This is the time of year when school officials probably find themselves asking, "If it's the summer, how come I'm so busy?" Although my job has more of a monthly schedule than an annual one, I'm wondering the same thing. June was a month with two major conferences, District Administration's own EduComm in Las Vegas and ISTE's National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia. Traveling to education shows is one of the best ways to find out the hot trends and problems in school districts today. In their own way, these two different conferences both left me with the same overall observation. But more on that later.
First, the magazine's second annual EduComm conference was a true success. Attendance more than doubled, meaning that over 1,000 educators from districts and colleges throughout the country came for the 2.5 days of sessions about IT, A/V equipment, and the convergence of both of these with education. Of course, attendees also were able to roam the enormous show floor of our partner, InfoComm, joining that show's 26,000 attendees in perusing the latest offerings from more than 700 vendors.
More than 30 speakers presented on a variety of K-12 topics at EduComm. And the good news for those who didn't come this year, or those who were in one session but wanted to find out about a second session, the show's Web site, educomm.educatorsportal.com, offers a second chance to view some selected sessions that were taped or to grab PDF handouts from other sessions. For anyone interested in attending next year's conference, save the dates of June 7-9 and be ready to join us in Orlando.
Now, onto the earlier point I mentioned. As I walked through both shows' exhibit floors, an old thought kept resurfacing. I remember when the biggest question at NECC was if anyone could draw a straight line to prove that a certain technology purchase--be it laptops, projectors or just those remote control answering devices--had improved student achievement. In the intervening three years, education's reliance on data has dramatically increased. But while this is still an important question, and indeed one many people are still trying to answer, the focus has changed. Three years ago, its purpose seemed to be to discredit technology and its place in the nation's school districts. If you can't prove it, and few could then and not many more seem able to today, the reasoning went, why should a school district spend so much money to buy this equipment?
The change that I noticed at both shows is that the burden of proof seems to be gone. While accountability is still important, this question isn't being asked to justify technology's place in schools anymore. Laptops, handhelds, projectors, whiteboards and more are now more easily accepted as tools that can improve learning.
As I asked people this question, the best answer I got was from Eric Johnson, palmOne's general manager of education. His example was this: Suppose you asked a small businessman what percentage of his business was due to e-mail. He wouldn't be able to tell you, but if you suggested taking away e-mail because he couldn't prove its importance, he would probably have you forcibly removed from his office.
The vast majority of educators, parents and board members now recognize the benefits technology can bring to classrooms. Instead of spending time proving the worth of these objects, time can now be better spent figuring out innovative ways to use them to improve students' education everywhere.