Barely more than a week after business-to-business information company 1105 Media Inc. of Chatsworth, Calif., announced that it had acquired Florida Educational Technology Corp.–the long-time producer of the annual Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC)–this year’s FETC kicked off at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando Jan. 24.
Despite the announced change in ownership, it was business as usual for the teachers, administrators, and educational technology experts who attended this year’s conference. FETC 2007 featured eight keynote speeches; more than 200 concurrent sessions demonstrating how ed-tech products, applications, and best practices can be used in the classroom; and an exhibit hall showcasing the products of more than 400 ed-tech companies.
Though FETC’s change in ownership might not have registered with attendees, the theme of change itself–changing the world, changing technologies, and changing expectations for today’s students–resonated throughout the three-day event.
Science Guy to educators: ‘Change the world’
FETC 2007 began with an ambitious challenge from keynote speaker Bill Nye to conference participants: “Change the world.”
Best known for his work on the television program Bill Nye the Science Guy, which earned him seven Emmy Awards, Nye also has written four books. He is the host of two currently running television series: The 100 Greatest Discoveries, which airs on the Science Channel, and The Eyes of Nye, which airs on PBS stations.
“The next decade is going to change the world, and we’re all going to be here for it,” Nye said, addressing the audience in his trademark blazer and bowtie.
Nye discussed how his father’s fascination with sundials inspired his own interest in how science affects everyday phenomena, then linked his own personal interests and experiences with FETC’s mission–to promote educational technology.
Calling the essence of science “the joy of discovery,” Nye discussed recent discoveries on the planet Mars and related them to today’s science education. “If life is discovered on Mars, it will have been by a team of people educated by public schools, and that’s a celebration of educational technology,” he said.
Nye also discussed the issue of global warming and the fact that some influential political activists and others in leadership roles do not believe it to be a problem.
“We are facing a serious business here on Earth; we are facing a very serious future unless we get on it,” he warned. “This is where we, as educators, must change the world.”
President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, designed to increase the number of scientists, technical workers, and qualified math and science teachers in the United States, should be a motivation to educators, Nye said.
“That’s what we need–you have to change the world,” Nye said, continuing his theme of change. He then described several different scientific problems and their potential solutions, emphasizing that through education, the nation’s students might come up with the answers to some of today’s most pressing questions.
“One hundred years ago we were riding horses to work, but now we’ve changed and we have cars,” he said. “In another hundred years we can change again, and that is up to us as educators, to make our students realize that [science] is a worthy pursuit.”
Three skills students need to be globally competitive
Day Two of the conference opened with several simultaneous keynote sessions on topics such as global competitiveness and combining creativity and technology.
One of the keynotes, from Alan November, an internationally recognized ed-tech leader and consultant, focused on how to prepare U.S. students to compete and succeed in an increasingly global economy.
“Are we producing children who are globally competitive?” November asked the audience. “The answer is no. Until we sort out what it means to be globally competitive … the nation will fail.”
The key to using technology in the classroom, November said, is not to train teachers to use it, but to train them on how to incorporate that technology creatively into lessons in engaging and stimulating ways. Additionally, students should be able to connect with classrooms around the world, to boost a global perspective on learning.
“The real staff development problem in K-12 is not teaching teachers technology, it’s teaching them to redesign the assignments they give students to be more rigorous and demanding,” November said.
“Our standards are too low,” he added. “Anyone on the planet, who is self-disciplined and can learn online, can get an education.”
November emphasized three skills needed to turn the nation’s classrooms into places of effective digital learning. The first, he said, is to teach students to deal with massive amounts of information.
“We tend not to do this, and tend to give children only a little bit of information at a time, in the right order, to take the next test,” he said.
The second essential skill requires every classroom to become a global communication center, with a more globalized curriculum.
“Teach children to work with people around the world, and establish a network of people you tap to make your students’ learning experiences more effective,” he urged attendees. “If every classroom were to connect students around the world, not only will we teach content, but [also] social protocol and how to work in teams, and [how to respect] other viewpoints. We’re spending too much time teaching teachers technical stuff and not enough on the creative application of the technical stuff.”
