The 25th edition of the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) began last night with a strong message to attendees: Technology is only as effective as the training educators receive with it.

One of the largest ed-tech conferences in the nation, FETC–which runs through Jan. 28–is expected to attract thousands of teachers, technology coordinators and integration specialists, curriculum directors, media specialists, and other K-12 technology leaders to sunny Orlando for 70 workshops, more than 200 concurrent sessions, an Assistive and Instructional Technology Lab, and an exhibit hall featuring more than 500 ed-tech companies.

This year, the conference has placed a special emphasis on helping attendees meet state and national standards. FETC has included the Sunshine State Standards and/or the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for every session and workshop offered during the conference. By including standards with session and workshop information, this year’s FETC will help attendees identify the sessions and workshops that best fit their professional development needs, conference organizers said.

In the opening general session, Susan Patrick, director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson in telling attendees: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

This quote is particularly apt for FETC, Patrick added, because Florida for years has been a pioneer in the use of technology to enhance instruction.

Patrick urged the audience to think differently about the use of technology in the nation’s schools. “We use the term ‘integrate’–but what are we integrating into?” she asked. Instead of automating old methods of instruction, she advocated the use of technology to transform instructional practices. If educators do that, she concluded, “We may together usher in a new Golden Age of education.”

Jim Warford, chancellor of K-12 education for the Florida Department of Education, followed Patrick by noting some of the success of the state’s students. He said Florida fourth graders are improving in reading faster than in most other areas of the country–and the state’s Advanced Placement students have outperformed all other students in the nation and even the world: One-third of the highest performing schools in the world on the College Board’s AP exams are in Florida, he claimed.

“It is not a coincidence that Florida is also leading the nation in technology integration,” Warford said.

Visit this site throughout the conference for more updates, including reports from each of the 200 concurrent sessions by our eSchool News Conference Correspondents–educators who have volunteered their time to report on what they’ve seen, heard, and learned.