We hear all kinds of talk about education technology in the media and lots of industry buzz as well. Now let’s turn to a teacher in the trenches, someone who uses technology and knows what it’s like to encourage students on a daily basis. Jason Burd is an Advanced Math Teacher for eighth graders as well as a baseball coach at 500-student Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on classroom challenges, using interactive white boards, going paperless in the near future — and putting a spirit of play into education.
Victor: What interactive technologies / products are you using in the classroom?
Jason: eBeam Engage, Elmo.
Victor: Why deploy them in the first place? What was the initial challenge you were trying to solve?
Jason: Teachers like myself are competing for a student’s attention. There are a ton of distractions — the big sports game after school, the latest version of Halo, Facebook, and video chat and so on. Classroom participation can be the last thing on their mind. My goal was to encourage more classroom participation with a piece of interactive technology that wouldn’t distract students, but instead encourage them.
Victor: Was it easy to get started? Did anything pose an issue?
Jason: Yes, the installation process for eBeam Engage was very easy and convenient. It’s a user-friendly product and my students easily picked it up.
Victor: How has it benefited your class? Can you give me an example?
Jason: I was skeptical at first — wondering how much a new product like eBeam Engage could solve the problem I had with classroom engagement. Within a month of deploying it, I started to see benefits, such as increased productivity. The lesson materials I create on the Engage are available to students anytime via the web. So, if one of my students needs to re-fresh, they can come back to the material anytime. This is priceless, because it enables me to spend more time teaching and less time reviewing materials.
Victor: Do you think student engagement has gone up as a result?
Jason: Absolutely. What I notice most is that students are not only interested in the cool setup behind the Engage — the fun features and integrations, like with the Flickr library — they are hooked on the actual experience of learning now. Learning can be fun. And that makes it worthwhile.
Victor: Has the technology been used in any unexpected ways?
Jason: I wouldn’t say unexpected, but more geared towards the students. The students love writing on the eBeam Engage and love using it as well. I would say the only unexpected thing(s) are the messages that students leave on the board. Whether it is to other students, myself, or just a quick reminder, students really enjoy writing with the Engage. I assumed that students would enjoy writing with it, but I didn’t think that it would be as much as they do.
Victor: Are there any negative reactions from your students? Anything interactive technology companies should be mindful of?
Jason: At first, the students were hesitant to come up and work with the whiteboard in front of the class. Eighth graders aren’t typically enthusiastic about classroom activities, but once they began interacting with it they became excited to try again and again, and are engaged during the lessons where the tool is used. The initial nervousness is gone, and they are all enjoying a more interactive experience with the lesson.
Victor: Do you think we’ll see mobile devices in every classroom soon enough?
Jason: It’s only a matter of time. The truth is, students are already using iPads and other mobile devices at such an early age at home. It makes sense to incorporate them into their school lives. Additionally, let’s face it, anything is more fun on a mobile device — that’s why Kindles, iPhones, and Nooks are so successful. Rock Quarry Middle School also has a goal to be paperless within the next three years. We want to be more mobile, so we can have more options. Students are no exception.
Victor: What are your thoughts about treating Education “like a game”? With the surge in gaming apps, many think it’s a good idea. Your thoughts?
Jason: I have mixed feelings on this. The concept makes sense — games can be very effective teachers. Something as simple as Monopoly can explain concepts like money management in a sense. The same goes for a gaming app that can be deployed to help struggling math students understand their multiplication tables vs. a math workbook. At the same time, I think the industry has to be careful not to take it too far – in the right application (and this entirely depends on the student), games can be a good replacement — but when deployed as a “short cut” to learning, that’s where the risk is.