The third skill today’s students need is self-direction.
“The real change in the global economy isn’t that you get a laptop or an MP3 [player], it’s that you don’t have a boss telling you what to do,” he said. “If one person freezes up when they don’t know what to do and someone else is self-directed, that self-directed person is more valuable. We here have a culture that creates dependency; we teach kids how to be taught, and we need to teach them how to organize their own learning.”
November suggested ridding schools of planning committees, and turning those groups into global competitiveness committees. The real focus should not be to plan for technology, he said, but to plan for students who can contribute something to the world.
Teachers can reach students creatively by tapping into technologies that students are already using. Use podcasts to teach algebra, or use MySpace to teach social responsibility and implications, November suggested.
“We must teach our teachers to think globally, to connect content from other countries across the curriculum,” he said. “Everyone in the world does not love us–they don’t. If we don’t teach empathy to understand the position of other people, I don’t think it’s going to get better. We have got to teach empathy.”
He concluded: “The real revolution’s not technology, it’s the fantastic management of information and relationships. That’s why we’ve got to stop planning for technology.”
‘Cognition … has changed dramatically’
The third and final day of FETC 2007 featured talks on 21st-century learning, how to ensure that technology adds value to classroom learning, and a session from Chris Dede about new possibilities created by handheld devices.
Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, discussed how wireless mobile devices are going to change things in education and open up interesting opportunities.
“We are living in a very interesting time in the history of education,” Dede said. Several important things are happening at once to change education, he noted.
For one thing, “the knowledge and skills that society wants from our graduates are shifting,” he said. The U.S. now has a global, knowledge-based economy that many people–such as baby boomers–struggle with, because they learned different professional skills growing up.
“Technologies are also changing the kinds of methods we have in teaching and learning,” Dede said, referring to how technology can augment curriculum.
These same technologies change the characteristics of students, and the technology that students use outside of the classroom affects their personal expression and creativity inside the classroom.
“These three trends are not discrete from one another; they’re quite interrelated,” he said. “It’s ironic that what kids do in their personal lives looks more like 21st-century work than what we do in our classrooms.”
Dede noted that “technologies are changing rapidly–the level of devices like cell phones, the applications that run on these devices, the media that are created, and the vendors that glue all the media together. Whatever news source you use, on any given day, you can find a story about a dramatic change in at least one of these four levels.”
He acknowledged that the handheld technologies he was referring to–cell phones and PDAs, for example–are not mature in any sense, but he said they are changing rapidly.
He also highlighted a few themes to give educators some context when thinking about mobile wireless devices and how they can be used in education.
First, the definition of “information technology” keeps changing, he said. It has encompassed everything from number crunching to communication. Fifteen years ago, it meant something different than it does today–and “we have every reason to believe, during the lifetimes of our students, that this definition will probably change again,” he said.
Second, “cognition–thinking–has changed dramatically, because now it’s distributed,” Dede said. “Thinking still takes place inside our minds, but now it’s also distributed [among] people and tools. We work with things like graphing programs that do our thinking for us. Work now takes place largely through teams, where each person does part of the work–and not just in one office, but across the world in virtual workplaces.”
This is part of a larger trend that could be termed “distributed learning,” Dede said.
When it comes to using wireless mobile devices in schools, he said, “it’s a matter of asking, ‘What is this [technology, and] how can we use it?'”
For Dede and a team of researchers at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, one answer to this question can be found in an innovative curriculum project that uses “augmented reality” to teach students math and literacy skills (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6817).
The project involves teams of students gathering data on handheld computers to explain why aliens have landed, and in the process students “interview” virtual characters they encounter at certain GPS hot spots. Dede said the project holds great potential for engaging students and teaching high-level skills.
“It is more game-like” than a traditional classroom project, he acknowledged. “We’re trying to tap into that pop culture and what students will be interested in.”
In the keynotes and concurrent sessions, change was at the heart of the discussion, but outwardly FETC 2007 maintained its accustomed look and feel. Under new ownership, change is inevitable for the venerable conference itself. How Florida educators will greet the transformation is something that won’t be known for at least another year.
