Wireless was the most often heard buzzword among K-12 educators, school administrators, and exhibitors attending the 2001 National Education Computing Conference (NECC) held in Chicago June 25 to June 27.

While Apple Computer Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs, the first keynote speaker at NECC, had the attention of a captive audience of thousands of superintendents, technology directors, and teachers, he took the opportunity to discuss Apple’s products—specifically the new iBook, which features a built-in antenna for wireless capability.

“We believe wirelessly connected notebooks are the way of the future,” Jobs told the audience. Many attendees lined up more than two hours before Jobs was scheduled to speak. Instead of hearing about leadership and vision, Jobs compared Apple’s new iBook to Compaq and Dell laptops.

“Apple is No. 1 in education notebooks, which is good,” Jobs said. “We’re also No. 1 in wireless education notebooks.”

He was sure to point out that it was lighter, thinner, had a larger screen, and was “only slightly bigger than a sheet of 8-and-a-half by 11 [inch] paper.”

“That is not what we expected for a keynote,” said Gloria Daxe, third-grade teacher at Cooks Corners Elementary School in Valparaiso, Ind.

“I really did want to hear Steve Jobs,” Daxe said. “I kept thinking he would get to the topic, and it was only to do his info-commercial.”

The next day, keynote speaker Janiece Webb, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola’s Internet Software and Content Group, continued the theme of wireless as she described the use of Motorola’s two-way messaging Timeport in schools.

“We started with computer labs, then moved them to the classroom. The next step is putting one in the hands of each child,” Webb said in an interview.

Wireless technology provides any time, anywhere learning, its proponents say. It makes communication instant. “It frees you to work in an environment you want to learn in,” Webb said. The vendors displaying their products at NECC reinforced this idea by showing videos of students working on wireless computers and handheld computers while outside near trees, grass, and streams.

“Teachers can’t be bound by a phone line to connect to the internet. We have to bring the connectivity to where they are,” Webb said.

When choosing a wireless device, Webb said it is important to choose one that has applications created to make it useful in the classroom.

This idea was echoed on the exhibit floor, as many computer companies—such as Apple, Compaq, and Palm—shared their floor space at the show with software companies so they could demonstrate various applications that can run on their technology.

For example, the Sun Microsystems booth also featured products from content providers such as bigchalk.com, Classwell Learning Group, and the McGraw-Hill Learning Network.

Webb said a wireless device also should be intuitive. “If it takes me more than five minutes to learn, then I won’t use it. I don’t have time,” she said.

George Warren, director of K-12 marketing for Compaq’s education division, said the rage about wireless is its cost and size, combined with functionality. “The price factor is what’s driving it, but I think it’s the mobility that makes [the technology] work for kids,” Warren said. Compaq showed off its iPaq Pocket PC wireless handheld device at the conference.

Andrew S. Morrison, CEO of Cognitive Concepts, agreed that “wireless is the next big thing. It’s a great model for schools.”

But he pointed out that many school districts will not get wireless internet access anytime soon, especially poorer schools. “Wireless is still science fiction for many of those school districts,” Morrison said.

Links:

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

Motorola Inc.
http://www.motorola.com

Compaq Computer Corp.
http://www.compaq.com

Cognitive Concepts Inc.
http://www.earobics.com

NEWS FROM THE EXHIBIT FLOOR

Adobe Systems Inc. unveiled Adobe PageMaker 7.0, which allows teachers and students to create documents that can be viewed on any device—including personal digital assistants (PDAs)—while maintaining the same professional-quality results. Being able to output PageMaker 7.0 files to tagged Adobe PDF files is important as more classes use wireless devices to save notes and view materials. For instance, education materials created in PageMaker 7.0 can be converted to Adobe PDF format and automatically reflowed so that finished documents can be viewed in print, on the web, or with wireless devices and PDAs. The latest version also lets users import Photoshop or Illustrator designs directly into PageMaker 7.0. PageMaker 7.0 will be available to educators for the estimated street price of $289 for the full product and $79 for upgrades from previous versions. http://www.adobe.com

