Education-technology enthusiasts cheered word of an attendance rebound at one of the field’s premier school-technology conferences–the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) T+L² Conference to be held in Denver Oct. 27-29.

With two weeks of registration still to go, conference organizers were projecting a more than 50 percent increase in paid attendance this year compared to last. Thanks to this stronger enrollment, conference officials say the show is now on track to encore in Denver in 2005.

Earlier this year, eSchool News reported that organizers of the 18-year-old event–the second longest running ed-tech conference behind the National Education Computing Conference (NECC)–would consider canceling the 2005 show if this year’s event failed to attract more than 1,800 paid attendees. One year ago in Anaheim, Calif., the T+L² Conference had reportedly attracted only about 1,300 attendees.

“With registrations for the 2004 conference coming in strong, we are hopeful that this year’s conference will achieve a 50-percent growth over last year’s registration total,” said Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of educational technology. Fifteen days out, it appeared that goal already had been met. So far, more than 2,000 educators plan to make the trip to Denver, Flynn said.

The spike in registrations is good news for ed-tech conference goers, many of whom had begun to worry whether T+L² would meet a fate similar to that of Comdex, once the world’s largest technology show. Comdex was canceled earlier this year due to weak attendance.

“Anytime you have a well-regarded, long-standing educational technology event, such as the NSBA T+L Conference, in danger of being canceled, it sends a signal to the public that the interest in educational technology may be waning,” said Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas, and a leading voice for technology in schools.

Flynn now offers reassurance to those harboring such concerns. Like NECC, which reported record attendance this year in New Orleans, Flynn said, T+L² is poised to take advantage of a nationwide resurgence of interest in educational technology at both the school and district levels. “Ed-tech shows everywhere are all seeing a resurgence in numbers and popularity,” she pointed out.

Unlike last year, where most states–including host state California–were mired in one of the worst fiscal crises in recent history, Flynn said, the economic climate this year has improved, enabling school districts to free up more money for travel.

More importantly, she said, school decision-makers today have a better sense of how technology fits within the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A year ago, she explained, there was a lot of confusion about where funding for technology could be found within the law.

“A lot of the grant programs that schools used no longer existed,” she said. “People had to spend some time figuring out what the new focus is.”

Location was also a factor. Rather than hold the event on the California coast, organizers moved the show inland, so more people could attend without having to make a cross-country trip, Flynn said. She added that NSBA traditionally has drawn a lot of its membership from Midwestern states, which made Denver a more logical rendezvous point.

Unlike other ed-tech conferences such as the Florida Educational Technology Conference and NECC, which attract large numbers of teachers, Flynn said, T+L² is of more direct appeal to school administrators, district technology coordinators, and other decision makers.

Flynn said T+L² will provide a forum for school decision makers to come together in search of innovative ideas that breed change from the front office to the classroom.

“Leadership is increasingly identified as the critical element that determines if a district’s technology investments have a systemic impact or remain as isolated pockets of excellence,” said Flynn. “The T+L² Conference continues to be the only national meeting to address that leadership challenge by supporting a broad spectrum of essential job titles and exposing them to a dynamic exhibition that features today’s most innovative technology solutions.”

Educators who spoke with eSchool News were pleased to hear of the rebound of the conference.

“To lose T+L would have been a serious blow to the ed-tech community and education in general,” said Bob Moore, technology coordinator at the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan. and a frequent presence at national ed-tech shows. Moore said national conferences such as T+L² “provide an all too rare opportunity to come together and have a dialogue about what’s working and what’s not,” in the nation’s schools.

Plano’s Hirsch called it “great news.”

“The fact that the T+L event has shown tremendous growth this year certainly demonstrates that more school leaders, and technology leaders in particular, recognize the value and importance of participating in professional growth opportunities such as this,” he explained.

The conference, formerly called the Technology + Learning Conference, was renamed in 2002 to reflect a greater focus on how today’s leaders can use technology tools to improve the teaching and learning environment, streamline administrative operations, and increase opportunities for parental engagement, organizers said. The conference was originally conceived as way of encouraging a representative cross-section of school district personnel, including board members and superintendents, to get involved with technology.

In preparation for this year’s show, organizers have assembled a compelling lineup of speakers and special events. (Visit the eSchool News Conference Information Center for more information on T+L² speakers and sessions.)

Flynn said the conference will include more than 200 workshops and hands-on activities designed to help administrators better prepare students for success in the digital workforce. Other important topics will include using technology to improve community outreach, continuing to meet the demands of NCLB, and engaging students’ interest through the use of technology.

Registration fees this year range from $450 for a single non-member attendee to $250 per person for a school district team of 10 or more.

Links:

National School Boards Association

T+L² Homepage

eSchool News Conference Information Center