The hardest thing to quantify is buzz. Webster's defines it as "to be filled with a confused murmur." However you define this word, it was a big part of the third annual EduComm Conference in Orlando this June.
Trying to pin down the exact source of the buzz was as difficult as trying to define it. Was it the 33 K-12 sessions that helped teach attendees about everything from Podcasting to blogs to how to run distance learning and virtual schools? Was it the keynote speech of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak? Was it the vast array of products on the InfoComm show floor? Was it the crowded cocktail party where attendees mingled with other educators and received impromptu insight from company leaders?
Chances are it was all of the above. The one certainty that can be drawn from this three-day show is that it left the nearly 1,000 attendees wanting more. Eighty percent said the conference was of high or very high value to them. And even though 73 percent hadn't been to EduComm before, seven of 10 respondents said they plan to attend next year's show on June 19-21 in Anaheim, Calif.
Sixty-two percent said the sessions were highly or very highly relevant to their needs, while 72 percent placed high or very high value on the ability to network with peers at a variety of events.
"I loved seeing what's happening in other districts. It was very helpful for us as we develop our vision for technology," said Bonnie Stone, a technology specialist at the Bisbee (Ariz.) Unified School District.
"I enjoyed talking technology with colleagues from across the states and Canada. I got wonderful ideas and product knowledge to bring back to my board. A premiere conference," wrote Dana Kosowick from Rainy River District School Board in Ontario, Canada.
"Having technology and educators in one place" was the best part of the conference for Ansonia Smith Gibbs, the instructional technology coordinator in the Fairmont School District No. 89, in Lockport, Ill.
"Exposure to the latest technology being used in schools [and] hearing from teachers and principals using it," was the key part of EduComm for Beth Godett, principal of Triangle Elementary School, in Hillsborough Township (N.J.) School District.
Joseph Swing, the assistant director of MIS at the DeKalb County Schools in Decateur, Ga., said it simply: "Technology plus education equals big ideas."
If you attended this year's EduComm, look back over your notes for your own highlights. And if you didn't attend, you can still catch up by watching video of some sessions, and picking up handouts of many of the other sessions at www.DistrictAdministration.com/EduComm.
Steve Wozniak led the audience on a tour of his life, explaining in detail how he was able to nurture his love of early computers, how he came to build the earliest Apples, how he met Steve Jobs, and what he's been doing since he left Apple Computer.
Wozniak marveled at "the number of accidents in my life that led me to where I was," from teaming up with a friend to get covert access to an early computer room to run programs in the wee hours of the morning to how he learned about electronics from the first video game he saw-Pong. Wozniak admitted he is an independent learner, and he told of his drive to continually improve whatever he was doing, whether that meant running his early programs in fewer steps or making his computers with as few parts as necessary.
Hearing these tales, it's easy to see how he developed this guidance for children: "My suggestion is to work at what you're good at in life, even if it seems like just a pastime or just a hobby or just the sort of thing you do on your own time when there's no reason to do it, when there's no grade or no salary. Eventually, if you're good at it, it will have value."
In the session Going Digital District-wide Today, Randi Zwicker told how Collier County Public Schools in Naples, Fla., are now providing interactive multimedia opportunities for every student in every grade. The director of the district's instructional technology/media services explained how Collier went from its vision to its plan. He walked attendees through installation, training and implementation for devices such as ceiling-mounted projectors, document cameras and interactive whiteboards.
In the session Interactivity, Streaming Video and Podcasts, Chris Kenniburg, the Webmaster from Dearborn (Mich.) Public Schools, talked about how his district uses streaming video for live events and professional development and how both teachers and students create podcasts. You can see the results for yourself at long.dearbornschools.org/podcast.
In the session Blogs: The Next Generation, Will Richardson presented the educational implications of the emerging "read/write Web," where students and educators now have the power to publish their own online content, a phenomenon described as a turning point in our history. Richardson is president of Connective Learning and former supervisor of instructional technology in New Jersey's Hunterdon Central Regional High School. More than 70,000 new Web logs and a million posts go online each day, and Richardson shared compelling school examples and related resources. These included a continuing online collaboration project among Richardson's former high school students and Susan Monk Kidd, author of the best-selling The Secret Life of Bees. He also addressed the negative issues and cautions surrounding blogs, and established the need for a MySpace-like community specifically for schools. "We're taking online tools away, but not teaching students to use them responsibly," he said. Richardson also offered a separate session on using Real Simple Syndication technologies in schools to connect ideas and knowledge.
