Technology for delivering audio, video, and other school presentations must be affordable and simple to use if it is to transform teaching and learning: That was one of the predominant themes at this year’s InfoComm conference, held June 18-20 in Las Vegas.

Nearly 35,000 educational technologists and other IT professionals attended the world’s largest audio-visual (AV) technology conference–an increase of more than 3,000 over last year’s show. And from cables and connectors to interactive whiteboards and personal response systems, the focus was on affordability and ease of use for solutions designed with teachers, students, and school district IT staff in mind.

****************************************

GET REAL-TIME NECC COVERAGE

Get a taste of NECC 2008 as it happens.

Catch eSN‘s real-time

print and video coverage. Point your browser to

where all the NECC action is:

http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/necc/

 ******************************************

For instance, the new ResponseCard Anywhere classroom response system from Turning Technologies, which has been beta-tested in about 20 K-12 districts, can be used without a projector or computer. Teachers use a receiver device to ask a question, and students use their radio frequency (RF) wireless keypads to respond. Results are displayed on the receiver unit’s LCD screen. 

The implications of this new product are encouraging for schools that do not have computers or LCD projectors in every classroom.

"It’s a huge change–it lets assessment happen anywhere,’ said Tony DeAscentis, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Teachers want to be able to use technology every day, he said–not just for an hour each day or during an allotted timeframe each week.

Creating solutions that are affordably priced helps put technology in the hands of educators and students who otherwise might not be able to experience it, company officials said.

3M Projection Systems also had its eye on affordability at InfoComm. The company showcased the SCP 712, a modular presentation system consisting of a projector, wall mount, and other components to make the system connected and interactive.

The system’s modular design allows schools to purchase different components as needed or wanted, instead of a pre-packaged bundle. An optional add-on feature called Annotation allows users to turn an ordinary dry-erase board into an interactive whiteboard using infrared technology and sensors. 3M representatives said the modular system is well suited for schools that cannot afford to buy interactive whiteboards or for those that have not yet implemented a technology plan that includes interactive boards.

Other companies displayed seemingly simple solutions that masked sophisticated technology underneath.

With technology claiming a firm spot in classrooms across the country, educators often can be overwhelmed by how to install and use it. To solve this problem, many of the products showcased at this year’s InfoComm were designed for easy, seamless use by instructors–as well as easy management by IT administrators.

Although the wireless wall panels from Crestron are geared more for a school’s IT and building infrastructure staff, the panels nonetheless illustrate how easy technology management should be, company officials said.

Crestron’s new Media Presentation Controller (MPC) connects, controls, and routes AV presentation equipment through a single application. Using any PC or other web-enabled device, school IT staff can monitor all of the devices that the MPC controls. A simple "help" function lets IT staff speak with an instructor in real time if that instructor needs help with the unit.

The company’s wireless green products, part of the Green Light family, allow for lighting and window-shade control. The systems also let IT professionals view their school’s carbon output, energy usage, energy costs, and energy savings per year based on how they have configured the system’s settings for their building.

The instant output, including energy savings, can help schools identify where they might be able to save a few dollars, potentially freeing up money for technology programs and initiatives.

Wireworks offers a single cord, the AV2000, for classroom podiums that combines audio, video, data, and control signal cables in a single connector. 

By eliminating countless different plugs and AV interface panels, educators won’t waste class time trying to figure out why all or part of their classroom technology is not working, company reps said.

Along the same lines, the Virtual Remote Control Center from 1UControl gives a teacher control over all classroom AV equipment from a single source, eliminating confusion that might occur when switching from one piece of AV equipment to another.

Extron Electronics announced new server-based software, called GlobalViewer Enterprise, for managing and supporting larger AV installations with a web browser. And SP Controls announced PixiePlus, a module that gives educators a simple, standardized control interface for projectors, monitors, or other AV devices. The interface is customizable and allows for a variety of configurations, SP said.

Vendors at the conference seemed to agree: Easy-to-use technology results in more learning opportunities in the classroom.

More news from the exhibit hall

Here’s a roundup of news from the InfoComm exhibit hall, organized by product type. (Just click each category link to view the relevant products and services.)

Acoustics & Audio

Includes information on new portable speaker and audio systems, sound amplification systems, wireless microphone systems, and more.

Cables, Connectors & Accessories

A big push at this year’s InfoComm seemed to be products designed for and around digital visual interface (DVI), which maximizes the quality of digital displays, and high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI), which is an audio/visual connector interface. HDMI connects digital AV sources such as personal computers and video-game consoles to compatible digital audio devices and video monitors.

Displays, Monitors & Digital Signage

A portable electronic screen, a new monitor that offers three-dimensional viewing without special glasses, and several digital signage solutions were on display.

Document Cameras & Digital Presenters

New devices from AVerVision, ELMO USA, and Samsung are highlighted.

Furniture, Consoles & Presentation Aids

A kit that enables schools to retrofit existing media carts to accommodate new technologies, a line of multimedia podiums, and more.

Interactive Whiteboards

New solutions from Hitachi, PolyVision, and SMART Technologies are featured.

Intercom & Communication Systems

Solutions for scheduling and broadcasting PA announcements, emergency alerts, and other one- or two-way communications over an IP network.

Media Capture, Storage & Streaming Systems

Systems for recording, storing, and playing back lectures and other presentations are spotlighted.

Projectors, Lamps & Accessories

Projectors were in full focus during InfoComm, and the debate over LCD vs. DLP technology has not abated. Companies such as BenQ, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, and Toshiba all displayed the latest in projector design. (For the latest information on LCD vs. DLP technology, see our recent Special Report on the topic.)

Video Conferencing & Collaboration Systems

New conferencing and collaboration systems from Sonic Foundry, TANDBERG, and more.

Video Editing & Production

A range of switcher panels priced and designed just for schools, and a software package for easily creating and editing videos and other presentations.