The use of Web 2.0 technologies to create interactive, online social environments for networking and professional development was on full display in the exhibit hall at this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Atlanta.

Recognizing the importance of professional development in successfully integrating technology into instruction, as well as the need for “just-in-time” resources that educators can call upon at their own convenience, several companies–including Autodesk, Inspiration Software, NetSupport, Promethean, and SchoolNet–demonstrated brand-new web sites for educators (and, in some cases, students) to network with their peers, share ideas and lesson plans, and otherwise advance their understanding of these companies’ products and services.

For instance, Autodesk has launched an online community designed to enhance middle- and high-school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Teachers who join the new Autodesk Student Engineering and Design Community will have access to Autodesk’s two- and three-dimensional design software, as well as teaching and learning resources that will help them incorporate project-based learning into the classroom. Teachers also can share coursework and discuss projects and best practices with their peers to find the best ways to inspire their students, Autodesk says.

Middle- and high-school students who join the community will benefit from access to the same 3-D design software used by industry professionals, and they’ll gain general exposure to the fields of architecture, construction, mechanical engineering, industrial design, civil engineering, animation, and gaming. In addition to free student versions of Autodesk software, the community provides students with tutorials for these applications, a “getting started” area, and information about design-related college and career paths.

“Autodesk created this community to support a number of STEM initiatives happening throughout the country, such as Project Lead the Way and FIRST Robotics,” said Paul Mailhot, senior director of worldwide education programs at Autodesk. “We hope teachers will take advantage of resources on the community site to help them integrate relevant and engaging projects in the classroom. And we hope that students who explore the site will realize how exciting design and engineering can be.”

Inspiration Software, meanwhile, has introduced an online community for educators to discover and share ideas and resources for using the company’s visual learning software to develop students’ critical thinking skills across the curriculum.

Membership in the new Inspired Learning Community, created as part of the company’s celebration of its 25th anniversary, is free of charge. On the “Lesson and Ideas” pages, visitors and members can browse a continually growing library of diagrams, databases, and plots for use in different lessons across the curriculum. Members can download materials from this library, or they can upload and share their ideas for using the company’s Inspiration, Kidspiration,, and InspireData software to help their students achieve.

“For the past 25 years, educators have been inspiring us with the innovative ways that they use visual learning to help students of all ages to learn and think,” said Mona Westhaver, the company’s president and co-founder. “Now, with our new online community, we are offering educators a community where they can inspire one another.”

NetSupport, developer of the classroom control software NetSupport School, announced the release of a new online resource center that provides teachers with access to a wide range of testing content and materials that can be used within the software.

NetSupport’s new content exchange portal offers more than a thousand curriculum-based questions and resources, the company says. Participants are able to upload and download content, leave comments, rate questions, browse through available questions by topic or category, and identify useful multimedia resources supplied by other educators. All of the site’s content is available to educators free of charge.

“The testing modules are popular with teachers, because … [they] are able to provide instant feedback to students and identify any subjects that need clarification immediately,” said Jane Earp, education coordinator for NetSupport. “This new resource will give teachers access to a huge resource pool of possible test questions and deliver significant time savings when preparing classroom content.”

Promethean’s newest offering for promoting teacher effectiveness, called Promethean Learning, is an interactive professional development program that helps teachers build capacity, obtain certificates, and collaborate with their peers. Participants can focus on how to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills through the use of advanced features and techniques in Promethean’s Activclassroom solutions.

Online courses found on Promethean Learning cover topics such as basic computer skills, integrating technology, and sharing best practices. Hands-on activities throughout the courses provide immediate feedback for teachers, Promethean says.

In addition, videos and supporting materials are available anytime throughout the courses to make sure teachers have the kind of “just-in-time” training they need.

SchoolNet previewed a new product called Global Networks, a web-based portal that gives teachers an online destination where they can access several educational resources, as well as engage in social networking with other educators. Company executives described the site as an educational version of WebMD and MySpace. Its resources include education blogs; reviews, ratings, and discussion forums on topics such as the best instructional textbooks; and more.

Links:

Autodesk Student Engineering and Design Community
http://www.autodesk.com/school

Inspired Learning Community
http://www.inspiredlearningcommunity.com

NetSupport’s content exchange portal
http://content.netsupportschool.com

Promethean Learning
http://www.prometheanworld.com

SchoolNet
http://www.schoolnet.com