Apex Learning Inc., a builder and operator of virtual schools, now has agreements in 23 states to offer its online courses, Advanced Placement (AP) exam preparation, and teaching resources to high school students and teachers. In addition, Apex Learning added six new AP foreign language courses for grades nine to 12 in French, German, and Spanish as the result of a partnership with Power-Glide International Inc., a creator of innovative foreign language courses. The company also announced the hiring of Sue Collins, a 30-year veteran of educational technology and a member of the congressional Web-based Education Commission, to be its chief education officer. http://www.apexlearning.com

A partnership between America Online Inc. and EdVISION Corp. means that AOL@School—a free education portal with separate sections geared toward teachers, students, and administrators—will now feature lesson plans aligned to state standards for more than 40 states. Teachers who want to find lesson plans correlated to state standards can simply log on, select the appropriate state and learning objective, and immediately find lesson plans aligned to that skill. http://www.school.aol.com

The newest AT&T Learning Network tool for educators, called Assess Your Options, is an online portal that brings together comprehensive information and resources on local and national assessment models, state standards, test prepartation, online testing tools, and general assessment issues. Using this feature, teachers can explore various models of assessment available on the market to determine what they should use in their classrooms. http://www.att.com/learningnetwork

Bigchalk Integrated Classroom, from bigchalk.com, is a new online tool designed to help teachers add immediacy and relevance to any classroom lesson with engaging online content. Using Integrated Classroom, teachers can access selected internet resources, multimedia content, full-text magazine and newspaper articles, and an archive of more than 15,000 correlated lesson plans. The service also has the capability of aligning its online resources to a number of textbooks, supplementary curriculum, state standards, and assessments used in a specific school district. http://www.bigchalk.com

Boxer Learning released BoxerMath: Fundamental Math, a new web-based curriculum to teach math basics for grades three to five. Fundamental Math includes 139 activities in four topic areas covering core math concepts, including numbers, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, fractions, and decimals and percents. Starting this fall, Fundamental Math will be offered as a separte module of BoxerMath.com. All other BoxerMath courses—including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry—will be offered as part of the new Secondary Math module. http://www.boxermath.com

BritannicaSchool, a division of Britannica.com Inc., unveiled its new K-12 BritannicaSchool web site, which offers an array of reference, curriculum, and creativity tools for the classroom. On the web site, students and teachers can access Britannica’s encyclopedias, an internet guide, a dictionary and thesaurus, world maps, journals and magazines, and daily themes. The site also features interactive lessons, study guides, and an instant messaging feature. In addition, BritannicaSchool has an assortment of assessment tools and curriculum resources correlated to state standards. Created in conjunction with Education Development Center, BritannicaSchool also offers a series of online professional development programs to help teachers integrate technology into daily lessons. http://www.britannicaschool.com

Student information is now accessible from any internet-connected device, any time, anywhere with Chancery Software’s release of Open District version 2.3. “Rather than tie users to a web browser and a desktop computer, we will give administrators, teachers, and parents the power and mobility to interact with student data using palm-sized computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants—whereever they happen to be,” said Rick Moignard, Chancery’s president and CEO. This latest version of Open District—which uses Microsoft’s .NET, a technology that won’t be released to the general market until this fall—will alert all appropriate staff to student information. For example, if a student is late for school, the system will notify the attendance clerk as well as parents. Microsoft’s .NET technology allows Chancery to take its software beyond the limitations of the web and deliver “smart” services such as data mining, automatic notification, and web-based videoconferencing technical support in real time, the company said. http://www.chancery.com

Classroom Connect’s AmazonQuest, which will run from September 24 to October 26, will let students direct an investigation of the Amazon via the internet while examining issues that face the region, including mining and endangered species. Lead by a world-renowned adventured, an expedition team will explore the Amazon River and introduce the audience to a variety of flora and fauna, rare and endangered animals, deforestation, and Amazonian people. Classroom Connect’s The Quest Channel, an adventure learning program, provides access two to live Quests a year, as well as previous Quests including Africa, Asia, and Australia. Also, Classroom Connect is working with Wireless Generation Inc. to investigate the use of handheld applications by teachers to conduct ongoing student assessment in the classroom. http://www.classroom.com

Centrinity Inc. announced the release of FirstClass 6.0 Education Edition, the latest version of the company’s unified communications and collaborative groupware technology that lets users communicate more efficiently. The enhancements include new editor tools and security upgrades so educators can create better curriculum material and share sensitive information with staff and parents through secure socket layer encryption. With this newest version, educators can send messages from whatever communication device they have on hand, whether it’s a telephone, a computer, or cell phone. Also, the web interface now resembles the look and feel of the company’s desktop software for consistency. http://www.centrinity.com

