The 13,000 or so educators and school technology personnel who gathered in Chicago June 25 to 27 for the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC)–the nation’s largest ed-tech event–saw an array of solutions designed to make computing nearly ubiquitous in schools.

Wireless and handheld devices abounded, as vendors pitched the common themes of one-to-one computing, instant communication, and anytime, anywhere learning (see Special Report, page 35).

“We started with computer labs, then moved [computers] to the classroom. The next step is putting one in the hands of each child,” said Janiece Webb, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola’s Internet Software and Content Group and a conference speaker.

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

Of course, the devices are only as useful as the applications that run on them. Recognizing this, many hardware vendors–such as Apple, Compaq, and Palm–shared their floor space at the show with software companies so they could demonstrate various classroom applications of 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.

While announcements from the CEO Forum on Education and Technology and the International Society for Technology in Education made headlines (see stories, page 1), the keynote speech of Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs drew a less favorable response.

Many attendees lined up more than two hours before Jobs was scheduled to speak. Instead of talking about leadership and vision, Jobs took advantage of a captive audience of thousands to compare Apple’s new iBook, which features a built-in antenna for wireless capability, 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.”

“That is not what we expected for a keynote,” said Gloria Daxe, third-grade teacher at Cooks Corners Elementary School in Valparaiso, Ind. “I kept thinking he would get to the topic, and it was only to do his info-commercial.”

News from the exhibit floor

Adobe Systems unveiled Adobe PageMaker 7.0, which allows teachers and students to create documents that can be viewed on any device–including handheld computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs)–while maintaining the same professional-quality results. PageMaker 7.0 will be available to educators for an estimated price of $289 for the full product and $79 for upgrades from previous versions.
http://www.adobe.com

Apex Learning, a builder and operator of virtual schools, now has agreements in 23 states to offer its online Advanced Placement (AP) courses to high schools, as well as six new AP foreign language courses for grades nine to 12 in French, German, and Spanish. 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 and EdVISION Corp. means that AOL@School–a free education portal with separate sections for teachers, students, and administrators–will feature lesson plans aligned to state standards for more than 40 states. Teachers who want to find lesson plans correlated to state standards can log on, select the appropriate state and learning objective, and immediately find lesson plans aligned to that skill.
http://www.school.aol.com

Integrated Classroom, from bigchalk.com, is a new online tool to help teachers add immediacy and relevance to any classroom lesson with engaging online content. Using Integrated Classroom, teachers can choose from among internet resources, multimedia content, full-text magazine and newspaper articles, and an archive of more than 15,000 lesson plans. Bigchalk also can align these resources to the textbooks, state standards, and assessments used in a specific school district.
http://www.bigchalk.com

BritannicaSchool, a division of Britannica.com Inc., unveiled its new BritannicaSchool web site, which offers an array of reference and curriculum tools for the classroom. Users can access Britannica’s encyclopedia content online, as well as a dictionary and thesaurus, world maps, journals and magazines, and daily themes. The site also features interactive lessons, study guides, an instant messaging feature, online professional development programs to help teachers integrate technology into lessons, and an assortment of assessment tools and curriculum resources correlated to state standards.
http://www.britannicaschool.com

The Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education (Hi-CE) at the University of Michigan announced that a suite of educational applications it has 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. “Offering the software free of charge will catalyze the use of PDA technology in education,” said Elliot Soloway, professor of engineering at the University of Michigan.
http://www.hi-ce.org/palms

Student information is now accessible from any internet-connected device 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 public until this fall–alerts all appropriate staff to student information automatically. For example, if a student is late for school, the system will notify the attendance clerk as well as parents.
http://www.chancery.com

Classroom Connect’s AmazonQuest, which will run from September 26 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. Also, Classroom Connect is working with Wireless Generation Inc. to investigate the use of handheld applications by teachers for student assessment.
http://www.classroomconnect.com

To help school districts struggling to fill technical support positions, Gateway Inc. has launched 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 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 support over the phone or via the web.
http://www.gateway.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 that 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.
http://www.hp.com
http://www.netschools.com
http://www.mindsurfnetworks.com

JonesKnowledge.com 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. It 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

Microsoft Corp. announced the Zone Integration Server Toolkit 2.0, a free set of tools to help K-12 administrators and IT professionals use data to make better decisions. Considered “brokers” between various software applications, Zone Integration Servers 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–with the tools and documentation needed to build a ZIS.
http://www.microsoft.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 will research and evaluate the effectiveness of the Palms in schools. 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. The company 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. 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, and Edmark.
http://www.learningneeds.com

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. For the first time, the latest verison of 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