Energy, enthusiasm, attendance spark talk of ed tech rebound at NECC

Like the joyful tumult spawned by a drenching downpour after months of drought, the hubbub and energy swirled through the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center at the 2002 National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio, Texas, June 17-19.

By organizer reckoning, more than 17,000 were on hand for the conference and exposition—some 5,500 exhibitors staffing approximately 450 booths and more than 12,000 teachers, administrators, and professors cramming into session rooms.

Exact numbers aside, the hall and corridors certainly were teeming throughout the meeting, and several general sessions drew standing-room-only attendance. In glowing contrast to the somber, sparsely attended confabs held late last year and earlier in 2002, the NECC show reminded some seasoned conference-goers of happier times in the technology sector.

Two main topics seemed to dominate the conversations at NECC: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), with all its attendant opportunities and problems, and the turnout and enthusiasm of the conference itself. Both had origins in Texas.

For a sampling of the presentations delivered at NECC, visit the link below for nearly 200 presenter handouts available in PDF format.

NECC, now merged into the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), benefited because Texas has been less hard hit economically than many other states and because schools were out throughout the state by conference time. This meant districts could send teachers without having to hire substitutes.

Whether NECC’s success was a singular phenomenon or the harbinger of a sustainable trend will be clearer when the National School Boards Association’s Technology + Learning Conference is held in Dallas in November.

Meanwhile, the exhibit hall was alive with vendors eager to do their part in helping educators take advantage of every edge high tech has to offer in the struggle to meet old challenges and new federal requirements. Here’s a quick tour of some of the key offerings attendees found in the NECC exhibit hall:


Many exhibitors aimed their products and services squarely at the No Child Left Behind Act and its new accountability requirements for schools.

To help schools with tracking and reporting necessary performance data, NCS Learn introduced SASIxp 5.0, the newest release of its K-12 student administrative system. Version 5.0 expands the system’s functionality with a new Report Designer module, which gives users access to a wide variety of report templates and the ability to create and customize reports easily—a feature that will help schools aggregate and present data as they strive to comply with the requirements of NCLB, said Allison Duquette, the company’s vice president of product management and marketing.

Swift Knowledge Inc. announced that the Arizona Department of Education has expanded its contract with the company, asking it to provide its Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) to all schools across the state. According to the company, SAIS is a data management solution that will track the performance of the state’s 800,000 K-12 public school students in a safe, secure fashion. Arizona officials said expansion of SAIS across the state was necessary to ensure that schools would meet new standards for accountability under NCLB. SAIS tracks test data, correlates results, breaks down figures, and is easily accessible through a user-friendly interface, the company said.

On the instructional side, HOSTS Learning—a company that provides research-based learning systems for reading and math—is seeking to help educators meet the requirements of NCLB with the announcement of its LearnerLink offering. According to the company, LearnerLink is an internet-based tool that helps teachers manage, educate, and assess the progress of classroom reading instruction. The product makes it possible to create standards-based lessons and aggregate performance results at the individual student, class, school, district, or state levels. HOSTS also unveiled the Reading Centered School, a school-wide literacy system aimed at helping schools secure funds under the Bush administration’s Reading First initiative. The company says the program can be integrated with scientifically based reading textbooks to provide assessment for students and professional development for teachers. A record-keeping and reporting function lets schools demonstrate proven rates of success and helps secure funds now hinged on accountability, the company said.

In terms of assessment, EdVISION Corp. said that South Dakota recently completed an online assessment of students’ abilities in every school across the state using the company’s Performance Series. The product is an entirely web-based tool for the assessment of individual students’ abilities in several major subject areas, including reading, math, science, and language arts. In light of the product’s success in South Dakota, 60 Central Michigan University charter schools have selected the Performance Series to track student growth, the company said.


This year’s NECC offered further evidence that handheld technologies continue to make inroads into K-12 schools. David Nagel, chief executive officer of PalmSource—the Palm OS subsidiary of Palm Inc.—cited figures from market research firm International Data Corp. that show the trend toward mobility building quickly: In a May 30 press release, IDC said, “The K-12 market is moving from desktop PCs toward notebook computers and smart handheld devices, a shift expected to rapidly accelerate at the start of the 2003-2004 academic year.”

