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ISTE 2013 – From the Exhibit Floor

June 26, 2013

Some notes from the Exhibit Floor, or from other affiliates. I had a specific handful of exhibitors that I specifically wanted to talk to, but I wandered the floor for a little while too. As I wandered, any exhibitors that reached out or came up to me to talk – well, I gave them my time and checked out their booth, and in some cases learned some interesting things! But I walked by many, many booths where the staff were busy working on their computers and didn’t seem to be interested in engaging in conversation with me. I guess I think the most successful exhibitors, regardless of the product they are promoting, are the ones who made the effort to get out and speak to attendees.

We are a Promethean district – all of our interactive whiteboards, and other classroom response systems are from Promethean. There are a number of areas that I have not been impressed with Promethean, but I had an opportunity to participate in a few conversations with their staff and a quick session on their upcoming products and demonstrations.

I have to tell you, I was impressed. (I know, strange, eh?) I think with some of the things that Promethean is working on, will literally catapult them FAR ahead of SMART and the other interactive whiteboard and classroom enhancement vendors. FAR ahead. Their upcoming products will take advantage of any device the student may have, and give teachers an enormous amount of flexibility in how they incorporate them into their classrooms. One of the complaints we have had is how their classroom response systems work, and how complicated they are to use. This complaint is going to seem like a distant memory very soon.

For the first time, I am extremely excited about the potential of the Promethean system within our School Division for the foreseeable future. I wish I could write about the things that I saw in more detail, but I promised I wouldn’t. But I have to say, even though some of the products were in an Alpha stage – there were no glitches whatsoever. Everything was very, very smooth.

By the way, point of great interest, a good friend of mine, who worked for SMART for about 17 years, who, in my opinion, is part of the reason that the vast majority of interactive whiteboards in Alberta are SMART products, was hired by Promethean the day before the conference started. Having him on board, in addition to the amazing product line-up Promethean has in the queue, should be amazing!

Okay, so this was really entertaining. SMART chose to have it’s own SMART Classroom setup in a different part of the convention centre from the main exhibit hall. They literally had no staff or product in the exhibition hall whatsoever. With the exception of a small amount of floor space with some signs on the ground (that looked like gravestones) with phrases on them.

This was an Epic Fail. EPIC FAIL (had to write it twice because I think it was a terrible move)

Promethean has a massive presence, excellent number of staff, multiple presentations happening all the time – you knew they were there and there in a big way. But SMART, unless you knew where to find them, or you specifically went to look for them, you didn’t see them at all.

Brutal lack of marketing at the biggest show in North America.

I love this company! They are super creative and a tonne of fun! Last year they brought a decked out retro Boler trailer to their booth. They have a very unique and specific product line – essentially foam-like balls connected with elastics, that you attach to the corners of your iPad device, so if it gets dropped, it will survive. They also make some soft cases which double as stands. For about $35 you can make a very nice looking package that unlike the other manufacturers, looks very appealing to everyone, and yet protects your iPad like crazy. When I get back, I’m going to order a couple of sets so we can see how they work in our schools instead of the cases we are currently using.

think HelpDesk
One of the areas I am always interested in is HelpDesk Software – that is packages that track helpdesk or ticketing requests as well as asset management. Good software is easy to use by the end user, but powerful enough that we can get real data out of it to help with decision making.

think HelpDesk is a software package developed by a boutique technology company to use in house, that was so well received, they’ve started marketing it to external customers. It is a hosted-only web-based solution. It has been on the marked for 15 years and is priced based on a per school basis, I think it was $8 per month per school, regardless of number of users. Unfortunately at the show they just had PowerPoint slides, and you couldn’t play with the software directly, however they are able to setup a demo account to try out. I think we’ll take a look in the Summer to use as a comparison. Their customizable reports are non-existent right now, but the canned reports are excellent. They are expecting to release a new version in the near future with vastly enhanced reporting.

GroupLink everything HelpDesk
everything HelpDesk is another strong player in the web-based ticketing world. Offering both on-premise and hosted solutions they have a very powerful product. Easily customizable with a simple interface. One of the features I like is the ability to run reports based on the model of an asset. Licensing is based on the number of “tech” users on the system.

They have an online demo site setup that we will also have to try out and play with this Summer.

I first heard about PaperCut from a friend of mine who has done technical support for some small schools and currently works in Grand Prairie. PaperCut is a software solution to allow for Follow-Me-type printing, print metering and print re-routing. We use a competing package right now, but the PaperCut system intrigues me. Besides the normal reporting, automatic reporting, enforcing of print quotas, this also does print re-routing. That is, if a user sends a big job to a low-volume printer instead of a mid/high volume printer, it can automatically re-direct that print job, and alert the user at the same time. This has intriguing possibilities, although I can also see if it isn’t rolled out properly, it could cause a lot of grief for our users too.

musicfirst was not on the exhibition floor. In fact they are relatively new. However I learned about them from the ISTE Special Interest Group (SIG) music. This software is music notation, but it is web-based online software – Brilliant! So there is nothing to be installed on the workstations for students, and because it’s web-based, they can also log in and use it from home. The guys running the SIG booth were very very impressed. (And they are classroom teachers not associated with the company). This definitely a check this out software package. No indication of the pricing, but indications suggest it’s very economical.