A new mathematics software program for high school, called Crocodile Mathematics from Crocodile Clips, will become available at the end of 2001. Using Crocodile Mathematics, students can experiment with geometric and algebraic concepts and create visual representations of mathematical problems. Crocodile Clips has also developed a physics course of more than 100 interactive lessons for the Microsoft Encarta Class Server, a system that helps teachers manage curriculum, lesson plans, content, assignments, and assessment electronically. http://www.crocodile-clips.com

Electronics for Imaging announced the eBeam digital whiteboard solution, a portable electronic whiteboard appliance that captures meeting notes and diagrams as they are created on whiteboards and sends the data to a connected PC or Mac, where the information can be saved, printed, eMailed, or broadcasted over the internet in real time. eBeam has an ImagePort printer interface so users can send their whiteboard notes and drawings directly to their printer without a computer. The ImagePort also can beam the whiteboard data instantly via infrared technology to handheld computers running on the Palm operating system. With the eBeam and ImagePort solution, students with Palm-powered handhelds can have the notes from the board beamed to their handheld at the end of class. When students synch with a desktop, they can edit the notes and save the information in a variety of formats. http://www.efi.com

To help school districts struggling to fill technical support positions, Gateway Inc. has launched the Gateway TechSource, a new service program that provides support and remote monitoring and resolution for all computers, including PCs and Macs. Using Gateway Country stores located across the country as a resource center, Gateway will offer school districts personalized service from a dedicated team of locally-based technology experts. Local teams will conduct on-site evaluations, technology audits, and long-range planning, while remotely based representatives will provide round-the-clock technical and basic how-to support over the phone or via the web. http://www.gateway.com

goReader Inc. plans to integrate its goReader device with Texas Instruments’ new TI-Navigator classroom learning system, extending the uses of the goReader platform and expanding the range of computing devices available on the TI-Navigator wireless system. With goReader, students will be able to access their textbooks and supplementary materials electronically. Teachers can customize content and testing for each student, while establishing an interactive learning environment that ensures that every student participates. The goReader device features either a 10.4-inch or 12.1-inch, high-resolution screen and offers navigation and feature operation such as multicolor highlighting, note-taking, and bookmarking. The goReader holds more than a year’s worth of textbooks and can accurately display images, graphs, tables, and formulas. Students can also use it for internet browsing, sending eMail, word processing, and creating spreadsheets. http://www.goreader.com

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced the HP Wireless Mobile Classroom, a self-contained unit that houses 30 HP Omnibook notebook PCs, an all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, and fax, and a digital camera. It includes a motorized cart from Wireless Information Networks, which provides the wireless infrastructure and allows the mobile unit to recharge and be used in one or more classrooms. It also includes NetSchools Corp.’s Orion service, which provides content and teacher curriculum management tools, and Mindsurf Networks’ Discourse Teaching Suite, which lets teachers track student participation and incorporate the internet into lesson plans. HP also is giving a number of grants to higher-education institutions to help prepare new teachers and to help minority students pursue engineering and computer science degrees. http://www.hp.com http://www.netschools.com http://www.mindsurfnetworks.com

The Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education (Hi-CE) at the University of Michigan announced that the suite of educational applications it developed for the Palm operating system, dubbed the “Cool Dozen”, is now available for downloading. The free software allows K-12 students and teachers to write compositions, sketch or manipulate images, create timelines and familiy histories, graph equations, and print directly from their PDAs. “Learning and teaching in K-12 [schools] will be revolutionized through the use of low-cost, palm-sized personal computing devices coupled with innovative software and inquiry-driven curriculum,” said Elliot Soloway, professor of engineering at the University of Michigan. “Offering the software free of charge will catalyze the use of PDA technology in education, and the ‘Cool Dozen’ will give students a new generation of truly useful learning tools.” http://www.hi-ce.org/palms

High school students can get help with their math homework using Hotmath.com, a new web-based service offered by Hotmath Inc. that shows step-by-step solutions to math problems found in every leading algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and calculus textbook. This service is free to use between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and is available by paid subscription after hours. In addition to the solutions, Hotmath.com offers hints, Socratic questions, and graphs. http://www.hotmath.com