Palm and its operating system will play a big part in the shift, Nagel said. Educators can expect to see broader choices in mobile products for education as more and more companies, such as AlphaSmart, develop new products around the Palm OS.

At NECC, AlphaSmart introduced the first Palm-powered laptop designed specifically for education. The device, called Dana, costs $369 and operates all Palm applications on a body that looks more like a traditional AlphaSmart computer. It supports graffiti and has a pen stylus, but it also has a built-in, full-sized keyboard for text entry.

“We think the majority of text entry will be with the keyboard,” said Chris Bryant, AlphaSmart’s vice president of marketing and business development.

Dana—which combines the functionality and affordability of a handheld computer with the larger screen size and greater durability of a laptop—also features two USB ports that let students connect to computers, science probes, or printers.

“It also charges through the USB port, so it can charge from any computer or device it is connected to,” Bryant said. “If a student is walking around and the power is getting low, [he or she] can be a little parasite and charge the power off any nearby computer.”

The device’s display is three and half times larger than the typical Palm display. Students can choose to view programs in landscape or portrait fashion. At 12 inches wide, 9 inches long, and 2 inches thick, Dana is larger than most handheld devices. Weighing two pounds, Dana is light and as rugged as a traditional AlphaSmart computer, successfully passing a three-foot drop test.

Not to be outdone, Texas Instruments introduced TI Keyboard, a full-size QWERTY (or traditional typewriter) keyboard available for use with the company’s most popular handheld devices, including the TI-83 Plus graphing calculator. The keyboard allows students to type notes directly into their TI handheld devices, expanding the instruments’ versatility beyond math and science classes. The device comes prepackaged with a cradle to hold students’ TI handhelds at an easy-to-see angle and is small enough to fit into a backpack. TI also announced that it is working with the National Council of Social Studies and the National Council of Teachers of English to develop standards-based, classroom-ready activities for students and teachers to use with handheld technologies in these subjects.


Proof that online learning continues to thrive also abounded at this year’s NECC, as several traditional textbook publishers unveiled new eLearning initiatives.

Publisher Harcourt Inc. introduced a new eLearning team to support the development of online educational products and services throughout the company’s many business units. The new team will be responsible for providing technical expertise, research, and intelligence for product development, support, and further acquisitions, the company said. Also at NECC, Classroom Connect—a division of Harcourt that provides educational services through online subscriptions—announced that it has partnered with several state departments of education to create customized web content and educational resources for state web sites.

Another Harcourt company, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, announced the release of an online social studies textbook series for grades six through 12. The new Holt Online Learning series is the first of its kind to seamlessly integrate print and technology components, giving students and teachers a choice of instructional media, according to the company. The online textbooks don’t just deliver text on a web site; instead, each online textbook boosts student interaction and relates history to current events with tools such as CNN Student News. The online textbooks also include Interactive Time Lines, Interactive Maps, the Holt Researcher Online, the Holt Grapher, Homework Practice Online, Standardized Test Preparation, and project-based portfolio activities, the company said.

Further signaling the growth of eLearning in K-12 schools, America Online announced that its online learning program AOL@SCHOOL has reached more than 36 percent of K-12 schools in all 50 states. The two-year-old program was devised to help bridge the digital divide by providing free online services targeted toward less affluent communities. The company said it recently expanded AOL@SCHOOL’s offerings through partnerships with several companies, including APTE, Artsonia, ipicturebooks, Tritone Music, and TestU. New features include learning games, custom art galleries, eBooks, and beginning music courses.

Apex Learning, a provider of online instruction and resources for high schools, announced that more than 75,000 students have used the company’s online courses, learning tools, and test preparation vehicles in the past four years. Apex also touted the success of its AP Exam Review, which delivers online diagnostics and creates personal study plans to help students succeed in advanced placement courses. The company is offering its ClassTools lesson design feature at a 28-percent discount to educators until July 15. Apex also unveiled a number of new online AP courses for the fall, including biology, Spanish, and psychology.


