Only slightly more than half the usual number of attendees were on hand at the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando March 6-8, according to conference organizers. Even so, the 7,000-some teachers and administrators who reportedly did take part this year seemed generally enthusiastic, in spite of pervasive talk of budget cuts and travel woes. And the attendees, by and large, seemed diligent about attending sessions and visiting with vendors.

On the still-busy show floor this year, evidence was abundant that the FETC exhibitors—if not yet all the educators—have wasted no time embracing the education rhetoric articulated by the Bush Administration. Everywhere the emphasis seemed to be on accountability and assessment, and few products or services could be found that did not claim to be “research-based,” as now will be required to qualify for funding under federal programs and state block grants.

Some major players were lining up at FETC to offer interested attendees soup-to-nuts, end-to-end solutions for managing learning resources, aligning lesson plans and instructional assets with state standards, and assessing education progress at any and all levels. Here’s a sampling of the news from exhibitors:

4GL School Solutions, which makes special education management software, plans to release five free white papers at the end of March that explain the legal and cost implications associated with managing special education. “We’ve provdided these reports as an easy way for school decision makers to gather essential background information to effectively lead their school systems,” said Clark Easter, chairman and CEO of 4GL School Solutions. The titles are “Acquiring Your Special Education Management System,” “Eliminating Compliance Violations,” “Funding Your Special Education Management System,” “Maximizing Medicaid Recovery,” and “Controlling Special Education Costs.”

America Online has updated its free online service for schools, which features age-appropriate content, communication tools, and built-in safety features. The newly improved AOL@School Version 2.0 includes a study kit for students; a faster, more relevant search tool; and easier navigation. Schools can get the latest edition at the AOL@School web site or by calling (888) 339-0767. In addition, AOL@School will now offer customized versions of popular content and tools from Apex Learning, GoalView, and Tom Snyder Productions. Through AOL@School, students can access Apex Learning’s Advanced Placement test preparation curriculum, AP Exam Review; students can learn critical thinking skills with Decisions Decisions Online from Tom Snyder Productions; and educators can track student achievement with GoalView’s web-based system.

APTE Inc., maker of the Internet Coach web learning software, debuted a new digital photo kit at the conference. The Deluxe Edition Digital Photo Activity Kit enables students to use their own digital photos with a variety of writing exercises to create unique newsletters, book reports, picture frames, stickers, and more. The kit includes a teacher’s activity book, a digital camera, and two CD-ROMs. There are 50 templates in the program’s seven activity centers that make it easy to integrate photos, clip art, and web images into children’s creations. Each kit includes a Writing Center section to create documents; a Movie Maker to create movies from students’ photos; a Travel Center to create passports, maps, and travel journals; a Special Events section to create greeting cards and posters; a Craft Corner to create picture frames and stickers; and the Picture Games section, to incorporate photos into one of five games.

The Cartoon Network has started a national character education program, called “Animate Your World: Shaping Character,” to help educators create caring, principled, and responsible adults. This interactive, CD-ROM-based program uses animation technology to teach positive character traits such as self-respect, respect for others, and community responsibility. After reviewing a topic with the teacher, students watch a cartoon sequence and then design their own ending to the cartoon. Schools in Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Seattle are now piloting the program, and it will be available nationally in the fall.

Classroom Connect announced the release of four new, one-day Connected Workshops designed to prepare teachers to apply the Compaq iPaq Pocket PC’s capabilities to the classroom and office. Developed by Classroom Connect learning specialists, the workshops are intended to help teachers make technology an integral part of the learning environment. Also at FETC, Classroom Connect announced that its fall 2002 Quest expedition, to be called Columbus Quest, will retrace the steps of Christopher Columbus as he sailed off to discover the New World.

Compaq Computer Corp. announced that it has secured more than $250 million in new contracts with education customers. The Ohio SchoolNet Commission is spending $37 million over the next two years for Compaq computers. Clark County Schools in Las Vegas will spend $2 million with Compaq to upgrade their server technology, and five New Jersey school districts are spending more than $12 million on IT infrastructure upgrades, including more than 10,000 desktops, 1,000 laptops, and 155 servers, Compaq said.

