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New instructional technology for the 2011-12 school year

Toshiba is marketing its Thrive tablet as a tool for education.

New tablets that aim to challenge the iPad, software for managing mobile learning devices, and innovations in student response systems, interactive whiteboards, and other teaching tools are among the latest developments in instructional technology for the new school year. Here’s an overview of some of these recent developments.

Mobile learning tools

With mobile learning taking off in schools, a number of ed-tech companies have released products that aim to make it easier to deploy and manage a mobile learning initiative.

Apple’s iPad might have set the standard for tablet computers—and, as we recently reported, some 400 school systems are rolling out iPad programs this fall—but companies such as Toshiba and Fujitsu are trying to cut into Apple’s market share with new tablets they’re touting for education. Among the advantages of these products is their ability to play Flash video, the companies say.

The Toshiba Thrive is a 10-inch, Android-based tablet that includes a front and back camera, so educators can use it for video conferencing. The Thrive includes both a full and mini USB slot, as well as an SD card slot for transferring files. It also comes with its own file management software to facilitate this, as well as a print function.

One feature that could be attractive for students is the ability to customize the tablet’s back plate, with colors including silver, dark blue, green apple, raspberry, and lavender. Another advantage over the iPad, Toshiba said, is that users can replace the battery themselves, instead of having to ship the device back to the manufacturer for a new battery. An eight-gigabyte version sells for $399, while a 16GB version costs $429 and a 32GB model costs $499.

Fujitsu, which specializes in pen and touch computing, argues that the iPad more useful for consuming information than for creating or collaborating. Fujitsu’s Q550 tablet runs Windows 7 on an Intel Atom processor and contains built-in security, a smart card slot, and a USB slot. At $729 for a 30GB model, it’s more expensive than other tablets, but Fujitsu also sells 10, 12, and 13-inch “convertibles”—mobile devices that can convert from a netbook to a tablet form factor—with a hand strap on the back for easy writing in tablet mode.

Brainchild’s Kineo, a tablet designed specifically for elementary students, was introduced earlier this year and already is being used in 25 districts across 15 states, said Brainchild President Jeff Cameron. The Kineo comes with Brainchild’s software for practicing math and reading skills and is helping schools meet AYP, Cameron said.

Another mobile learning solution designed specifically for schools is the KUNO, from uWriteTouch. This 10.1-inch, Android-based tablet features 36GB of Flash memory (with a 4GB hard drive) and a USB slot. The KUNO’s management platform gives ed-tech leaders the ability to control all KUNO devices within the district, and educators can push apps and curriculum tools directly to the tablet.

Mobile device management

The ability to manage the devices, as schools can do easily with the KUNO, is important for any mobile learning initiative to succeed … and several companies have developed solutions that can be used with other types of mobile learning devices, too—including devices that students bring from home.

For example, Absolute Software has released an add-on service to its Absolute Manage product, which enables ed-tech directors to manage PC or Apple devices from a single console using a set of simple, automated processes. The Mobile Device Management (MDM) add-on integrates with Apple’s iOS 4 platform, allowing users to wirelessly configure, query, and even wipe or lock Apple mobile devices such as iPhones or iPads.

AirWatch’s MDM solutions, meanwhile, enable ed-tech leaders to manage a wide range of mobile devices, including Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Windows 7 devices. AirWatch just released what it calls the industry’s first HTML5-based MDM platform, making its management console even more accessible from any web-connected device, regardless of the platform or operating system, the company says. Its platform fully supports all major browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.

LanSchool Technologies—a maker of classroom-management software that lets teachers view students’ computer screens, take control of students’ desktops, and push their own screens out to students—says its recent acquisition by virtual desktop provider Stoneware Inc. will enable schools to use its software to manage mobile learning programs and “bring your own device” (BYOD) initiatives.

“Increasingly, schools want to empower students to bring their own mobile computing devices to class,” said Dana Doggett, president and founder of LanSchool, which now will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Stoneware. “With greater device management from LanSchool and the ability to create private cloud networks by Stoneware, the … BYOD movement in education can now rapidly get underway.”

With the companies’ combined solution, students can enter a classroom with their own device, join the class network, and have their device managed by LanSchool’s software, Doggett said.

LanSchool now reportedly works on the Windows 7 and iOS platforms, as well as Linux—a development that has led to a partnership between LanSchool and Vernier Software & Technology in which educators can use LanSchool’s software on Vernier’s LabQuest handheld science probes.

With this new functionality, teachers can manage all probe devices, as well as view and project any LabQuest screens, so that students can view, discuss, and interpret data in real time as experiments are conducted. As a result, science labs can become much more collaborative, according to Vernier.

For instance, if the teacher shares students’ screens with the entire class, students can see what results their peers got from the same experiment, which can spark a larger discussion. Also, teachers can monitor each student’s device and intervene discretely if they see students have gotten the wrong result.

“When I use LanSchool and Vernier’s Logger Pro software with my seventh grade students, … I give the students a data-collection challenge and project the entire classroom’s graphs as they collect scientific data in real time,” said science teacher Glen Westbroek in a press release. “My students get excited, ask questions of other students about their data, and learn from each other. The combination of LanSchool and Vernier creates a truly collaborative science classroom.”

Student response systems

As more schools are using student response systems to engage students, make lessons more interactive, and help teachers gauge their students’ understanding of the material, RM Education has introduced a new response system geared toward the youngest of students.

