The 26th annual Texas Computer Education Association began the first full day of its annual conference activities with roughly 13,000 educators, students, and exhibitors– including more than 8,000 paid participants–in attendance at the Austin Convention Center. Taking “Technology Gone Wild,” as its theme in 2006, TCEA offered attendees guidance through the “jungle” of education technology, with special speakers, hundreds of free instructional sessions, and 700 education technology exhibitors.

Principals, superintendents, teachers, technology specialists, and curriculum specialists from across Texas, across the nation, and around the world attended the opening ceremonies on Wednesday morning. Motivational speaker Coach Ken Carter was the featured keynote. Carter’s experiences as the head coach of the Richmond High School basketball team in Richmond, California, became the subject of the movie, Coach Carter. Carter made news when he locked out his undefeated basketball team in order to push them to improve their grades. The team members later went on to be successful in basketball and academics.

In his speech, Carter emphasized accountability, integrity, learning leadership through being a good follower, and teamwork, and his positive attitude generally matched the mood of the morning’s opening proceedings.

But some portions of Carter’s speech to the packed conference hall may have had more resonance than many of the educators in attendance would have liked. With the Enhancing Education Through Technology ed-tech grant program offered to the chopping block in President Bush’s 2007 budget proposal as part of an overall $3.2-billion in proposed education budget cuts, Carter’s words on keeping a positive attitude while growing up poor in the south were perhaps unwelcome in their relevance, if positive in their message (see: Bush: Cut $3.2B from education) .

“You can be broke,” Carter urged the crowd. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But, never be poor.” “Broke is an economic state–just ask any college student, they’ll tell you. But poor is a disabling state of mind,” he said.

Dr. David Thornburg, noted public speaker, Senior Fellow of the Congressional Institute for the Future, and author of Campfires in Cyberspace, a guide to teaching with the web, believes a poverty of spirit may exist in certain educational establishments in the U.S. in their reluctance to adopt one-to-one computing models in the United States.

Thornburg discussed his upcoming sessions with eSN. Thornburg noted that the price points on laptop computers have continued to decline in recent years, and the availability of free, or very inexpensive open source alternatives to proprietary operating systems and applications have put the one-to-one computing classroom environment within reach. Yet, the four-to-one student-to-computer ratio has remained static for the last three years. Thornburg said that he believes many educators–and even parents–feel threatened by the changes that could be brought about by student access to anytime-anywhere learning that a one-to-one program could provide.

“There is a perhaps well-placed fear among educators that if technology becomes ubiquitous, it will totally transform the practice of education,” Thornburg said.

Thornburg said, quite simply, that this possibility threatens the traditional power structure in the classroom. That threat to the traditional economy of learning, where the teacher is the keeper of knowledge, and the student the one upon whom it is bestowed, leaves educators in an uncertain space.

“They don’t want the practice of education transformed, because they’re very comfortable with it,” Thornburg said.

He also noted that many of the students who would do well in the traditional environment of school might do poorly in the more cooperative learning environment that is less dependent upon rote memorization and other learning strategies of the textbook-driven world. Difficulty among those students brings protest from parents.

At the same time, those who would do poorly in traditional settings often thrive in the collaborative, inquiry-driven, project-based learning environment enabled by anytime access to technology.

“But the possibilities offered to all students with this kind of access–we just can’t talk about that enough,” he said.

Thornburg argued that one-to-one proponents must convince resistant parents that the 21st century classroom must function by a different learning model by pointing out all the computers necessary to every element of the current business world–cell phones, computers, palms, et cetera. Those parents could then help to guide the reluctant teacher to that classroom.

In a session Wednesday, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) brought together educators with makers of different technology assessment tools to try and smooth the transition into that 21st classroom, by meeting the high education technology standards set by the institution.

“Assessing Students’ and Teachers’ Technology Skills: NETS as Benchmarks,” highlighted assessment initiatives that focus on providing quality assessment items, tasks, and resources that support ISTE’s National Education Technology Standards (NETS).

“Ready or not, the world is different,” said Christine Richman, representative for the ISTE 100, a group of ISTE corporate partners recognized by the organization for their commitment to involving educators in the improvement of education through technology.

“One assessment may work for one school, and may not work for another,” Richman said.

In an effort to maintain vendor neutrality while demonstrating the industry-wide acknowledgement of the high-quality of NETS standards, ISTE invited Certiport Inc., Learning.com, Microsoft Inc., and PBS Teacherline to demonstrate their assessment products.

The vendors offered products in teacher and student assessment, remediation, and certification for teachers and students, all based on NETS standards.

Texas Instruments Inc., maker of graphing calculators and other education products, in partnership with the television network CBS, held a session discussing its web-based educational outreach promoting the uses of mathematics to students and supporting mathematics teaching. Writers and cast members of the CBS show NUMB3RS discussed how teachers are using web-based mathematics teaching materials designed by TI to engage students through examples culled in NUMB3RS, which centers on a mathematician who solves crimes for the FBI.

“The TI educational program has shaped how writers are approaching the math used in the show,” said Andy Black, a math consultant to the writers for NUMB3RS. “It had gotten pretty esoteric before, but now we’ve begun to work to make it more accessible to kids.”

After the session, representatives from TI gave an eSN editor exclusive news on an upcoming contest that it will carry out with CBS. The “Texas Instruments Use NUMB3RS‘ Every Day for a Hollywood Get-Away” Sweepstakes will open officially on February 15. Teens and their math teachers will be offered the chance to win a trip to Hollywood, and prizes that include up to $2,500 towards college costs, and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculators. Students ages 13-19 can enter from February 15 to March 15 by logging onto cbs.com, completing registration information and providing the name of their current math teacher.

Highlights on the exhibit floor included:

GenevaLogic Inc., provider of classroom management software systems, demonstrated the next generation of its Vision6 version classroom management software for education. GenevaLogic says its software permits teachers to manage, control, and optimize the use of student computers in the classroom. GenevaLogic says Vision6 offers teachers a simple, effective way to manage, control, and optimize the use of technology to support instruction. The product supports both wired and wireless networks, and the company says the new dashboard features allow teachers to customize views all student desktops.

Questia Inc., the online library of more than 60,000 full-text books and over 1-million other publications announced its upcoming lesson plans, which the company says are original, standards-aligned materials written by qualified education professionals, and written in a standardized, searchable format that is fully integrated with Questia’s online library and digital tools.

Akuratus Corporation demonstrated its Akutrust online document retrieval system, which the company says is a secure, web-based service used to retrieve active and archived records stored in a digital format. According to Akutarus, the product is aligned to government standards for student privacy and protects records from unauthorized access and ensures confidentiality through comprehensive security.

SMART Technologies Inc, maker of interactive whiteboards for the classroom, demonstrated version 6.0 of its SynchronEyes classroom management software for the Microsoft Windows operating system. SynchronEyes software has user-friendly capabilities, allowing teachers to monitor each student’s screen individually or many students’ screens simultaneously. SMART version 6.0 offers new features and feature enhancements, including chat, game blocking, internet applications and computer blocking.

Related links:

Texas Computer Education Association, 2006
www.tcea2006.org

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
www.iste.org

Certiport Inc.
www.certiport.com

Learning.com
www.learning.com

Microsoft Inc.
http://www.microsoft.com

PBS Teacherline
www.pbs.org/teacherline

Texas Instruments Inc.
www.education.ti.com

GenevaLogic Inc.
www.genevalogic.com

Questia Inc.
www.questia.com

Akuratus Corporation
www.akuratus.com

SMART Technologies Inc.
www.smarttech.com