Technology took center stage October 18-21 in Orlando for the annual Educause conference. More than 200 technology companies and other exhibitors were on hand to showcase their latest products and services for higher education. The full list of vendors and their products can be found at www.educause.edu/e05/CorporateParticipation/5108.
But there was news to be discussed on the show floor as well. For example, days before the conference opened came word of e-learning pioneer Blackboard's (www.blackboard.com) plans to acquire its chief rival WebCT (www.webct.com) to create a single company with some 3,700 academic clients. Blackboard will continue to support existing releases from both companies; however, a new product, combining the best features and usability characteristics of each, is on the horizon. A company spokesperson said the acquisition won't mean an automatic cornering of the market, but better positioning for the company as other players--such as Desire2Learn, Angel, and open-source packages, including Sakai and Moodle--enter the arena.
And Adobe gave word that it was in the end stages of its plan to acquire Macromedia, which was announced earlier this year. The combination of the two multimedia giants holds the promise of some exciting developments in learning technology, with Adobe's ubiquitous PDF technology and Macromedia's just-as-widespread Flash technology able to deliver content across a wide variety of platforms and devices.
For many attendees, however, the show floor was where the action was. Here's a rundown of some of the new products and innovations that caught our eye.
IBM (www.ibm.com/education) has teamed with open-source developer rSmart (www.rsmart.com) to offer Sakai 2.0, an open-source bundle specifically for higher education. Sakai 2.0 combines rSmart's Sakai Collaborative Learning Environment, IBM's DB2 database software, and IBM's WebSphere, which integrates applications across a broad set of platforms and application environments.
GoBinder 2006 from Agilix Labs (www.agilix.com) turns tablet PCs and laptops into powerful study tools. GoBinder lets students take notes using a keyboard or a tablet interface, download instructor lectures before class, and annotate on top of them. Digital Paper technology lets users capture web pages, Word documents, spreadsheets, and PDFs directly into the GoBinder searchable database. It also features a personal organizer, calendar, and task/contact manager.
The TDP-TW300U projector from Toshiba (www.toshiba.com) is designed for large venues. Featuring wireless connectivity and DLP (digital light processing) technology, the TDP-TW300U offers 3000 ANSI lumens, native XGA resolution, a 1.5X motorized zoom that automatically adjusts when the projector is moved, and password protection for increased security.
Zimbra's (www.zimbra.com) Collaboration Suite is an open-source server and client technology for enterprise messaging and collaboration. It's compatible with existing messaging systems (Outlook, Mobile, IMAP, POP, iCalendar, RSS, etc.), and its consolidation feature means substantial reduction in managed storage. Browser-based Zimbra can be used on any operating system.
The latest version of the iPod from Apple (www.apple.com), already being used to play audio lectures and podcasts, now plays videos. The video model can hold up to 150 hours of video, and the 2.5-inch screen is surprisingly watchable. And Apple is opening up parts of its iTunes Music Store to allow schools to distribute audio and video content to registered students.
CommonSpot 4.6, from PaperThin (www.paperthin.com), is a content management system that allows users to build, maintain, and collaborate on dynamic, personalized and sophisticated websites. The product features comprehensive editing features to cut and paste content from existing applications, as well as upload of images, PDFs, Flash, and other rich media.
Elluminate (www.elluminate.com) offers the Elluminate Live! Academic Edition 6.5, an interactive, live e-learning and collaboration environment. The product is built to handle multimedia "many-to-many" collaborations, on PC or Mac, regardless of whether users have dial-up or high-speed connectivity. Elluminate Live! offers two-way audio, application sharing, private messaging as well as "breakout rooms," and record/playback capabilities.
The Total Campus Management Solution from Jenzabar (www.jenzabar.com) is a comprehensive approach to managing all aspects of campus operations. It incorporates more than 50 integrated administrative, ERP, constituent relationship management, and campus intelligence modules. TCM also accommodates existing administrative systems, whether they are from Jenzabar or not.
The Studio 8 suite from Macromedia (www.macromedia.com) combines the latest releases of the company's popular Dreamweaver, Flash Professional, Fireworks, Contribute, and FlashPaper products into a single package. The suite aims to increase efficiency and simplify workflow to create dynamic websites and rich, interactive content. Studio works in both Windows and Mac OS X environments (so work created in one platform can be used on the other). And because it leverages FlashPlayer--which is installed on more than 98 percent of connected computers--Studio 8 content can be shared across a wide range of browsers.
Help desk operations may get easier with the latest version of FootPrints from UniPress Software (www.unipress.com). It's a web-based customer support system that records and tracks all problems and requests, builds collaboration, organizes issues effectively, and improves workflow throughout the entire problem management life cycle.
The MediaLink IPI 104 AAP from Extron (www.extron.com) is an easy-to-install intercom module that facilitates instant room-to-help-desk or room-to-room communications. It can be added to an existing Extron lectern control panel, and it operates over a standard local area or wide area IP network. By using the existing network drop, there is no additional expense for a installing a second network cable, while the number of switch ports is reduced, resulting in a substantial cost savings.
When it comes to electronic communications, messaging systems typically are built on a collection of hardware and software solutions from multiple vendors. Mirapoint's (www.mirapoint.com) Message Server replaces them all with a single dedicated appliance. It provides outbound content filtering, encrypted transmission of messages from client to the mail server, secure, hardened operating system with no known exploits for extra protection against hackers, and sender authentication to assure messages from unauthorized sources never enter the network. It also offers features like calendaring and group scheduling.
The latest version of the Blackboard's (www.blackboard.com) Academic Suite (Release 7) now includes standard language packs for seven languages. Multiple languages can run on the same system so users in other lands can access the same content. Also new is Blackboard Backpack, a tool that allows users to synch content from the Blackboard system to desktop, laptop, or tablet computers for offline access to course materials.
PolyVision (www.polyvision.com) solved the annoying problem of calibration for interactive whiteboards. Typically a user must touch numerous points on the screen to calibrate an input device, taking time away from presentations. With the new Lightning interactive whiteboards, users simply turn on the projector and push a button on the Walk-and-Talk remote control or TS interactive whiteboard; calibration is automatic. PolyVision's Thunder product, meanwhile, replaces traditional flipcharts with dynamic digital images to make working and learning as a team, in person or remotely, easier.
Xcelsius XL (www.xcelsius.com) adds a new dimension to presentations by turning static Excel spreadsheets into engaging data presentations that offer interactive "what if" scenarios. For example, how might a boost in enrollment affect energy costs? Xcelsius XL's Visual Modeling feature allows users to visually analyze the results of changes to a particular data set.
Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com) unveiled its Connected Learning solution that includes products for security, distance learning, and facilities management. Cisco Campus Secure focuses identity management, network admission control, adaptive threat defense, and bandwidth management. Cisco Virtual Classroom blends audio, video, web collaboration, whiteboards and IM capabilities in an integrated distance learning solution. Cisco Connected Real Estate for Education helps IHEs manage building functions, access control, HVAC, fire alarms, and more.
DyKnow (www.dyknow.com) Vision and Monitor software applications add greater interactivity and instructor control to classroom presentations. Vision allows users to go from being passive notetakers to active problemsolvers, so instructors can easily judge how well a particular concept is being received. With Monitor, instructors can see what each student sees on his or her screen, as well share output from individual PCs with the class. Monitor also gives instructors the ability to disable keyboards and other input devices, as well as block access to individual application