HowStuffWorks Inc., which launched HowStuffWorks Express magazine for teachers and students last year, has a new program, called Free to Schools, that allows teachers to receive free copies of the magazine for their classrooms. The Free to Schools program provides one package of 60 copies per school (two classroom sets) in the United States. Schools also may purchase additional copies at a substantial discount. The magazine includes regular features such as “Toy Autopsy,” in which a popular toy is dissected and explained, “ExpressQuest,” a self-directed scavenger hunt on the internet, and “Extraordinary People,” which profiles remarkable individuals in science and technology. http://www.express.howstuffworks.com

Inspiration Software now offers a training CD, Exploring Kidspiration, to help teachers successfully integrate Kidspiration and visual learning into the curriculum. Kidspiration was designed to help K-3 students build strong thinking skills with visual learning. The hour-long, step-by-step tutorial guides educators through Kidspiration at their own pace and includes details on how to tailor the software to meet the needs of students. Exploring Kidspiration runs on a Mac or PC and retails for $24.95. http://www.inspiration.com

Representatives from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Educational Support System (ESS) presented the Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET), a three-year project funded by a $1.05 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CARET is a reliable, accurate web database that translates research studies—addressing critical questions facing teachers, administrators, and policy makers—into user-friendly language that can be applied to school planning decisions. The CARET web site was developed by the Sacramento County Office of Education. It allows users to locate studies in several ways, including keyword search or by signing up for eMail notification. http://www.iste.org http://www.edsupportsystems.com

JonesKnowledge.com, a company that develops and deploys online learning solutions, is offering a discount to secondary schools for its e-global library. This full-service virtual library, created specifically for online learners, begins at $3,000 per year for a school’s entire student body. “Our library was originally created for universities, but we have had so much interest expressed by secondary school library media specials that we decided to make it available to them at an introductory price,” said Kim Dority, vice president of e-global library. The virtual library features online tutorials on researching, more than 65 topical research guides, links to about 3,000 content-rich web sites, a government resource section, and more. http://www.jonesknowledge.com

KidzMouse Inc., a developer of computer peripherals for educational use, debuted KidzMouse: The Kid-Friendly Computer Mouse. KidzMouse comes in three designs—MollyMouse, BenjiBee, and CoolBug—and helps make computers more accessible and enjoyable for young users. The KidzMouse is roughly half the size of a conventional mouse, it has a rounded shape, and the traditional buttons are replaced by a squeezeable animal head that covers the front one-third of the device. “Standard mice force a child to ‘tap,’ which is a very difficult motion for children with developing motor skills. Squeezing is a much more natural and comfortable gesture for children,” said Susan Giles, CEO and founder of KidzMouse. http://www.kidzmouse.com

Lightspan introduced the latest version of its Lightspan Network, a commercial-free internet solution which now features interactive learning activities tied to state K-8 standards and school curriculum, a lesson plan builder, and a messaging center. The Lightspan Network can be customized to each person’s needs, whether they are a teacher, student, or parent. The network also features two new add-on content modules: The Lightspan Reading Center and The Lightspan Assessment Center. http://www.lightspan.com

Microsoft Corp. announced the availability of the Microsoft Zone Integration Server Toolkit 2.0, a free set of tools to help K-12 administrators and IT professionals in schools use data to make better decisions. Considered “brokers” between various software applications, Zone Integration Servers (ZIS) make up a major component of the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), a series of software standards that enable school administrative systems to share data seamlessly. A ZIS eliminates redundant data entry in diverse school administration systems, streamlining organizational duties for both IT and clerical staff. Built on the Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000, an enterprise application integration tool, and using Microsoft .NET technology, the ZIS Toolkit will provide developers—from commercial vendors to school districts and educational service centers—with the tools and documentation needed to build a ZIS. The ZIS Toolkit contains evaluation copies of the Windows 2000 Server, Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000, and Microsoft Visio 2000 drawing and diagramming software. Also included are a resource CD with a tutorial; a live demonstration of interoperability using a BizTalk and ZIS interaction; a series of white papers documenting the benefits to various audiences; and a program that installs the SIF backbone and configures the platform components. http://www.microsoft.com/education

