Merlyn digital assistant ‘has helped me immensely,’ says edtech skeptic

Justin Williams
June 21, 2024

A few weeks ago, a message popped up on the Merlyn Mind Teacher Community on Facebook.

It was from Shawn Moore, an Earth Science teacher at Hibriten High School in Caldwell County, N.C. Mr. Moore is one of the dozens of Caldwell teachers using Merlyn in the classroom every day.

Here’s what he said:

“I was recently observed by another teacher in my school and received this feedback:

” ‘Truly amazing to see how a classroom should function! The students worked so intentionally! Are these all high-achievers? I love that your class actually read and used the assessment tool that you’ve given them. … And the collaboration – they had clear rules to follow and a timer to keep them on task.’

“I didn’t realize how polished my use of Merlyn has become, and this outside perspective helps me see how much I have offloaded onto Merlyn and how much I am able to just ‘teach.’ I like having an active, well-managed classroom and Merlyn has helped me immensely.”

Needless to say, everyone here at Merlyn Mind was energized and grateful for this message. We all believe in our mission to leverage artificial intelligence to automate workflows so teachers can focus on building a better tomorrow. To hear that Merlyn was doing just that was a wonderful validation, and we wanted to hear more about Mr. Moore and how he uses Merlyn in the classroom.

So we dropped in on Hibriten High for a chat.

Right off the bat, we were surprised to learn that Mr. Moore is skeptical of edtech and does his best to push new tools to the limit.

How do you feel about technology in the classroom?

If you give me a piece of technology, my first thought is, let me push this to the limit. Let me break it. Let me figure out what it can’t do.

And I’ve suffered through a lot of technology. It’s sort of a trail of disappointment. You get these things, and you’re like ‘Oh, this is going to be great,’ but it doesn’t quite live up to its promises.

So if the technology is getting in the way or creating another friction point, it’s not really helpful.

I try to be really conscious of how I use technology in the classroom and try to notice how students react to it. There is a lot of overload. If a kid comes in at fourth period and their computer’s dead, that means they’ve been on it for 3 hours or so during the day. That’s a lot of screen time. And that doesn’t facilitate group work.

In my classroom, I’m trying to put a focus on collaborative effort and collaborative gain. Even in a tech-heavy job, you still have to interact with people and rely on teamwork. If you’re never being exposed to that in school, you’ll have to figure that out on your first job.

Mr. Moore uses the Merlyn remote to control his classroom tech from anywhere in the room.
What do you look for in edtech?

My holy grail has always been to be able to have technology that I can utilize and count on, but that I didn’t have to interface with. I could walk around. I talk with my hands. I try to move around with the kids and I try to engage, and I didn’t want to be stuck at a desktop or stuck here or stuck there.

Being able to be free of a computer so that I can be with my students, that is the key. If I’m on a computer, there’s a certain amount of my attention that is taken away from them. I’m having to look at a screen, then get back to them. I’m having to manipulate something on the computer, then get back to them. That can be stressful for me, and it can be unengaging for them.

So that ability to move around has always been the end goal for what I wanted out of technology in my classroom.

How has Merlyn helped you in the classroom?

It’s all around classroom management. Classroom management is difficult at the best of times, and I’ve never considered myself a strong classroom manager.

So that management piece is embedded in everything I do with Merlyn. The timers, progressing through slides, switching tabs, switching from one HDMI input to another … all those are things that I would be running back to the computer to touch it for that I’m not having to do. I’m still around my students. I’m still engaging.

How did you feel when you read the glowing teacher observation?

I was a little shocked because like I said, I’ve struggled with classroom management. When she started talking about how well-managed everything was, I realized I had made some real strides in that area. I was reaching a goal that I had for myself – which is this clockwork-like mechanism for class. Getting things accomplished and being on task.

I felt strongly that the feedback she gave was something I had accomplished in tandem with having an assistant like Merlyn. If I were on my own, I’d be juggling so many things in my head. So I’ve gotten to this point not entirely on my own. It’s somewhere I’ve been headed, but now Merlyn allows me to get there.

Learn more about Caldwell County and Merlyn here.