Absolute Software, a provider of managed services for computer security and tracking, demonstrated its ComputracePlus computer tracking software. ComputracePlus enables school administrators to keep track of remote, mobile, and local PCs and stop uncontrolled losses. The software helps security departments monitor PC asset location on a daily basis and attempt to recover assets if they are stolen. The company also previewed AbsoluteTrack, a secure asset tracking and inventory management solution. Powered by the company’s Computrace technology platform, AbsoluteTrack simplifies the management of software licenses, computer leases, machine configuration, PC retirement, upgrades, and device ownership, while helping to control PC loss and monitor security policy violations.

N2H2 announced the upcoming release of a fully integrated, scalable web filtering solution for schools using Novell BorderManager. The solution, to be released in late summer, leverages the identity-based policy engine of BorderManager, enabling users to control and monitor students’ and employees’ internet access down to the individual user and session time. N2H2 also said it has added the Houston and Baltimore school districts to its list of education customers.

Rival filtering company SurfControl launched eMail Filter 4.0, a comprehensive eMail content management solution for schools. The software comes with a unique RiskFilter technology that automatically stops the delivery of spam and other digital junk such as hoaxes, chain letters, jokes, and graphic file attachments that contain offensive material and open a school to potential liability or network vulnerability. It also offers a new, add-on component called the Virtual Learning Agent, an intelligent tool that “learns” an organization’s specific information and then keeps sensitive documents from being accidentally, or purposely, eMailed to unintended or unauthorized recipients—a feature particularly important to schools that maintain personal student records, SurfControl said. eMail Filter 4.0 costs about $19 per user, based on an installation of 500 users. A free, 30-day evaluation copy of the product can be found at the company’s web site.


eZedia Inc., makers of digital media software, introduced Zoom-ed, a free educational program that provides lesson plans, media content, training, and grant information. Users of the free service will receive a special price discount on EZediaMX, the company’s multimedia authoring software, eZedia said. The product allows students and teachers to create interactive presentations, electronic portfolios, digital storybooks, and courseware using a combination of video, graphics, sound, text, and the web. For a limited time, Zoom-ed’s Classroom Contest also gives teachers a chance to win one of three free Apple eMacs for their schools.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and IndiVisusal Learning LLC announced a partnership to award two $25,000 “Read for Life” scholarships. The awards will be given to two private, public, charter, or parochial schools that demonstrate a need for financial aid, a high population of English as a Second Language or Limited English Proficient students, and staff that are dedicated to the integration of technology. Winners also will receive a wireless mobile computer lab and five in-class workstations, plus three years’ free use of IndiVisual’s Reading product, a computer-based intervention program for students ages 8 to 18. Educators may apply for the grant award by visiting IndiVisual’s web site.

National Semiconductor, along with Wyse Technology and Citrix Systems Inc., announced the 2002 winner of the companies’ Thin Client@School contest, which supplies thin-client hardware, software, and networking services to an economically disadvantaged school to create a low-cost, easy-to-manage computer network. This year’s winner is Rehoboth Christian School of Gallup, N.M., which received equipment and services valued at $104,000. The award will allow Rehoboth to create new technology-based programs in science, economics, history, and current events.

Adobe has bundled some of its most popular software products and is offering educators a back-to-school special under the Adobe Design Collection brand. The bundle includes Adobe Photoshop 7.0, Illustrator 10, InDesign 2.0, and Acrobat 5.0, along with a GoLive 6.0 and LiveMotion 2.0 training CD. The collection bears a suggested reseller price of $399.


Along with its array of server, desktop, and laptop products, Gateway offered attendees online professional development. The company’s Educator Productivity Online Learning Subscription is designed to match any educator’s skill level and learning goals. This online library allows educators to learn about software such as Word, Excel, WordPerfect and take their skills from beginner to mastery level. Besides the convenience of online learning, many of Gateway’s Online Learning Library courses allow educators to earn Continuing Education Units.

Sun Microsystems has responded to tight school budgets with the StarOffice 6.0 Office Suite, a full-feature, multi-platform productivity program providing word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics, and database functionality. What’s remarkable about this product is its cost: Free. Schools receive no-cost licenses for StarOffice 6.0. They pay only for the delivery medium and shipping, which amounts to less than $30, according to Sun. The software package runs on Windows, Linux, or Solaris operating systems and is file-compatible with Microsoft Office. Sun offers free training and technical support for StarOffice.

