The Season for New Releases
It’s been a busy time for new education technology, with not only many new releases at two large conferences—InfoComm and NECC, both in June—but also updated or entirely new products announced in anticipation of district purchasing decisions for the new school year. But the past few months have also been unique because of the federal funds available to schools from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Despite the fact that many districts have been forced to spend stimulus dollars on short-term goals like preventing teacher layoffs, there remain many school administrators looking to spend their share of the billions available slated for technology.
Infocomm, which held its 70th anniversary conference June 17-19 in Orlando, is one of the largest audiovisual conferences in the country. The show is mainly geared toward the professional audiovisual installation market, but it also includes hundreds of teaching workshops and a large exhibit hall filled with the latest in education technology—predominantly hardware like projectors, interactive whiteboards, computers and document cameras.
In contrast, the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), is devoted entirely to education. This year’s event in Washington, D.C., was held June 28-July 1 and included speakers and sessions exploring the best ways to implement technology in classrooms, schools and districts, with some 18,500 attendees and an exhibit hall with 439 exhibitors. The products on display at NECC included hardware but also a great deal of software and online solutions, including curriculum programs and school administration resources.
Hardware: Classroom Audiovisual
The price for much school technology continues to fall, and Epson’s new PowerLite Presenter projector, available in October, is a prime example. Intended to be an all-in-one presentation tool for schools that cannot afford multiple components, it combines a high WXGA resolution, 2,500 lumens 3LCD projector with a DVD player, speaker system and microphone input into one unit for just $899. Overall, projectors continue to be popular, and a large number of new models were introduced at each conference. Manufacturers continue to come up with new ways to appeal to school users; 3LCD, for example, now emphasizes the fact that its chip technology uses 25 percent less electricity than the competition’s. Short-throw models in particular are designed almost exclusively for educators, not only because they are used in interactive whiteboards but also because they can be placed so close to the screen or wall, therefore providing a better picture in small classrooms. New short-throw models introduced this summer include Hitachi’s budget-priced CP-D10 and BenQ’s MP776 ST.
Interactive whiteboards continue to be much in demand. SMART Technologies, inventors of the segment, announced a new widescreen model and dual touch functionality, which allows two users to interact with the board simultaneously. But SMART now has more competition than ever before. Hitachi Software launched a new online community forum for users of its StarBoard models, PolyVision continues to emphasize the environmental friendliness of its Eno whiteboards, which need no electricity besides the projector and are recyclable, and Luidia released the eBeam Edge, a device that is a more affordable and portable option and that converts existing boards or other surfaces into interactive whiteboards.
Another noticeably growing segment has been classroom audio systems, a segment helped, ironically enough, by dire school funding circumstances. As schools close and teachers are laid off, class sizes grow, making it more difficult for a teacher to be heard. As a result, classroom audio systems provide a wireless microphone worn as a headset or on a lanyard, speakers installed in the ceiling or on the wall to amplify and clarify teachers’ voices throughout a classroom, and audio from sources like DVD and MP3 players. What was once a relatively small sector has practically exploded this summer, with near-simultaneous releases of many new classroom audio products, including the WCM-RF from Calypso Systems, the Flat Field speaker line from Extron, new education packages for the CRS-101 line from OWI, the A+ system from Panasonic, the AP-60 from Epson, and the ClearSound ceiling speaker from Califone. Most systems are infrared (IR) wireless, which is something of a step back in technology from most modern wireless microphones but is preferable in schools because the signals do not travel through walls, thereby preventing interference from neighboring classrooms.
As a result of the rapid growth in classroom audiovisual systems, there is a ripple effect in the industry as new infrastructure technology supporting these systems keeps pace. Examples include centralized control devices like the new ezRoom 5000 from Calypso Controls and the new TouchLink panel series from Extron, which provide control for all of the multimedia devices in a classroom—computers, projectors, DVD and MP3 players, and even screens and room lighting—from one panel. Also of note is the new CLASSPAC, the result of a unique agreement between six technology companies—Aurora Multimedia, Dimonoff, Draper, OWI, Premier Mounts and WolfVision—to provide a classroom audiovisual infrastructure for schools that includes a projector mount, screen, speaker system, connections and control devices all in one package.
Software: Curriculum, Edugames and Administration
A variety of new and updated curriculum programs were also recently released. Key Curriculum Press unveiled version 5.0 of its extremely popular high school math program The Geometer’s Sketchpad, which has new features like image editing and expanded algebraic and geometric functions. Adaptive Curriculum has expanded its interactive online lessons with new High School Math and High School Science programs. Curriculum Advantage introduced an online version of its ClassWorks instructional software, providing a more accessible way to use the program to analyze assessment data and create individualized instruction. And Lexia announced version 6 of its Reading program, which now automates many of the functions of the software, enabling students to work more independently of their teachers.
Edugames also continue to be popular. Tabula Digita, best known for its immersive and engaging Dimension M math game, introduced a new, free science game for grades 3-5 called League of Scientists that uses many of the same design features. Quantum Learning Technologies announced several large district implementations of its new simple but effective Flash-based, elementary-level reading games Skatekids Online and Ramps to Reading, and the Florida Virtual School, in partnership with 360Ed, announced its new American history course game called Conspiracy Code.
A number of updated school administrative programs were also introduced, almost entirely Web-based online applications. Pearson, the nation’s largest student information systems (SIS) developer, launched new versions of its flagship PowerSchool Premier 6, the most significant upgrade since the program’s 1997 introduction, which include improved reporting features and Google Maps integration. The company also updated its SIS designed for large urban schools, Chancery SMS 7, and released version 1.6 of its gradebook program PowerTeacher, which includes improved formative assessment tracking. Century Consultants added an ASP version of its Star_Base School Suite student information system to provide a more affordable option for smaller districts. Oncourse Systems unveiled a discipline tracker application to record and assess data on student behavior. And Norwegian learning management system developer it’s learning, whose solution consolidates all of the curriculum software and other instructional resources in a district into a single, user-friendly interface, made its American debut at NECC.
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