Chris Dede’s web page
News from the FETC exhibit hall
Here’s a look at some of the news to come out of the exhibit hall at this year’s Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando.
Hardware and peripherals
Even as Michael Dell in Round Rock, Texas, was preparing to reclaim control as CEO of his namesake company, hardware and services provider Dell Inc. discussed its upcoming initiatives and activities for education. The company said it is committed to ensuring that entire schools and districts, and not just select departments, are outfitted with the right technology solutions to ensure that students, teachers, and school personnel have the tools they need to succeed.
Hewlett-Packard Co. , the hardware manufacturer that makes everything from graphing calculators and printers to laptops and tablet PCs, was at FETC to reaffirm its commitment to the education sector. In meetings with reporters, company executives said HP, which recently overtook Dell as the world’s No.1 computer manufacturer, plans on making a significant investment in building up the education sector of its business, devoting time and resources to creating devices–including laptop computers and other components–with the needs of schools in mind. Though the plan is still in its infancy, Joel Coombs, HP’s new director of education, said schools can expect to see more movement from HP in the education sector soon.
American Education Corp.
(AEC) announced a new partnership with Encyclopedia Britannica. Through this partnership, Encyclopedia Britannica will provide interactive content and media from its Britannica Online Learning School Edition to support lessons in AEC’s A+LS (A+nywhere Learning System) courseware, the companies said.
Apex Learning, a publisher of digital curriculum and Advanced Placement courses for secondary schools, announced the expansion of its course catalog for the 2007-08 school year. Aiming to provide a full suite of internet educational resources for use in online charter and traditional brick-and-mortar schools, the company now offers standards-based curricula for a range of disciplines, including math, science, English, social studies, and world languages. Executives say the new offerings give Apex a course selection capable of meeting the graduation requirements of most states. “School administrators and teachers need innovative and effective strategies to improve high school graduation rates,” said Cheryl Vedoe, chief executive officer of Apex Learning, in a statement. “With our expanded course offering, Apex Learning empowers school districts to keep students on track for graduation with comprehensive digital curriculum solutions for credit recovery, intervention, remediation, and alternative school programs.”
AutoSkill announced the launch of a SpanishTutor module for its award-winning Academy of Math intervention software. Designed for struggling Spanish-speaking English Language Learners (ELL) in elementary, middle, and high school, this new offering was created to meet a rising demand for educational resources devoted to teaching ELL students. “Some students are behind in math, not because of poor math skills, but because they are not able to read and understand the tutorials and instruction,” said Kari Simpson-Anderson, director of product management at AutoSkill. “We’re providing Hispanic students with the language support they need to tackle math skills. The feedback from teachers has been overwhelming–they love this product because it allows students to focus on the math, not the language barrier.” SpanishTutor for Academy of Math is an optional instructional module that provides tutorials, assistance, and motivational elements in Spanish, reportedly allowing students to achieve permanent gains in math skills with 25 to 30 minutes of training, three to five times per week. A similar SpanishTutor module is available for AutoSkill’s Academy of Reading software.
FableVision announced that it has been selected by Maryland Public Television (MPT) as the developer of an online math and literacy game focusing on pre-algebra. FableVision is collaborating with MPT and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to produce the curriculum-focused software game, which targets upper-elementary and middle-school students. FableVision also announced that its online vocabulary program, Get A Clue, has been selected by Apple Inc. for inclusion in the new Apple Digital Learning Series.
GenevaLogic unveiled three new product bundles designed to give teachers more control over how technology is used in their classrooms. Called the Vision Class Kit, the Vision School Kit, and the Vision School Kit Plus, these three new resources combine the company’s flagship Vision6 classroom-management software with plug-ins and accessories designed to meet the needs of teachers in a variety of learning environments. Using Vision6, teachers can lock down and control students’ desktops remotely, keeping students on task and monitoring their work individually to provide targeted instruction, the company says. By combining Vision6 with other applications, such as GenevaLogic’s App-Control and Surf-Lock2, teachers also have the ability to launch applications remotely during demonstrations and to shut off or enable internet access classroom-wide with the click of a button.
