I remember years when the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) was almost exclusively about hot new software products. There was always a palpable excitement in the air as companies such as Broderbund, Sunburst, Edmark, MECC, and The Learning Company wowed us with offerings that took advantage of the latest cutting-edge technologies.
June's Philadelphia-based NECC had much of the feel of the old pre-dot bomb show energy that for so many years was a hallmark of that event. Well attended and featuring a good selection of sessions and hundreds of exhibit floor displays, the show seemed reinvigorated. And yes, there are still plenty of new products out there as Managing Editor Mark Smith and Sheetal Singh report on in this month's "Back to School Product Guide," but there's been a shift in focus. As technology itself has grown up a bit, so have its uses in schools. The new products and services being rolled out today are generally more concerned with integration, how to, security, infrastructure, customization, and assessment, than "wow" factor.
And the conversations have broadened.
Beyond demos and product features, the dialogue has turned to the big picture of education today and where it's going tomorrow. Ed tech advocacy is high on everyone's radar. Groups such as ISTE and the State Education Technology Directors (SETD) are not only providing practical tools to help schools and districts keep on the upside of the digital divide (see Trend Watch) but are redoubling efforts to influence legislation.
Indeed, each of us can do something. At a NECC press conference with ISTE CEO Don Knezek, an education reporter from a major television network reminded everyone that TV crews are not out there trolling neighborhoods looking for positive stories about technology use in schools. Of course not. So maybe it's time for schools to play a larger part in making grassroots advocacy a priority. Something as simple as putting out a daily or weekly press "byte" about what is happening with technology in your school or district could make a difference. Perhaps the byte could be pushed to the desktops of education reporters at local papers, TV, and radio stations. We might even ask the media experts-students-for their thoughts on how this should be done. Better yet, why not turn over the entire project to them? I'm willing to bet this would result in some pretty creative projects.
Traditionally, it has seemed right and correct that schools be sheltered from commercial media. But in an era in which new media is becoming increasingly central to education, doesn't it make sense that we harness it to share our success stories with the "real world?"