TIES Superintendents Technology Leadership Academy
TIES in partnership with CoSN puts on a series of seminars throughout the calendar year for Superintendents and their teams. The materials are available to any CoSN member at no cost. TIES puts on a session each month, usually about a day. The first half of the day is typically for Superintendents, and the second half includes their team. The goal is to help Superintendents understand more about the technology, how it should be budgeted for, how decision making processes need to be made, how it is similar and different to other areas of the school jurisdiction.

For TIES they had been trying to involve Superintendents for years, by offering free conference registrations, but that was only getting a handful involved. Their first conference after starting these sessions got 126 superintendents, and the next year their overall attendance nearly doubled, as superintendents brought their teams.

This is a fantastic opportunity that ATLE should take a very serious look at.

Oh boy! I had many opportunities to interact with our neighbours from Australia over the course of the ISTE conference. They were a very fun group to be with, very interested in partnerships, making friends, and having fun. Met a number of GREAT people, some of whom we’d been sharing with over Twitter, but never met.

They have a big conference every two years, similar in size to ATLE’s Convergence conference. The next one is in September 2014, and they have invited anyone who can come. It looks like an extremely useful conference, and if there is budget, we may seriously look at it.

Lock’n’Charge FUYL Cells
As soon as I saw this product, my first thought was “I have to order one to try it out.” I’ll insert a picture, but the brief description is it’s like a stand-a-lone locker, with 15 horizontal spots. A student would choose an empty one, put in their device and plug it in to be charged, then close the door, and enter a four digit code. Now it’s locked until they come back and use their code, or until an administrator uses a physical override key. The lock is digital and as soon as you open one, it clears the code. Works very similar to a hotel safe.

So the theory is, a student who needs to charge a device, can put it in here, securely lock it, and then return later to pick it up, without having to worry about someone else taking their device or unplugging it. Absolutely ingenious! It is exactly the product I was looking for for Crowther Memorial, but I think it would also be awesome in Strathmore High, Drumheller Valley, and perhaps a few other locations. It’s available from Ben Evered at Software4Schools. Will be calling him on Friday and find out how soon I can get one.

This is the de-facto standard for online borrowing of e-books. This fully hosted solution has been around for a few years, and schools or school divisions purchase a number of books through them, and the books are made available to the students on ANY device, even just through a web-browser. They can be signed out for a period of time, and they are automatically checked back in when the time period expires. There are two cost points for this system. One is for the service itself, and the other is for the books. (You own the books, but unless you are using the service, you can’t really access them)

Marigold Library System uses this in all of their public libraries. Jen Young, one of our crack librarians has been looking into this for some time, and has currently started a partnership with the Strathmore Municipal Library to use their OverDrive system in the Fall. Pending how that works out, we may take a look at putting our own OverDrive in.

BrainHive is a relative newcomer to the e-book collection management arena. I first talked with them last year, when I learned of their pricing model. Unlike the other vendors, they make their entire collection available to you, and charge $1 per title checked out. So you don’t have to buy the books first, you can simply use theirs. Should you find that there are titles that are very popular with your students, you can purchase the title, and have unlimited check-outs of that title.

I asked why I hadn’t heard from them, since we talked last year – and they were very embarrassed until they discovered we were in Canada, and they are not licensed, nor have agreements with publishers to do business in Canada. Okay, end of discussion.

KidPix for iPad
KidPix has been around for many years, in increasingly improved versions. I stopped to watch this presentation, and they showed off the new, not-yet-released, KidPix for iPad. It is incredible! There is depth to each scene, there are 3D objects, there is animation, kids can make entire presentations, importing pictures, videos and making their own, and then export the videos. It even has a number of places where it incorporates the cameras and voice overs. For instance, it will bring up an astronaut, then using the iPad camera, put the kids video of their face into the astronaut picture, and they build their presentation with them in it!

An outstanding product that blew me away with what could be done with this software, on an iPad, in the hands of kids. The product is still beta, but everything worked, and everything was only one-click away from the main page, no buried menus or sub-menus making things hard to find. It just worked the way you expected.

To me this product looks like a home run. The presenter had no information as to time-lines for release date or pricing, but it looked polished and close to ready for prime-time. This is another must-buy product.

Remark Test Grading Edition
How many of you have used the Scantron sheets for marking tests? You remember these, the student uses a pencil to shade in their answer. However the teacher must still summarize and record the marks, and they need to use expensive scantron sheets.

Enter Remark. This is a software package that lets you make your own sheets, print them off (individualized for each student – you import their names), the student fills in the answer, and then the teacher scans them all in as one group on your digital scanning photocopier. Then the software marks them all, records the score, and lets you see each students score as well as data around how well each question was answered, and what needs to be worked on some more. And if the scanner had trouble with interpreting a student’s response, it prompts the teacher to visually check, and mark appropriately.

Very very nice, very very easy to use. This is a special version of the flagship Remark product, which can do much much more, but can also be very cumbersome. We’ll definitely be trying this out as soon as possible.

Spent some time with these two, still gathering my thoughts on them:
mobento Video Learning
myBlee Education



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