More than 450 companies were at this year’s NECC displaying their technology solutions for educators. Here are some of the highlights of companies displaying computer hardware and peripherals:

Neo, the newest addition to AlphaSmart Inc.’s family of computer companions, is an easy-to-use, lightweight, affordable learning device with a built-in LCD screen and full-sized keyboard. Compared with its predecessor, the AlphaSmart 3000, Neo delivers longer battery life, has a 50-percent larger screen, and offers new font technology and twice the memory. Neo is priced at $229 for education customers. It joins AlphaSmart’s existing platforms, the AlphaSmart 3000 ($199) and Palm OS-based Dana ($379). AlphaSmart also released AlphaSmart Manager 2.0, a second-generation application that lets AlphaSmart 3000 and Neo customers streamline the configuration and exchange of files for a classroom full of devices.

News from the exhibit hall

  • NECC roundup: CEOs get behind ed-tech
  • Assessment and instructional management
  • Communications and audio
  • Curriculum software
  • Digital imaging and creativity
  • Library systems and technologies
  • Online learning and research
  • Presentation solutions
  • Professional development
  • School administrative solutions
  • Security and network management
  • Brother International Corp., a K-12 provider of computer peripherals, demonstrated its new line of educational tools that offer flexible solutions to seamlessly enhance and complement current programs with low acquisition and operating costs. The company’s products include network-compatible monochrome and color laser printers, laser and inkjet fax and multi-function machines, classroom lamination systems, and the P-touch label maker line. Brother is currently running a back-to-school special in which schools buying 10 units from a selection of printers, multifunction machines, or digital copiers will receive the 11th unit free.

    With so much of NECC’s emphasis on the purchase of new equipment, Saar Pikar, the national sales manager for CDI, was hard at work touting the used and refurbished equipment solution his company providesparticularly in the area of laptops. Pikar said CDI’s new computers-on-wheels cart, known as the COWs program, could help schools double or even triple the value of their technology budgets. He noted a case study in Moscow, Idaho, where the local school district purchased a mobile COWs cart containing 16 refurbished Dell laptops and a wireless hub. Pikar said new Dell units would have been triple the cost of the CDI-refurbished ones and would have been tied to a single classroom. The district also was pleased with the quality of the refurbished machines, which all must pass extensive testing prior to sale. CDI also offers leasing options and will ensure safe disposal of a school’s old equipment. Although its solutions have been a big hit with customers, Pikar noted the inherent challenge CDI faces. “Nobody ever got fired for buying something new,” Pikar said. “But what [school decision-makers] don’t realize is that new computers are usually not necessary. This equipment has a longer life than many people think. We still have machines with 2 gigabyte hard drives that are running as well as they did when they were new.”

    The most talked-about company at NECC 2004 might have been Dell Inc. The hardware giant made a big splash with founder and CEO Michael Dell on hand to announce Dell’s Intelligent Classroom, a combination of computers and related technology, such as projectors and cameras, that seeks to transform traditional K-12 and higher education classrooms into high-tech, interactive learning centers. In addition to Dell desktop and notebook computers, Dell’s Intelligent Classroom features Dell-branded and third-party products, including projectors, presentation screens, televisions, DVD players, interactive whiteboards, and pen-based tablets. NECC came within two weeks of the company’s announcement that Texas’ Irving Independent School District had reached its goal of equipping every student and teacher with a Dell notebook computermore than 10,000 units in all.

    One of the largest and most impressive displays on the NECC floor belonged to Gateway Inc. The company showcased both its computers and big-screen presentation systems, and it drew big crowds with a special “Classroom Idol” singing game show, modeled after the TV hit “American Idol.” The popular event was part of Gateway’s effort to promote its Alpha Classroom, in which the company offers schools a seamless integration of technology. Alpha Classroom merges traditional teaching methods with Gateway’s computing and presentation products to create an innovative, advanced learning environment. The program emphasizes access, analysis, and application. Gateway also announced during the conference that it has appointed Bruce W. Smith, an executive with nearly 25 years experience in sales and marketing roles, to serve as senior vice president of Gateway Professional, where he will lead the company’s expansion into the mid-enterprise, education, and government sectors.

    IBM executives Rae Ann Alton and Jim Schnitz, from the company’s Global Education division, were at NECC discussing a number of topics involved in IBM’s overall education efforts. The company focused on its line of eLearning technologies, its efforts at lifelong learning, how IBM treats the education space as an emerging business opportunity, eLearning on demand, and its solutions for data-driven decision making in education. IBM also promoted its ThinkVantage Technologies, which help schools reduce ownership costs by providing the most secure, industry-standard PCs, one-button recovery and restore solutions, and simple system deployment and support.

    Kidzmouse CEO and founder Susan Giles was in New Orleans to introduce her company’s newest products. Known for its child-friendly computer mouse, KidzMouse has added a keyboard, headset, and scroll mouse to its line of peripherals for young children. The scroll mouse is the company’s first release for pre-teen learners. KidzMouse is the only company to offer computer mice designed for the way children’s hands work, with a smaller size and patented squeezable buttons. The colorful mice come decorated with cartoon characters. Giles founded KidzMouse after watching her four-year-old grandchild struggle with a traditional mouse, but the products have also become popular with some adults. Terri Houser, the K-6 technology coordinator for Garland Independent School District in Texas, said she prefers the feel of the KidzMouse over any mouse she has used in the past.

    Motion Computing showcased its new M1400 Tablet PC, among the first tablet computers in the United States to incorporate biometric authentication technology into its design, allowing only the assigned user to access the machine. The device’s fingerprint sensor reduces the chance of inappropriately exposing student data or allowing student hackers to break into electronic gradebooks. It also eliminates the need for multiple passwords and personal identification numbers. The M14000 Tablet PC is based on Intel Centrino mobile technology.

    This eSchool News Online report on the 2004 NECC is made possible with financial support of Dell.