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Thoughts from the show floor

Interactive technologies can inspire classrooms.
Interactive technologies can inspire classrooms.

Which came first…the chicken or the egg? I sometimes wonder about that when I’m in the exhibit hall at educational technology conferences like ISTE. When you look around the show floor, I wonder if I’m seeing the latest trends that educators are interested in. Or am I looking at vendor booths offering hardware, software, and services that will become more prevalent in our classrooms in the near future? Maybe it’s a mix of both…or maybe I’m just over-thinking things again as I’m prone to doing.

Not everyone makes it to the exhibit hall because they’re busy in sessions. So like a hash tag watcher on Twitter, they experience the exhibitor booths vicariously through others. When people ask me what the exhibit hall was like, I enjoy answering by mentally playing some of the fun “what if” games.

For example: “What if you had to describe the exhibit hall in one word? What would it be?”

This year, I’d have to say that my single word would be “interactive.” From interactive whiteboards to interactive projectors to student response systems to online learning management systems to software that redefines edutainment, it seemed like there were a great deal of vendors interested in helping educators engage all our students actively, and that’s a very good thing. This year it seemed like most of the big exhibitors had some kind of interactive solution.

“What if you were stranded on a desert island and had to choose three products you saw, what would they be?”

Before I respond, I want to come clean and say that these answers will not necessarily help me survive on a desert island. They will just keep me amused. These are things that I’d be interested in having, experiencing, and/or learning more about. They aren’t necessarily new products, but they always innovate, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more.

Higher Ground Bags by Shaun Jackson Design. Okay, so there are bags and there are BAGS. The thing that amazes me about Higher Ground bags is the attention to detail. I consider Apple products and packaging to be the pinnacle of design detail, but I think that Higher Ground is pretty high up there. From their lightweight, but heavily reinforced casing to the little things like laptop lift systems, these bags make me smile as I inspect them. Whether you have a laptop, netbook, or an iPad, there’s something for you at Higher Ground. They may have student ruggedness in mind, but aesthetics and functionality are never ignored.

haiku Learning Management System. We all know BlackBoard and Moodle, and there are a whole slew of other LMS options out there, but what if you could create one that was easy-to-use, beautifully designed, extremely customizable, and had Web 2.0 functionality always in mind? Luckily you don’t have to create one because haiku has already done it for you. If I had to bet on one LMS to rise above and help all our teachers and students embrace online learning and hybrid classrooms, then my money would be on haiku….the LMS with a “can do” attitude, constant tinkering, and a strong vision for the present and future.

BrainPOP. What’s not to love about cute animations, funny characters, strong curricular ties, and a thriving educator community? Teachers love BrainPOP because the animated clips are short and curricular. Kids love BrainPOP because they are engaged and amused. I imagine that being a writer for BrainPOP would be like writing for The Muppet Show or Sesame Street–fun and fulfilling because of the good it does for teaching and learning. And they have someone dressed up as Moby (the robot, not the musician)! I know I’m a geek, but I’m amused by that. My one hope for the future is that Tim, Moby, and their other characters end up in HTML5 for all our mobile devices.

There were plenty of other vendors with interesting software, hardware, and services. Although every vendor is there to sell something, by being in the exhibit hall, they’re supporting educational technology, and I salute them for that. I hope to take each and every vendor to my personal imaginary desert island sometime in the future. Thanks for helping make ISTE 2010 a success!
Ted Lai is the director of Technology and Media Services in California’s Fullerton School District.

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