of content offerings support an immersive and interactive teaching and learning experience where every student can engage feedback is immediate so teachers can make adjustments as needed.

By starting with a robust foundation of integrated, interactive solutions, teachers are better equipped to address the varied needs of a classroom, but its the content and assessment for learning pieces that help complete the picture.

What’s next is linking the assessment information directly into learning progressions. This is what we are doing with McGraw-Hill in the Power of U initiative.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Jim: We have been working with schools since 1996 to integrate interactive technology into the teaching and learning process, and there have been many evolutions of our solutions.

This past March we released the newest collaboration tool – the ActivTable.

There are a couple of features that make the ActivTable unique. First of all, our table has an embedded reporting tool that allows teachers to track individual student participation, learn who contributed and how each student participated based upon activity of student avatars.

Teamwork and collaboration are at the heart of the ActivTable. Up to six students can work simultaneously on the table, which increases student-to-student collaboration and teamwork.

Teachers can also tailor lessons to personalize learning for students using multi-media functions, such as the embedded sound recording. And, each student or user has their own ‘work’ space for web-browsing or for creating documents.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

The ActivTable can support students of all ages. On the ActivTable, each student can customize his or her virtual workstation. They can change the colors, lighting, font sizes and images.

We have customers talking with us about using this solution to create project-based learning centers with their schools. Imagine an ActivTable learning lab where 3 or 4 tables are set-up in a room. A teacher might break a classroom project up into small sections and give each table a different piece of the problem to solve. Groups of students then work together to solve this problem, but at the end of the class, each table has to report their final results. All they do is sync-up with their ActivBoard and share their files.

The teacher might then collect the individual group reports on the board and together the whole class finished the entire project.

This type of dynamic, group-based work is not easily done when students are behind a notebook or any one-to-one device. Having the ability to collaborate and resolve an issue together demonstrates 21st-century workplace skills and has the potential to truly alter a learning experience.


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to:

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