RM’s Easirespond uses easy-to-read symbols instead of numbers and letters for generating responses. It uses radio frequency (RF) technology with a range of more than 60 feet, so it doesn’t require a line of sight. Up to 99 Easirespond devices reportedly can be used with a single USB receiver.

A classroom kit includes 32 handsets and RM Easirespond software, which is compatible with RM’s interactive whiteboard software, RM Easiteach. Reports on student and class progress can be exported to Microsoft Excel or PDF files and then saved centrally or locally. The Easirespond joins RM’s iRespond student response system, which offers two-way RF interactive communication with a two-line display that lets teachers send scores, averages, messages, and feedback to students.

Another maker of student response systems, Promethean, has announced a new partnership with the Channel One Network that takes advantage of Promethean’s instructional technology to enhance Channel One’s content. The collaboration uses Promethean’s ActiVote and ActivExpression devices to make Channel One’s current-events news program more interactive for students.

The new service, called Channel One News InterActiv, is a daily news program produced in partnership with CBS News, delivered via Promethean ActivBoards, and enhanced with student response systems and other interactive tools. Questions mixed in with the Channel One content poll students’ opinions on issues of the day and check their understanding of key concepts.

SMART Technologies has introduced new student response software, called SMART Response VE, that enables students to log in to assessments from any internet-enabled device, including tablets, smart phones, or laptops. Students can access teacher-created assessments, respond to questions, and receive immediate feedback with whatever device they already have. The software integrates seamlessly with SMART’s Notebook learning software, and it’s available on an annual subscription basis.

In addition, SMART has released an instructional technology management program called SMART Vantage, which helps administrators and ed-tech directors understand and manage how SMART Board interactive whiteboards and projectors are being used in classrooms. By logging into a web-based interface, instructional technology leaders can view information about various aspects of ed-tech use in individual classrooms or throughout schools and districts. This information can be used to reduce operating costs and make more informed decisions about professional development needs, SMART says.

Turning Technologies also offers student response software, called TurningPoint Anywhere, that can be used with any device students already have. But the company’s latest innovation is a one-ounce, credit-card size device that teachers can use to run their presentations and elicit student responses from anywhere in the room.

At $50, the PresenterCard is much less expensive than a tablet, slate, or other mobile device. It features eight buttons—start/stop, back, forward, show/hide, channel, and three programmable buttons—and includes a small handle for a lanyard, so it can be worn around the teacher’s neck.

If teachers prefer to run their presentations and control the TurningPoint software from their own iOS mobile device, such as an iPhone or iPad, Turning Technologies now offers a free app from the Apple store that enables them to do this.

Other new presentation tools

Through a partnership with Copernicus Education Products, Epson this past spring began selling a Copernicus mount that can attach a projector to a table. Now, Epson has bundled this table mount with its BrightLink 455Wi ultra short-throw interactive projector to turn almost any tabletop into an interactive surface, the company says.

With the included table mount, the BrightLink 455Wi creates an interactive space up to 60 inches diagonally and allows for collaborative working environments around a table, while providing greater accessibility for younger students or those using wheelchairs. The interactive tabletop also has applications for architecture, art, design, and engineering classes, Epson says.

Other companies, such as SMART Technologies, offer interactive tabletop surfaces that cost a few thousand dollars. Priced at $1,699 through Epson’s Brighter Futures program for schools, the combination of the Copernicus mount and Epson projector offers a more cost-effective way to create an interactive tabletop than these other products; schools that already own BrightLink 455Wi projectors can purchase the Copernicus table mount separately for $129 through Epson’s Brighter Futures program.

As part of its line of education products, which include durable laptops, monitors, large-format commercial displays, and reliable printers, Samsung also features a 65-inch touch-screen interactive whiteboard with an LCD display, the 650TS. Its advanced optical sensor technology enables touch-sensitivity all the way to the edges of the screen, Samsung says.

The 650TS features 1,920 by 1,080p full HD resolution, a high (510-nits) brightness level, and a 5,000-to-1 contrast ratio, so students can view images on the board even in brightly lit classrooms. Glare and eye fatigue are minimized by an anti-reflective coating over tempered glass, Samsung says—and with a wide viewing angle of up to 178 degrees, the 650TS ensures that students can see the board from any seat in the classroom.

PolyVision has announced new products designed to complement its eno interactive whiteboard. A new “digital visualizer,” called fuse, combines a high-resolution document camera, web camera, and scanner in a single, compact solution. Fuse’s patented TrueSnap technology can automatically rotate documents, eliminate the bend caused by book bindings, and provide instant high-contrast photocopies with one press of a button on the user-friendly control panel, PolyVision says. And PolyVision’s new eno play is an amplifier and sound system that can install inside the eno board, with no additional wires or speakers necessary to deliver rich audio throughout a classroom.

At recent ed-tech conferences, BenQ has displayed a four-by-12-foot interactive whiteboard system for large meeting rooms or media centers. The system consists of three interactive projectors from BenQ, as well as wall mounts, an interactive pen, and software to tie the images all together. For about $10,000, schools can turn a 4×12 surface into a giant interactive screen, the company says.

Although that might be too expensive for many schools, BenQ also sells 3D-ready projectors for as little as $299 for 2,500 lumens and SVGA resolution. BenQ’s ultra short-throw projectors use a flat mirror as opposed to a spherical one, the company says—for a crisper picture quality around the edges of the image.

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