3Com Corp. briefed attendees on a number of new developments, including its NJ100 Network Jack. The company says this wall-mounted jack will reduce the cost of wiring for cabling infrastructure and bring Ethernet switching technology closer to the desktop. The jack fits into any standard-size wall cutout and comes complete with six device ports, as opposed to the standard one or two seen with traditional Ethernet jacks. 3Com also announced that the University City, Miss., School District will upgrade its local area network with $350,000 worth of the company’s Gigabit Ethernet and firewall products. The district, which educates 4,200 students, will use 3Com’s Switch 4007 to deliver online learning applications and its SuperStack 3 firewall to improve security and control internet access in schools, the company said.

Apple Computer, maker of the popular iMac and new eMac desktop computers, announced an updated version of its PowerSchool student information system. PowerSchool SIS V.3 now supports the Mac OS X, the company said. Further advancements include a new integrated schedule builder, an updated PowerGrade tool that lets teachers include students’ photos with seating charts, and an easier-to-use graphic interface. Also at NECC, Apple announced its Apple Digital Campus Curriculum. The new project- and computer-based learning activities seek to modernize schools’ course offerings by providing instruction support in areas such as web communication, web design, and video journalism. According to Apple, the courses come complete with 10 days of hands-on training, plus a year of mentoring and support.

Certiport Inc. and Course Technology are teaming up to provide performance-based computer certification programs to educators and students. The Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3) exams cover a number of basic computing concepts from networking to internet knowledge, the companies said. Under the partnership, Certiport will enable certain schools to become iQcenters. Only selected schools and institutions will be able to administer the certification exams. The decision is part of an effort to ensure that all exams are given correctly, securely, and according to procedure. The companies said IC3 is the first computer certification course recognized by the National Skill Standards Board for its quality and effectiveness.

Dell Computer sought to broaden its lead in the education market with the announcement of its new Cyberspace Modular Classroom. In partnership with Williams Scotsman, a provider of modular buildings and portable classrooms, the computer giant has developed portable classrooms equipped with an array of computer systems and peripherals, which can be customized to work with schools’ existing technology infrastructure, allowing students in portable classrooms to achieve the same connectivity as those inside fully wired buildings or computer labs. Dell also announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp. to sell specially packaged network servers and notebook computers to schools in the United States under the Class Server brand. The agreement means Dell will manufacture and sell servers and computers that feature Microsoft education software designed to allow teachers and school administrators to organize and manage institutional resources and individualize student lessons. The new systems are expected to be available for order this summer.,,


InFocus Corp. demonstrated its latest two classroom projectors. The LP250 and the LP240 combine portability and ease of use with seamless images and software compatibility, the company said. Each of the company’s new projectors comes with a variety of tools aimed to help teachers use precious instruction time more effectively. The projectors have color-coded cables for easy setup; large, readable buttons; simplified user interfaces with pull-down menus; and interactive keypads. According to the company, both products are lightweight and easy to move around the school, and each machine works with the company’s ProjectorNet software, which lets schools manage and maintain any number of projectors from a centralized location.

LearnStar, a provider of interactive educational software programs, debuted its ESL and GEDstar products during NECC. According to the company, ESL is a software program designed to emphasize vocabulary, grammar skills, listening, reading comprehension, and cultural knowledge for students learning English as a second language, while GEDstar is a preparatory solution that helps kids study for the GED exam. All of LearnStar’s products are designed to function on a variety of operating platforms, including desktops, laptops, and wireless handhelds.

Lightspan Inc. announced that Academic Systems, a division of the company that previously has targeted colleges and universities, now will offer its services to secondary schools. Academic Systems’ Interactive Mathematics is a computer-based learning tool that helps students prepare for important standardized tests and improve their math skills overall. Also, in a move to satisfy a high demand for professional development among America’s teachers, Lightspan announced that it will offer teachers continuing education credits through its Lightspan University professional development programs.