Interwrite Learning, the new company from GTCO CalComp, was launched at the show. Interwrite Learning will focus exclusively on serving the needs of the education market and will manage and sell GTCO CalComps existing interactive classroom solutions. The company demonstrated its latest version of Interwrite Workspace Software version 3.0 for the Macintosh OS. Designed for use with the company’s suite of classroom learning tools, including its Interwrite Pad, Interwrite Panel, and both the original and new wide-format Interwrite Board interactive whiteboards, the program lets Mac users collect student feedback and administer in-class assessments. “With Interwrite 3.0 Workspace Software, we have continued to provide our Mac users with the tools to create exciting, interactive lessons,” said Rob Meissner, vice president of marketing. “We’re especially pleased to offer this new version to our Mac teachers, as it will allow them to use Interwrite 3.0 Workspace Software when integrating our popular student response system–Interwrite PRS–into their lessons.”
HM Rivergroup, a newly formed Irish company, announced that it has completed its acquisitions of Houghton-Mifflin Co. and Riverdeep Inc. The company is now to be known as Houghton Mifflin Riverdeep Group PLC, with its world headquarters in Dublin and its U.S. headquarters in Boston.
Knowledge Adventure has released a school version of its Books By You software. Designed for students in grades three and up, the interactive program enables students to write and publish their own books. Featuring award-winning actor and reading advocate John Lithgow, Books By You is designed to challenge motivated students while encouraging reluctant learners to explore the creative process. The software lets students experience firsthand each step of the book-writing process, from creating a manuscript to designing a cover and choosing artwork, to printing and selling the book. Knowledge Adventure also has released an updated version of its Kid Works Deluxe creative reading and writing software. Described as an “all-in-one publishing tool,” Kid Works Deluxe combines a word processor and paint program to help elementary-age students produce their own media-rich stories. “Kid Works Deluxe has been a staple software program in elementary schools for 10 years,” said David Blumstein, chief executive officer for Knowledge Adventure. “It has been many years since the program has undergone a major revision, and we felt it was time to take advantage of the new technologies to make this program even better.”
LanSchool Technologies recently announced that the Austin Independent School District in Texas will deploy its LanSchool v6.5 classroom-management solution district-wide. The product, which uses a broadcasting technology to give teachers complete remote control over individual student desktops, is designed to help instructors keep students on task, while making better use of the school system’s investment in technology. “After using several classroom-management solutions over many years and seeing additional need and associated cost, we decided on a district-wide deployment benefiting all of the teachers in the district with better control over their classroom technology environment,” said Shlomi Harif, director of network systems and support for Austin ISD. “LanSchool helps the teachers leverage our technology investments to improve learning in the classroom.” LanSchool also said it has instituted a new “Zero Bug” policy: If a customer discovers a bug that cannot be fixed via a telephone or eMail consultation, LanSchool will fly a product technician to the district to fix the problem in person.
LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the school division of LeapFrog Enterprises, introduced a new version of its Literacy Center, which provides targeted instruction for English-language learners and new tools for managing the instruction of special-education students. The new version includes interactive books with Spanish language support, new teacher resources for multi-language classrooms, and 500 new activities designed for students learning English. The program also contains an expanded version of the company’s Link to Lessons instructional management system, giving teachers the ability to plan individualized lessons with Literacy Center curriculum.
Learning.com announced that James Kuhr has joined its management team as vice president of marketing and product management. He will oversee Learning.com’s continued momentum as a provider of web-enhanced instruction. Kuhr will manage the company’s expansion into new education subject areas through the development of new products and will champion its efforts to build awareness and visibility, the company said.
Learning Resources announced its acquisition of California-based Educational Insights. A maker of educational resources and hands-on manipulatives for the classroom, the combined company showcased its new Radius Audio Learning System, a CD-based audio device for teaching a range of subjects, including reading, science, and English as a second language. To use Radius, students insert one of the company’s educational CDs and scan one of the accompanying cards. Step-by-step audio instructions guide students through a variety of activities, and an interactive audio feature provides immediate feedback for self-checking and reinforcement. Radius components, which are sold separately, include Radius Interactive Math Kits for grades 1-2, Radius Interactive Science Kits for grades 35, Radius Reading Strategy Kits for grades 3-5, Radius CD Card Sets for phonics and reading for grades preK-3, and Radius CD Card Sets for English-language learners. Each Radius Card Set reportedly is correlated with state, national, and provincial standards.