In a $25 million deal, Dell Computer Corp. said it will supply Oklahoma City Public Schools with wireless notebooks and desktop computers over the next three years. As part of the agreement, the Oklahoma schools will get 20,000 Dell computer systems, including 10,000 wireless notebooks and wireless carts. Dell also will certify the district’s technicians on the new systems so they can troubleshoot any problems quickly. The company said it will deliver and install the computers, saving district officials from having to do this themselves.

GCC Printers, a direct seller of laser printers, is offering volume pricing discounts to schools on its machines, including the Elite 21 Series, Elite 20 XL Series, and Elite 12 N Series. For more information, call a company representative at (800) 422-7777 or visit the company’s web site.

Intel Corp. announced that Michigan teachers now can participate in the company’s Teach to the Future program, thanks to a collaboration between Intel, Michigan Virtual University, and the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning. The Teach to the Future program is a worldwide initiative that aims to address the barriers teachers face using technology effectively in the classroom. In the program, teachers train other teachers to infuse technology into daily lesson plans and incorporate the internet, web page design, and productivity software to improve the learning process.

LeapFrog SchoolHouse announced the release of the LeapTrack Assessment and Instruction System. The program enables teachers to use LeapFrog’s award-winning LeapPad platform to assess student progress and provide individualized, standards-based instruction. Its goal is to help teachers monitor student progress relative to state standards, customize instruction for each learner, and prepare students to master skills tested on high-stakes tests. It allows teachers to quickly assess their students’ skills in reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies; generate reports for parents and administrators; and produce an individualized learning path for each student, in each curriculum area.

Learning Page introduced a new subscription-based web service called Reading A-Z. Reading A-Z provides educators with 150 downloadable, guided reading books, along with lesson plans and worksheets, alphabet books, read-aloud books, and other tools to increase reading skills in students. The 150 developmentally appropriate books are intended for children ages four to 11 and address a wide range of reading abilities by covering many levels of graduated reading difficulty. Each book is accompanied by a multiple-page lesson plan and worksheets. Students who can read with 95-percent accuracy and respond well to comprehension questions are able to progress to the next level.

LearningSoft, a developer of interactive online assessments, adaptive learning technologies, and standards-based curriculum exercises, launched its Indigo Learning System. The company said its new subscription service will “allow schools to test students’ skills, specifically tied to state and national standards, and then assign curriculum content to students who need help in certain areas.” The Indigo Learning System can be accessed through any internet-connected PC; a parallel system, called Indigo@Hand, can be accessed through the Cybiko handheld platform.

McGraw-Hill Education’s Digital Learning Group has teamed up with Mindsurf to develop digital curricula for Mindsurf’s Discourse instructional platform, which is used in classrooms or labs where every student has a computer. The curricula will be based on McGraw-Hill Education’s electronic textbooks. The companies plan to offer Glencoe Alegbra 1 this fall.

NetSchools Corp. announced that it will release a new version of its online accountability system for student achievement, NetSchools Orion version 4.0, this summer. Schools and districts that purchase the system before June 30 will receive the Textbook Companion module free of charge, the company said. Orion 4.0 will feature a new modular structure that will allow schools to add capabilities such as online lesson planning, assignments, textbook correlation, reporting, and communication as their needs dictate. It will allow schools to meet state and local standards by aligning instructional materials, lesson plans, tests, assignments, and 40,000 pre-screened web sites.

PLUS Vision of America unveiled a new, lightweight U2-X2000 mobile projector. The 5.6-pound projector includes a CompactFlash card insert and presentation download software, eliminating the need for presenters to carry a PC. It also features a chalkboard function that lets the presenter use a mouse to draw images directly on the screen, as well as digital and manual zoom, manual focus, and a remote control. The U2-X2000 is based on Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing technology and has a suggested retail price of $6,495. PLUS Vision is the new entity resulting from the January merger of PLUS Corp. of America and Lightware Inc.