PLATO Learning, which acquired Georgia-based NetSchools Corp. in May, announced the creation of a new professional services division called TeachMaster Professional Services Group, which combines PLATO Learning and NetSchools education consultants under the leadership of Donna Elmore, previously with NetSchools. The new division will offer schools a choice of training programs and flexible blocks of professional development time. “Services will be offered throughout the school year and via different delivery methods to meet the varying needs and expertise levels of schools,” said Elmore, a former South Carolina school superintendent with 30 years’ experience in education.

Riverdeep Interactive Learning announced that IBM’s Learning Village, an educational portal that grew out of IBM’s $70 million Reinventing Education grant program, now is a part of the Riverdeep family of products. It will be jointly marketed and sold by the two companies and will be known as Riverdeep Learning Village. An instructional portal that provides a single point of access for K-12 educators, students, and their parents and offers tools that improve teaching and facilitate school improvement, Riverdeep Learning Village combines the strengths of both companies: IBM’s technology integration and services expertise and Riverdeep’s K-12 curriculum.

SMART Technologies demonstrated a host of new presentation products for schools, including a whiteboard camera system called Camfire, a projector mount called LightRaise, concept-mapping software called SMART Ideas, version 3.0 of its SynchronEyes computer-lab instruction software, and Video Player, a new feature that enables users of any SMART Board interactive whiteboard to annotate over moving or paused video. The company also announced a donation of more than $300,000 in interactive classroom technology to support the Intel Teach to the Future program in North America, as well as a new curriculum development service that helps teachers incorporate its products into the classroom.

Encyclopedia publisher World Book Inc. announced the new World Book Research Libraries, a fully online database containing more that 4,700 complete books and 174,000 documents, with more on the way. A “QuickFind” option allows users to type in keywords and find documents that are germane to specific topics of interest. Results also can be found by title, author, and date. The new online databases include information for a number of different subject areas, including world history, U.S. history, political science and law, social studies, literature, science and mathematics, language arts, philosophy, and religion.

Sunburst Technology announced three additions to its Learn About Science software for schools. Now students can participate in lessons about the human body, animals, and dinosaurs, the company said. The new curricula were added to broaden the scope of age-appropriate science content offered to students in grades K-2. According to the company, The Human Body topic focuses on human organs and anatomy, while the Animals topic deals with the habitats and classification systems of living creatures. And its Dinosaurs topic returns kids to prehistoric times for lessons on the life, extinction, and subsequent research of the species. The company said each new topic comes with a variety of tools meant to engage children, including brief quizzes, a word processor function for note-taking, a jukebox featuring educational, course-related songs for kids, plus a number of matching, sorting, and puzzle activities that aim to help young students apply what they have learned.

Polyester Media Inc. demoed a number of products and services including its new Scribblebug writing tool and Firefly research software. According to the company, Scribblebug was designed to help children master fundamental writing structures including narrative, persuasive, expository, and comparison forms. Scribblebug offers a variety of interactive functions dealing with every aspect of the writing process from initial brainstorming and organization efforts to the actual drafting, editing, and assessment of final written projects. Also from Polyester, Firefly research software. The program helps students locate, collect, organize, categorize, and save elements from web pages for use on school-related research projects. The company hopes its Firefly product will allow students in grades 2-6 to easily find course-related content within the vast and often confusing choices available over the internet.

Administrative Assistants Inc. said two school districts in Arizona have become the first in the nation to implement the company’s web-based student information system called eSIS. Yuma School District No.1 and Yuma Union High School District No. 70 will use the management solution to provide administrators, teachers, and professional staff from 22 schools across the state with a solution to better manage student information. eSIS users will have real-time access to all types of student records from bus schedules and health records to attendance sheets, the company said. The product will allow schools to cross-reference and compare statistics throughout the district while giving teachers access to up-to-date student information immediately.

School Zone Interactive announced the launch of their K-12 Division. The firm, which has long history of selling its math, reading, and other curriculum software directly to consumers, now will sell to schools through a combination of resellers and direct sales channels. The company’s brands include On-Track Software’s Electronic Workbooks, Flash Action Software, and Pencil-Pal Software.


eSchool News Staff

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