For five days, educators, administrators, and specialists met to explore how digital technology and new media might enhance learning. "It's about keeping education relevant to kids and society," said Marlene Nesary, the society's communication manager.
Making the case for more technology in classrooms were more than 500 exhibitors. Popular categories included learning games, visualization tools, and touch- or motion-sensitive technologies.
Think 3-D glasses are just for the movies? Texas Instruments' DLP Products division showed off a classroom projection system for teaching in 3-D. Students and teachers can view a virtual frog dissection, for example, by using 3-D glasses and projectors. A computer mouse lets students move inside the animal's anatomy without getting their hands dirty.
Katie Ryan, a spokeswoman, said DLP had sold more than three million 3-D capable projectors worldwide and was evaluating the educational outcomes.
Also presenting was the Canadian company Smart Technologies, a maker of "interactive whiteboards." These work like a hybrid of a dry-erase board, a projection screen, and a touch pad. Images projected onto the board can be written on with a special pen, erased, clicked on, and dragged around by touching the screen. Boards range in size from 48 to 94 diagonal inches.
Currently, users can only rotate images clockwise and counterclockwise. A new capability called "mixed reality," expected late next month, will allow users to spin images in three dimensions. Accompanying the image is a plastic cube whose movements are tracked by a camera. As the user moves the cube, it triggers software to move the image accordingly.
Nick Tomasello, an information technology specialist for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the technology could help PennDot draw up repair projects more quickly, by helping planners view digitized road and bridge plans from all angles.
It is unclear how much business SMART and other companies will see from schools. The conference coincides with a tough time for the Philadelphia School District as it struggles under a $629 million budget gap. Many suburban districts are also facing layoffs and program cuts. A basic Smart board costs about $1,000, with a top-of-the-line package including board, projector, and "mixed reality" camera starting around $4,000.
Systems with DLP's technology cost about $2,350 apiece, including the projector and 25 pairs of glasses. The glasses and software license could be shared across classes.
Not everyone sees the future as lying in ever-fancier technology. Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, said the key is for students to have direct access. "Our biggest tool," he said, is "we're a one-to-one laptop school." Each student is issued a laptop computer, letting all guide their own learning.
Another consideration is the educational value of new technologies, many of which are too new to have proven results. The teachers at Academy Park have not analyzed the impact of "Twiducation" on achievement. But communicating silently "is what kids are doing these days anyway, texting their friends across the lunch table," Porter said. "We're just using a mode that students are comfortable with already."
Contact staff writer Helen Shen at 215-854-4802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.