The nonprofit MIND Institute, an organization dedicated to educational and brain research, has partnered with electronics giant and musical instrument manufacturer Yamaha Corp. of America to promote its ST Math+Music curriculum. MIND says its curriculum, designed for students in grades K-5, complements Yamaha’s Music in Education system, a music-education tool that uses a combination of computer-based math software and a piano keyboard. More than 2,700 elementary and middle-school schools reportedly use Yamaha’s program. Executives from the two firms hope the partnership will help students apply the cognitive skills learned during music training to the core academic subject of mathematics.
Pearson Digital Learning has released two web-based solutions for helping English-language learners achieve required levels of English proficiency and meet the accountability mandates of NCLB. Following the company’s acquisition of ELLIS Inc. in June, Pearson Digital Learning has created newly enhanced and updated versions of the ELLIS English-language learning software: ELLIS Essentials Version 2.6 for the elementary grades, and ELLIS Academic Version 5.0 for middle school, high school, and adult learners. Based on more than 30 years’ research on computer-assisted language learning, the ELLIS solutions use the Watch-Learn-Practice-Play-Perform method that closely follows the natural pattern of language acquisition, the company said. Through videos that depict real-life situations, as well as embedded assessment and reporting functionality, ELLIS reportedly provides self-paced lessons and unlimited opportunities to practice, with immediate feedback and results measurement.
TeachingBooks.net, an online reading resource that connects students and teachers with accomplished authors and children’s book writers, demonstrated new features available as part of its subscription-based web service. The latest version of the product contains dozens of video interviews with authors, as well as special presentations designed to spark children’s interest in writing. A new audio pronunciation tool lets students hear the authors pronounce their names. Plus, an expanded series of book guides provides teachers with additional resources and activities for teaching featured texts in their classrooms. Other features include an online library of more than 1,600 book readings, a link library connecting students and teachers to web sites created and run by their favorite authors, and an Educator’s Center that includes several thematic booklists for matching texts with different learning units and lesson plans.
Valiant USA, a maker of low-cost interactive robotics solutions for schools, unveiled the Roamer-Too. Following up on the success of its original Roamer product, the Roamer-Too is a new generation of educational robot that combines the latest advances in robotics technology with artificial intelligence and educational theory to provide a classroom solution that is not only fun for students, but helps them learn, too, Valiant says. There are five robots in the Roamer-Too line, designed for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Each robot comes equipped to perform certain functions and display a range of behaviors. For example, in the younger grades, the robots come with interchangeable keypads that depict certain numbers, figures, or symbols. Teachers can use the robots to teach certain mathematical concepts or other curriculum topics, Valiant says. At higher grade levels, the robots make the leap from an educational technology tool to one for technology education, serving as a model on which to teach such technology-oriented skills as basic programming and mechanical engineering.
Assessment and data management
aal (Administrative Assistants Ltd.) announced that both the Brant Haldiman Norfolk Catholic District School Board and the Baltimore City Public Schools have successfully implemented its student information software, eSIS. The company also introduced hoopaa, an internet parental control system that helps parents monitor their children’s activities while online.
Discovery Education said it’s expanding access to its ThinkLink Assessment suite to schools in 21 states and Washington, D.C. The web-based service, which had been available in eight states, is designed to help educators improve student achievement through predictive analysis. Using the ThinkLink model, the company says, schools can leverage customizable metrics and analyses to gauge how students will perform on important statewide exams. Armed with that information, teachers can target their instruction to ensure that individual students have the knowledge they need to achieve No Child Left Behind (NCLB) compliance. In the 2004-05 school year, 92 percent of ThinkLink schools maintained or improved Adequate Yearly Progress status as required by NCLB, the company claims. Discovery Education also