In light of President Bush’s call for all Americans to serve their country for at least two years, Sagemont Virtual School—the online arm of Florida’s Sagemont School—has created a groundbreaking online course in volunteerism for secondary schools, “Volunteer School/Community Service.” Sagemont selected Jones Knowledge to license the course to other United States schools through the company’s Knowledge Store. The course will be managed and delivered on the Jones e-Education platform. Course modules cover why people volunteer and identify global issues that would benefit from volunteer participation. Students play the role of vice president of a nonprofit service organization and must plan, implement, and analyze the success of their projects. To pass the course, they must complete 75 hours of community service.

Sergeant Laboratories introduced its new Aristotle security system. The Wisconsin-based company developed Aristotle to be a desktop usage monitor that tracks student computing at the desktop level and automatically notifies instructors in the case of unusual or dangerous activity. In one case, Aristotle reportedly detected a depressed student composing a suicide letter and automatically informed the school’s administration via eMail. Aristotle also conducts web site searching and filtering of inappropriate content.

Soliloquy Learning, a new K-12 company, introduced its reading fluency product, the Soliloquy Reading Assistant, to FETC attendees. The Soliloquy Reading Assistant advances reading fluency and comprehension of young readers using speech-recognition software to provide immediate feedback to students as they practice oral reading. Aimed at grades two to five, the software allows students to choose fiction or nonfiction passages from magazines such as Cricket, Spider, Click, and Ladybug. They can choose to listen to a model of fluent reading or begin reading independently. If they get stuck on a word, they can click to hear the correct pronunciation. Words that needed prompted are color-coded for extra attention. Students can also hear their reading played back or take vocabulary or comprehension quizzes.

ThinkBox Inc. has updated Kindle Park, its online playground filled with “research-based educational content” for children aged three to six. Kindle Park also provides early childhood educators with lesson planning and management tools, including a curriculum guide and planning calendars. The latest version features 350 activities, 150 books, 750 off-screen activities, songs, and more.

Vital Knowledge Software announced a new version of its Teachers’ Tech Tutor. This self-paced solution was designed to help the computer novice teacher meet technology proficiency standards. Tech Tutor combines the features of a multimedia-rich, interactive CD-ROM with the immediacy of the internet to support teachers through all stages of the learning process. The CD-ROM includes useful information in a teacher’s context, interactive exercises, video testimonials, a glossary, tests, classroom applications, and links to internet resources on the Tech Tutor web site. Vital Knowledge also announced the P.E.T. Learning Styles Solution at FETC. P.E.T. is a web-based learning styles assessment and data management application designed to help teachers and students understand more about themselves and the way they learn. Teachers can use the assessment to tailor their instruction for the specific needs of their students, to help students perform at a higher level.

Wireless Generation previewed mClass, the company’s new reading assessment application for the Palm operating system. This software, which will be available in late April, enables teachers and administrators to access, diagnose, track, and report the reading progress of kindergarten to third-grade students.

World Book Online now features Surf the Ages, a more fanciful approach to factual content that depicts historical information as it might have appeared had the web existed from the beginning of recorded time. Surf the Ages draws upon more than 9,550 illustrations, 21,600 encyclopedia articles, 248,000 dictionary definitions, and 1,430 maps from World Book Online to help users paint detailed portraits of the past and of the people who shaped history. Surf the Ages is divided into three ages representing 5,500 years of written history. World Book also announced the World Book Research Libraries, an online database of primary-source materials encompassing eight distinct libraries. The Research Libraries contain more than 4,700 complete books and 174,000 documents.

Xybernaut Corp. debuted XyberKids, an assistive technology solution ideal for students with disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy. XyberKids consists of a wearable computing platform, software, and peripherals built into a sturdy backpack with padded, adjustable straps that students can wear in the classroom. “[We] have already achieved tremendous results by utilizing the XyberKids wearable computers during a six-month test deployment,” said Jeanne Gides, director of special services with Coventry, Ohio, Local School District, one of the first schools to beta-test XyberKids. “We feel strongly that this is empowering our students to … participate in less restrictive environments and gain functional independence more quickly.”