The Texas Computer Education Association held the second full day of its annual conference at the Austin Convention Center on Thursday, with educators attending plenty of the free sessions offered, taking in some of the featured speakers, and checking out what more than 700 vendors on the showroom floor had to offer.

“Looking at everything here,” said Phyllis Hawkins, a technology media teacher from Texas, “there is not a learning style we can’t address with technology.”

Hawkins attended sessions on digital video editing, web editing in Macromedia Dreamweaver 8, clay animation techniques, and transferring VHS video recordings to DVD formats.

For others with visual learning styles, Tony Brewer, motivational lecturer and author of Beginners’ Guide to the Internet, gave a session on classroom digital presentation technologies.

Brewer said that the availability of affordable digital cameras provides teachers with a great hook for “preparing children to utilize technology in every way.” Teachers and students, Brewer said, can incorporate their own images into assignments and classroom instructional materials for the purposes of far greater illustration and demonstration, offering a whole new range of possibilities for learning through the addition of a strong visual element.

Brewer’s presentation focused largely on how teachers could use those images with the free Microsoft photo editing tool, Photo Story 3. Brewer demonstrated how to use Photo Story to edit images for presentations, using the program’s functionality to quickly create documentary-style photo editing using pan camera techniques, voiceovers, and more.

But sometimes the learning styles of administrators and staff can be the most difficult ones to address. That’s why David Burkhart, network communications manager for Texas’s Wylie Independent School District, said in his presentation, “IP telephony: do it right the first time,” that district officials have to embrace the transition from traditional telephone network services to the much higher-functioning Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP converts analog signals of traditional telephone networks into data packets and transports them across a fiber-optic data network. The increasingly-popular, flexible, intuitive solution to a district’s telephony needs is said to lower the total cost of ownership of the telephony network.

Burkhart said VoIP permits communications managers to have greater local ownership of and control over their communications network. The solution is said to offer more features–including the tantalizing propositions of voicemail-eMail integration, drag-and-drop desktop options for assistants and secretaries, as well as the possibility of integrated video-conferencing. VoIP also reportedly permits tremendously simplified, “fix-it-from-anywhere” support options for overstretched district support staff; and a far more redundant telephony network resulting in fewer communications interferences.

The step-by-step VoIP deployment talk was meant for chief technology officers and systems administrators, and culled from Burkhart’s own experiences deploying VoIP throughout his entire district.

For officials who wish to make the switch to VoIP, Burkhart offered a few helpful tips, the first being the one mentioned above: administrators must embrace the concept of VoIP. Burkhart warned that the critical administrative buy-in will help to ease the difficulties that will inevitably arise when transforming the organization’s voice communications network, both technical and those resulting from the frustrations of faculty and staff members irritated by those technical problems.

Burkhart also pointed out that the network should be slowly deployed from building to building, and “tested, tested, tested” through a third-party VoIP service provider who can come in and make certain that the network has been properly configured by the core district support staff. He said the district should go ahead and pay the extra money to make certain that the provider will not be “priced out of business in two years by taking low-ball contracts with school districts.” Burkhart also said that it is best to use a single hardware vendor for the total solution, because “Cisco stuff works best with other Cisco stuff.”

Highlights on the exhibit floor included:

Dell Computers Inc., PC hardware solutions provider, was promoting its next generation of Dell Intelligent Classrooms–computers, technology devices, content and professional development that transform classrooms into integrated teaching and learning environments–in two curriculum-specific modules: math and science, and English, foreign language, and social sciences.

NetSupport, Inc., a network and attached hardware services and support provider, highlighted the benefits of its desktop management suite for schools. NetSupport says its software helps schools better manage and support computers on campus from the network level to the computer lab. Those include NetSupport School, a software-only classroom instruction, monitoring, and testing tool that the company says enables instructors to train students in the computer lab; and NetSupport DNA, an all-in-one IT asset management tool that NetSupport says offers hardware and software inventory, software distribution, application and web metering, query-based reporting, a help desk component and remote control functionality.

Atomic Learning has expanded its resource library with an offering dubbed Lesson Accelerators. Lesson Accelerators uses the Atomic Learning’s show-and-tell tutorial approach with project-based media lesson plans that are goal and objective driven. Each Lesson Accelerator provides descriptive information about a project, step-by-step tutorial movies using a specific software application, and a project activity guide. Projects can be extended or adapted based on the needs of the classroom. Lesson Accelerators have been incorporated into the curriculum resources section of the Atomic Learning product and are available to all Atomic Learning subscribers. Atomic Learning provides web-based software training for popular applications, plus other specialized software programs. The training is delivered through short movies that provide on-demand answers to questions.

GeeGuides, a company founded to help children gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for art, offers animated, interactive programs that are web-based and can run on desktop or handheld computers. The curriculum’s goal is to give children the tools needed to understand, interpret, and create art. Animated lessons, followed by interactive exercises to help strengthen retention and understanding of the concepts presented, help reinforce that goal. The curriculum comprises three components: sayART, seeART, and doART. In sayART, children are introduced to fundamental art principles. They explore the meaning and interpretation of specific artworks in seeART, and in doART they develop visual self-expression and put into practice the concepts they have learned so far.