For advocates of educational technology, former MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child initiative is one of the most intriguing projects ever to come along, with the potential to revolutionize school computing worldwide. Now, those attending this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Diego July 5-7 will have the chance to hear from Negroponte firsthand–and try out a prototype of his $100 laptop for themselves.

“One thing we’re very excited about this year is having Nicholas Negroponte as our keynote speaker,” said Leslie Conery, conference chair.

One Laptop Per Child aims to build and market a low-cost laptop computer for students in developing nations. Negroponte says he already has requests to distribute millions of the machines–which feature a lime-green casing and will run open-source software–to poor students in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, and Nigeria. Through a partnership with the United Nations (UN) Development Programme, this distribution could extend to as many as 166 member countries.

Conery said a fully assembled version of the laptop, along with its software, will not be available in time for NECC. But conference attendees will be able to examine the casing itself–and a motherboard hooked up to a large-screen monitor will allow them to dabble with the installed software and interface.

Negroponte and his $100 laptop prototype are just two of the features of interest at this year’s NECC. Also on tap are a Digital Equity Summit, a Superintendents’ Summit, a Spanish-language strand, and more.

Hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), NECC–the largest ed-tech event in the nation–draws thousands of educators and ed-tech professionals each year with the opportunity to network and learn from their colleagues. The conference features more than 100 hands-on workshops, more than 300 concurrent sessions, and an exhibit hall with more than 400 exhibiting companies.

NECC 2006 will kick off with an opening reception on July 4, with a fireworks display over San Diego Harbor. Conference organizers hope the fireworks continue throughout the show, and they’ve lined up an all-star cast of speakers and presenters toward that end.

Opening the conference on July 5 will be keynote speaker Dewitt Jones, a long-time photographer for National Geographic and an expert on creativity. As a speaker, Jones “leaves you inspired to look at the positive things in the world,” Conery said. “We wanted to start the conference on a high note by focusing on the positives [in education]–and then move on to what needs changing, and how to go about doing that.”

Negroponte will discuss his efforts to help bridge the digital divide through his One Laptop Per Child initiative on the morning of July 6. Continuing this theme of how to get technology into the hands of every student, ISTE will host a Digital Equity Summit following Negroponte’s speech.

This five-hour summit will bring together local, state, and national education leaders to discuss digital equity issues and challenges. During the summit, attendees will gain an awareness of the critical dimensions of the digital divide, the challenges they represent, and proven solutions for each of these challenges, according to ISTE.

Also on July 6, ISTE will hold its first-ever Superintendents’ Summit at NECC. This day-long event will assemble superintendents and their IT teams to discuss the ed-tech goals and challenges facing the nation’s senior school district executives in particular. “In order to reform teaching and learning, we need to get the leadership involved,” Conery explained.

Another NECC first: Conference organizers this year are offering certain sessions in Spanish.

To recognize the unique contributions and needs of the borderlands in the United States and Mexico, ISTE has created a San Diego-Tijuana Borderland Collaboration for NECC 2006. The collaboration leverages several existing partnerships between the San Diego County Office of Education, the Mexican Ministry of Education, and the Institute of Mexicans Abroad. These groups have sponsored a number of successful initiatives to infuse technology into the lives of Mexican citizens and students.

The most notable of these initiatives is Enciclomedia, which might be the most ambitious ed-tech program worldwide. It’s a $1.8 billion project to bring projectors, interactive whiteboards, and other technologies into classrooms throughout Mexico by this fall.

This year’s NECC will offer a number of concurrent and Global Gallery sessions in Spanish, highlighting the Enciclomedia project and other topics of interest to borderland schools–such as language learning, bilingual education, and ICT curriculum in Spanish. In addition, Conery said, Negroponte’s keynote speech will be simultaneously translated into Spanish, UN-style.

One final highlight of note: ISTE is using this year’s NECC as the occasion to launch an update of its groundbreaking National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), a set of standards for defining the technology knowledge and skills that students, teachers, and administrators should be able to demonstrate.

The process of updating these standards–which first appeared in 1998–is expected to take a year, Conery said, and ISTE hopes to unveil its new set of standards at NECC 2007. The organization is convening an open NETS Refresh Forum on July 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel in San Diego, where educators are encouraged to come and offer their feedback on what the new standards should entail.

“We’d like to have broad input into the process,” said Conery. She added that ISTE polled a wide range of educators, administrators, and other ed-tech experts in drafting its first set of standards, and “that’s what helped make the original version a success.”


NECC 2006