In 2015, husband-and-wife team Eric Oemig and Mary Oemig created Boom Cards. Today, their gamified learning platform has been used by more than 12 million students worldwide. I couldn’t help but be curious about the story behind just what these are, how they’re used, and what to make of them. I couldn’t think of anyone better to ask than co-founder and CEO Mary Oemig, a one-time corporate attorney for Microsoft where she worked on intellectual property issues (including the landmark Napster case). Here’s what she had to say.
Rick: What are Boom Cards?
Mary: Boom Cards is the product of Boom Learning, an online learning platform that helps students master new skills. Teachers and therapists can engage with students on a variety of devices, from computers and tablets to interactive whiteboards, and they can learn subjects from math, language arts, and science to music and world languages. Real teachers, specialists, and certified school health professionals create Boom Cards from their most popular classroom materials and other activities. Boom Cards are self-paced and self-grading, and they make it easy to meet the individual needs of each student.
Rick: So what do Boom Cards look like to users? Are they like electronic flash cards or something else entirely?
Mary: Students experience them as games. Formats can range from simple multiple-choice games to memory games, escape rooms, playing the piano, and more. The instant feedback rewards students and keeps them engaged. Teachers and therapists perceive them as practice combined with formative assessments, providing rich data that can be used for progress tracking, IEP reporting, intervention analysis, and just regular grading.
Rick: OK, that’s interesting but still a little fuzzy. How is it different from other gamified learning platforms?
Mary: We like to think of the difference between Boom Cards and other resources in terms of cars. A car is both its aesthetic body shape and the power of the engine under the hood. Most gamified learning is just a fancy body on a basic two-stroke data engine. Some don’t deliver any data to the teacher. Others deliver only the most basic information—wrong or right on the first attempt. Our gamified learning is built over a modern, V8 reporting engine that delivers the power you need when you need it. We deliver data that enables our platform to support pre-testing, post-testing, practice toward goals, response to intervention models, and formative assessment. Schools get the data they need to deliver education and intervention in an inclusive or intensive environment.
Rick: What motivated you to launch Boom Cards?
Mary: It always starts with the kids. Among my husband, Eric, and my children and in our circle were a number of asynchronous learners who didn’t neatly fit into the programs available to them. After starting a school together, Eric—a programmer and former state senator in Washington—and I wanted to share what we had learned from that experience. That became Boom Cards. As it turns out, a lot of classroom teachers, home schoolers, and specialists—like speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists—value what we created.
Rick: What are some of the draws of Boom Cards for teachers, schools, and districts?
Mary: The ability to tailor instruction to student needs and interests appeals to teachers. Educators and districts also appreciate that our first priorities are student success and privacy. We are not built like other apps that try to know more about students than is necessary to provide education support. Our philosophy on data has always been that data you don’t have can’t be stolen. Our philosophy on content is that integrity matters; we are not afraid to impose integrity requirements on Boom Card creators and enforce them. For example, we require authors to have credentials that match what they are selling and to have proper licenses for the content they post.
Rick: How widely are Boom Cards used?
Mary: Boom Cards are used by over 12 million students and 2 million educators worldwide—including occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, behavioral therapists, tutors, music teachers, etc.—and 3,000 schools and districts nationwide. Students have played over 3 billion activities on our platform. Most of the credit goes to our resource creators, all independent teachers and authors, who have created over 500,000 Boom Card decks.
Rick: Who is the intended user of Boom Cards?
Mary: Boom Cards are intended for K–12 students. We’ve been particularly popular with special education, speech, and English learners who benefit from hearing a question read aloud or who need touch options, rather than typing, for input. Boom Cards are incredibly popular with general education teachers as well. After all, a single general education classroom might have different students at different levels with different needs, including English-language learners and students with IEPs. With Boom Cards, teachers can assign distinct activities within the same subject, at vastly different levels and with different supports, and nobody in the class needs to know that their assignments are different from their neighbors’.
Rick: Your website mentions different membership levels. Could you share a bit about services and pricing?
Mary: Our free tier allows teachers to sample our creation tools by creating up to five decks. They can sample our data tools with up to five students. And the free tier allows teachers to use our no-data-collected Fast Play feature with an unlimited number of students. Fast Plays in the free tier expire after five days and can be renewed. Paid members get more students and more features. At the $25 per year level, they can enroll up to 150 students for data reporting, share students and student reports with colleagues, and group students in up to 17 unique groupings. At the $40 level, they can add unlimited self-made decks, live reporting, and more. $50 is the price per year to publish and sell Boom Cards. Our current school pricing is the $40 per-teacher subscription plus an additional amount for pre-made curricula.
Rick: I’m curious whether there’s any research or third-party evaluation that would help readers assess the impact of Boom Cards.
Mary: We do not have the study you’re looking for . . . yet. We are in the process of developing higher levels of evidence under the Every Student Succeeds Act with LearnPlatform. The study will statistically match a sample of students with the intervention group to evaluate effectiveness. In Every Student Succeeds Act terms, this is a study to examine Tier 2 evidence. The statistical analysis will be performed independently by LearnPlatform on data received directly from participating schools.