National Semiconductor announced that Loogootee High School of Loogootee, Ind., won its ThinClient@School contest that rewards K-12 schools for creative deployment of thin-client technology. More than 100 schools from across the country entered the contest, which was co-sponsored by Wyse Technology and Citrix Systems. Applicants submitted a comprehensive deployment plan to meet the curriculum needs of teachers, students, and the community in hopes of winning a ready-to-deploy thin-client package that includes hardware, software, installation, and training. Loogootee High School proposed using the thin-client technology to improve its students’ career skills and to build a Career Futures eCenter to benefit students, educators, and the community. According to the high school, each student will be required to use the center and its resources to make informed career and continuing education decisions. http://www.national.com/education

Palm Inc. is giving away $2.3 million worth of Palm handheld units to 87 classrooms and nine research hubs in hopes of discovering how handheld computers affect teaching and learning. SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning, of Menlo Park Calif., will independently research and evaluate the learning uses, experiences, and effectiveness of the Palms in schools. The classroom grants are split between urban, rural, and suburban K-12 schools, both public and private. Students will use the Palms to read eBooks, manage fitness portfolios, conduct scientific experiments, and more. Palm said it is positioning itself to be a leader in the classroom with its new wireless capability and a postage-sized expansion slot that can be used for more memory or programs such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, music collections, and eventually eTextbooks. Palm already offers more than 2,000 fiction and nonfiction eBooks after acquiring peanutpress.com in March. http://www.palm.com

Riverdeep Interactive Learning announced learningneeds.com, a one-stop-shop for educational products and services for children with special needs. Dedicated to ensuring that all children have they tools they need to thrive, learningneeds.com was initiated by Riverdeep and sponsored by industry leaders such as Microsoft and IBM. The search engine on learningneeds.com pinpoints an individual’s needs and identifies the most appropriate products. The site features products from leading special-needs companies, such as AbleNet, Apple, Attainment, Crick Software, Edmark, and Freedom Scientific. http://www.learningneeds.com

The STAR Early Literacy diagnostic assessment software, from Renaissance Learning Inc., is ready to ship. This software uses multimedia and computer-adaptive technologies to assess phonemic awareness and other key early literacy skills of pre-K-3 students quickly and monitor their ongoing development continually. http://www.renlearn.com

MyLibrary, from Scholastic Inc., is a new service that lets librarians electronically match their school’s library with the book and software titles for Scholastic Reading Counts!, the company’s reading motivation and management system, which is used to engage and encourage K-12 students to read more books. With MyLibrary, librarians can analyze their existing book collections easily, so they can make informed decisions when selecting additional literature and other resources. The new service is available on a per-use basis, so users pay for reports only when they need them. A one-time usage price is $99. Scholastic also released a new version of Scholastic Reading Counts! at NECC. The 2.0 version lets educators select individual reading levels and point values for books to meet the needs of particular students. http://www.scholastic.com

The SMARTer Kids Foundation has selected nine schools to participate in its 2001 to 2003 Connections program, which places interactive whiteboard technology in schools and trains teachers how to integrate it into the curriculum. Throughout the program, participating teachers, who teach fifth and sixth grade, will develop a support network and create opportunities for ongoing student interaction. All Connections schools will receive a SMART Board, a floor stand, SMART board software, and a projector. http://www.smarterkids.org

The Sun Ray Implementation Kit for Education, from Sun Microsystems, provides schools with a tested package to give IT professionals the tools they need to deploy centrally-managed Sun Ray appliances and Sun servers quickly and easily. The kit includes a five-step installation guide; a customized, kid-friendly user desktop; the Solaris 8 operating environment; commonly used, pre-tested plug-ins; Netscape multimedia browser; and StarOffice productivity suite. http://www.sun.com/sunray/schools

SurfControl launched Cyber Patrol 6.0, an internet filtering, reporting, and monitoring solution that addresses traditional school internet safety concerns as well as network management issues, such as preserving network bandwidth for educational purposes. According to SurfControl, seven out of 10 schools say bandwidth management has become a critical technology problem. The latest verison of Cyber Patrol lets schools customize more than 35 categories of content to the needs of a particular grade, class, or user. In addition, for the first time Cyber Patrol can be set to monitor, rather than block, web access. Educators can set rules, then set the software to recognize the rules so it will watch for infractions, rather than filtering out specific content in advance. http://www.surfcontrol.com

Fifty teachers in the United States and Canada have won TI-Navigator Col