Irreversible Momentum

Promethean CEO Jim Marshall discusses the future of technology in schools. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero 

Jim Marshall CEO of PrometheanJim Marshall is the CEO of Promethean. He was appointed to the Board in July 2012 having joined the Company in 2011 as President of North American Markets. Previously, Jim served as CEO of SpectrumK12, a company that produces software solutions to improve the performance of at-risk and special education students. Prior to leading SpectrumK12, he was CEO at Agentis Software and took the company through a management buyout to sustained profitability. Jim has held a number of high-profile executive positions, including Vice President of Apple’s US Education Division and has extensive experience of helping technology companies to build and develop accomplished management, sales, marketing, professional services and channels teams. Jim is an active member of the Cobb County Education Foundation and is a former Director of the Florida Council on Economic Education, an organization that teaches fundamental finance and business concepts to high school students. He has received public recognition for his work in

There is power in learning, and it is essential that all citizens are a part of it, and can participate.

education in the states of Michigan, Maine, Florida and Georgia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Management and General Sciences from the University of South Florida. In this EdTech Digest interview, Jim talks about current challenges, implications of a large Miami rollout, billions for broadband, and a force in education that can’t be stopped.

Victor: As someone who has spent many years in education, what do you see as the top challenges facing students/teachers today?

Jim: Well Victor, while it is difficult for anyone to narrow down the challenges faced by students and teachers today, I can tell you what I believe some of them to be. First of all, because there are many disrupted changes, mostly good, happening in classrooms today, it can be difficult for students and more so for educators to assimilate them, without some help, or professional development.

Furthermore, in the past few years, it has been easier for educators and students to use the Internet due to better devices and WiFi bandwidth capabilities. That has made the move to digital assets and online content more efficient and practical as well. Personal technology in the classroom has gone from just talk of 1:1 to handhelds for everyone, and now it includes touch interactivity with everything from whiteboards to tablets. Many of these changes have occurred in financial crises, down-turned budgets, and pedagogical moves from NCLB to common core standard goals, and more.

The problem still remains as to how these major changes can be managed in systems that have been isolated to change for so long.

Victor: Big things are happening in Miami. What sort of over-arcing theme do you have for the 18-month professional development accommodating that ActivBoard Touch rollout? 

Jim: Bringing technology all together in a meaningful way to make teaching and learning better should not make teaching or student achievement and progress more difficult. It’s not enough to just talk about hardware, software and solutions anymore. We need to drive any education initiative to improve teaching and learning outcomes. Now, if we can do that and make a teacher’s workload a bit easier by using technology, let’s do it. Miami-Dade is just one of many places where we can deliver real-time actionable knowledge, how to, and professional development to help teachers teach and students learn. We must also remember how important it is to know how those students are doing by the moment—child by child—in each class and day.

Victor: Company-wise and beyond Miami: What is “next” and how can your vision revitalize the conversation around education?

Jim: Well, what is next is where we’ve been headed for quite some time. We are now at the point where the technology and solutions we provide and continue to develop are becoming ubiquitous in the classroom. Beyond that, educators and students don’t need to be technology specialists to use them. The classroom user interface has change, and continues to change. While there still may be an interactive device at the front of the room, the teacher doesn’t need to be in the front of the room directing anymore. And because personalized devices are in the hands of students more, they can participate and help build more robust lessons and engage in their own learning more. The times of having only a few students in a class active will become rare. When we look at a classroom we see 25 to 30 researchers, scientists, mathematicians, individual learners and leaders collaborating.

Victor: In light of the 2008-09 recession and subsequent budget tightening and so on, including recent sequestration, are schools in the clear, or at least easing toward something close to a new normal in terms of budgets (especially with technology integration, updates and modernization in mind)? 

Jim: Budgets have improved as of July 1, 2013, and that was most likely the first time since the melt down. While it may not be over, the majority of the states either had improvements done, remained status quo, or looking at improvements now. I remain positive. Everyone we’ve talked with has seen signs of additional funding improvement and all are looking forward to seeing additional improvement again on July 1, 2014. When it comes to technology integration, updates, and providing the right tools for teachers and students, we must move forward.

Victor: Now for a broad question: What are your thoughts on education in general these days? Are we headed in the right direction, could we be doing more, thoughts about Obama/FCC billions for broadband? 

Jim: The momentum for education change and improvement is there and irreversible. Everything we can do to facilitate it and foster progress is our mission. With new personalized and collaborative interactive tools, wider access to the Internet, and great content, apps, and cloud-based opportunities. We are at a place of information exchange never seen before, and it can only move forward and become greater. I think the President is right; it is essential that we provide access to all of these learning tools, places, and resources. There is power in learning, and it is essential that all citizens are a part of it, and can participate.

Victor: Looking ahead, what does education look like 3-5 years from now?

Jim: We have a very good start, and I think we’re headed in the right direction, too. Our goal is to modify the way we think of the learning space, as well as where and how learning happens. We also feel it important to help educators discover new ways to actively motivate students, assess them each class and day, and know how to engage students at all learning levels. There certainly will be more of a cloud-base influence in all classrooms in doing that, as well as more technological give and take throughout a lesson between teacher and students. We are already thinking 3 to 5 years down the road, but we need to remember those educators and students just starting that journey, too. Professional development needs to be a part of that. We will continue to share what we know, and show what we know, to those who haven’t seen or heard it yet. In that way, followers become leaders.

Victor: Anything else you care to add or emphasize about education, technology, the leadership needed to advance us, or anything else for that matter?

Jim: I’m very privileged to be in this place right now. It is special and important to me to be at a time and place where I know that I can contribute to something so important and valuable—the education of children, and helping their teachers succeed. The next few years hold some wonderful challenges, but certainly many more magnificent accomplishments and achievements. There is no place I’d rather be.

Victor: Well alright! And thank you, Jim! 

Jim: Thank you, Victor!

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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