In the session Joyful Noise-Digital Audio Across the Curriculum, Gary Stager demonstrated powerful new low-cost and easy-to-use audio/video technologies for using streaming media applications in educational contexts. These include music composing tools such as NotePad from finale and Apple's GarageBand, and tools such as the iLife creativity suite from Apple, where learners can produce regularly scheduled broadcasts across the Internet. Stager is an adjunct professor of education at Pepperdine University in California and Editor-at-Large for District Administration. Stager made the point that students learn significantly through the editing process, so those steps should be emphasized in school media development applications. Stager also presented a separate in-depth demonstration session on using the iLife creativity suite, including iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD and iWeb.
In the session, Introducing Technology to New Teachers: Meeting the Needs of the Millennial Generation In and Out of the Classroom, both Amy Gates and Sherri Lewis of Lee's Summit (Mo.) School District talked about their district's comprehensive program to acclimate teachers to the tech tools they are expected to use. In a district where 12 percent of the teachers this year were new, and one-third of that group are first-year teachers, Gates, the supervisor of instructional technology, talked about getting new teachers up-to-speed in electronic textbooks, wireless access and online classrooms.
Getting to the key question for most attendees, two Canadian educators discussed how to close the achievement gap by using distance learning. Joan Badger of Bairdmore Public School in Manitoba and Ben Hazzard from Lambton Kent District in Ontario talked of using concept mapping, blogging and whiteboards to raise students' achievement. These educators start with small groups of students, giving them not only the tools to succeed but also the responsibility to do so.
Former District Administration columnist, and current vice president at Connections Academy, Mickey Revenaugh's session was titled Is Your District Primed for a Virtual School? She proposed 10 questions that can point a district in the virtual school direction, including asking if your district's parents want increased choice, if you are mandated to lower class sizes, if you have a significant number of students working ahead or behind grade level, and if technology is an important part of your district's approach to education.
Revenaugh also pointed out the recent growth of virtual schools, including that 32 states have K-12 e-learning in some form, that 36 percent of districts use distance learning, and that 72 percent of districts intend to increase their online courses.
EduComm was again co-located with InfoComm. The whole show fl oor was flashing, blinking, or talking; there were even a couple fog machines. Here are a few new products that stood out.
Projectors were everywhere. The EP1690 is another 16:9 screen ratio model, but it packs a powerful 2,500 lumens. It offers a built-in 3-watt speaker and comes with a remote control mouse with laser pointer. This Optoma model costs $1,690.
Toshiba's TDP-ET20 is a sleek black projector with a built-in DVD player. It offers 1,200 ANSI lumens, a 16:9 screen format, integrated 5.1 sound, and a short-throw distance to allow big pictures in small spaces. Its price is $1,399.
NOW HEAR THIS
When portable speakers are needed, the PA150 is an option. The latest in the PreresentationProline from Califone has a rechargeable 12-volt battery, 15 watts RMS of power, 16-channel selectable UHF receiver, and separate volume controls for bass and treble. Its price is $350.
In addition to controlling your A/V systems, Crestron's TPMCQM series of touchpanels have
an embedded PC platform that allows users to surf the Web and view Microsoft and Adobe files. Prices are $12,000 for the 15-inch model and $13,600 for the 17-inch screen.
CLEAR AND BRIGHT
For a nice, bright projector, check out the LX55 from Christie, which offers 5,500 lumens and a 1000:1 contrast ratio. The unit is compatible with all currently used HDTV formats and has a throw ratio that ranges from 0.8:1 through 6:1, depending on the optional lens used. It also includes a wireless remote with laser pointer. Its price is $10,995.
OOOH A GUI
If you are using Extron's MediaLink Controllers, you can now have a Graphical User Interface customized with your school's logo and color scheme. The Web-based interface allows the user to control their A/V system from a networked computer or touch-monitor, providing a secure, alternative control point to the standard push-button panel on the MediaLink unit. Pricing starts from $1,500.