As online editor of eSchool News, I have been fortunate to attend numerous ed-tech conferences, including the recent National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Philadelphia.

But I’m not the typical conference attendee. I’m not a practicing educator, and my travel isn’t funded within the strict budget of a school or district. Sadly, I recognize that while ed-tech conferences are wonderful and very worthwhile, their cost can be a barrier to attendance. I know of many enthusiastic educators who desperately wanted to be at NECC this year but could not go because money wasn’t budgeted to pay for their trip.

Nobody working in education likes the idea of denying people the opportunity to learn. In fact, most districts and schools take great care to budget for the professional development funds necessary for key personnel to attend at least one conference per year. Still, for every funded attendee, there are several other deserving educators who miss out on the benefits of being at the conference.

And those benefits are enormous. Only at NECC and other major shows can an educator attend experts’ presentations on hundreds of real-life technology issues. If you’re wondering how new technologies can help boost math scores, there were plenty of sessions at NECC for you. Or, if you’re hoping to find the best classroom uses for handhelds, NECC had numerous presentations on the subject. No matter how obscure your interest, at least one of the nearly 600 presentations at NECC 2005 addressed itgiving educators a chance to exchange ideas and learn from others who have been in their shoes.

I would hope each U.S. district managed to send at least one representative to NECC, but even if that happened, each representative could not have attended more than a relative handful of sessions. Thus, the amount of knowledge returning to individual schools represented just a fraction of what was available at NECC.

Well, here’s where eSchool News Online comes in. Last year, we began our Conference Correspondents program in the hope of preserving information presented at hundreds of conference sessions. We began enlisting volunteer conference attendees willing to share what they had learned with colleagues by eMailing their reports or by beaming them to us on a Neo by AlphaSmart computer companion.

The Conference Correspondents program was a success at six previous conferences, but at NECC it really took off, thanks to a spectacular group of 85 volunteers who combined to report on more than 200 sessions. In almost every case, they did it because they wanted to give something back to colleagues unable to attend. They did it because they wanted to help not just their own students, but students they would never meet. When volunteers told me what they learned in a presentation would do wonders for their own schools, I reminded them that, thanks to their reporting, this information likely would make a difference to many other educators, too.

Our NECC Conference Correspondents came from 25 U.S. states, Canada, and New Zealand. They ran the gamut from K-12 teachers and college professors to school technology coordinators, school principals, and numerous district technology directors. Because of their hard work, nobody has to feel that they missed out on NECC 2005. Even people who attended the conference have thanked eSchool News for coverage of sessions they didn’t manage to attend, and many presenters credit correspondents’ reviews with helping them sharpen their own presentations.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling bad because some staff or faculty can’t go to a major ed-tech conference, rest assured that the wealth of available knowledge will not be lost. I sincerely hope all educators and administrators who deal with technology will pore through these session reports. They are brimming with brilliant ideas for integrating technology into curricula, for collecting crucial assessment data, and for serving the needs of disabled, gifted, or even geographically isolated students.

You can see all of the reviews at:

Finally, I want to personally thank all 85 of our NECC Conference Correspondents–some of the most selfless people I have ever met.

New content this month

If it’s August, we must have another addition to our eSN Online Educator’s Resource Center (ERC) series. This month, we have added the category “School Network Administration.” Thanks to generous financial support from ProCurve Networking (a division of Hewlett-Packard Co.), we have managed to pull together years’ worth of stories, links, and other information related to the topic of maintaining and building school IT networks.

You’ll find this ERC at:

This ERC provides a great opportunity to sharpen your networking knowledge before the start of the next academic year.