Former astronaut Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, and New York Times technology columnist David Pogue are among the key attractions at this year’s Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference, which begins Feb. 4.

TCEA’s annual convention and exposition opens Monday at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, with the first pre-conference workshops beginning at 8 a.m. One of the largest educational technology conventions in the nation, the five-day TCEA conference last year drew in 8,500 educators, technology coordinators, campus technology specialists, and other ed-tech stakeholders from every state and at least three countries.

TCEA expects to have its biggest conference ever, and the schedule is filled with workshops, concurrent sessions, speakers, and other opportunities for educators interested in technology.

Throughout the week, TCEA 2008’s 150 fee-based workshops give attendees the opportunity to engage in hands-on professional development, made personal by providing each workshop participant a computer to work on for the duration of the session. Workshop subjects range from “Wikis in the Classroom,” to “Funding for Technology Initiatives,” to “Applied Robotics for the Classroom.”

Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 10:30 a.m., more than 300 concurrent sessions will cover the gamut of topics in educational technology, from the basics to the latest trends and emerging developments. Most sessions have room for more than 200 participants.

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, opening keynote speaker Dr. Sally Ride, former NASA shuttle astronaut and mission specialist, will officially kick off TCEA 2008. An active advocate for improved science education, Ride is president and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company that creates entertaining science programs and publications for youth, and a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.

From Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 9:30 a.m., to Friday, Feb. 8, at 11:30 a.m., the Robert Knight Exhibit Hall will feature 700 educational technology vendor exhibits. The TCEA 2008 exhibit hall promises to “have products and services to meet every need and budget,” conference organizers say.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 6 and 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., you can take a break from workshops, sessions, or exhibits and “Journey into Podcasting” at the Podcast Central Station, a free event tailored to educator who are new to podcasting. There, you can experiment with podcasting, discover the software (most of it is available free of charge), visit with veteran educators who successfully podcast, and learn how MP3 players can turn your classroom into a production studio.

And on Wednesday, Feb. 6, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and Thursday, Feb. 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., you can get first-hand, in-depth briefings on the most effective practices in educational technology at the eSchool News “Best Practices Summit,” a two-day event that is free of charge for registered TCEA attendees. Leading ed-tech companies will be on hand with key executives and educator customers who can answer your questions, share experiences, and give you practical insights into proven solutions for your ed-tech challenges.

Thursday, Feb. 7, features keynote speaker David Pogue, personal-technology columnist for the New York Times. And to close the week, educator Marco Torres will be the keynote speaker on Friday, Feb. 8. Torres, a teacher, media coach, and educational technology director for California’s San Fernando High School, is also a filmmaker and photographer and has been honored locally and internationally for his ability to empower minority students.

When it’s time to relax and unwind, TCEA 2008 promises attendees their choice of diversions. For instance, conference-goers can sample the offerings from the “Live Music Capital of the World,” take part in a TCEA golf tournament, visit the Dell Inc. factory, or explore the cultural diversity of Austin’s shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

For complete coverage of TCEA 2008, including video coverage of keynote speeches and a myriad of conference session reports, keep watching the Conference Information Center at eSchool News Online all week.

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