The Vendor Area

Without a doubt, the most important place for me to visit during a technology conference is the vendor area.  Yes, the presentations are important, but the vendor area is where I see all of the “latest and greatest” technology for display.  How do you see the future of technology in education?  You see the best that we have to offer today, and you dream from there.

This marks the third consecutive year that I’ve been disappointed in the vendor area.  There are a number of products that will never matter to me as a teacher, as I have no voice in those products–such as firewalls, computer manufacturers, or voice amplification systems.  Staff at the district level unilaterally make those decisions for us, and we have to live with those decisions.  You can put your feet down and stop a decision from time to time (sort of like Fred Flintstone’s car), but the effectiveness of doing so is reduced every time you do it.

On the positive side, there were fewer interactive white board vendors this year.  I’m struggling to see why school districts would continue to invest in this technology when it really hasn’t developed very much for ten years.  Depending on the manufacturer, you’re still limited to one to four people at the board at a time, and when the technology settles in, many teachers settle in to using it as an electronic white board, or they navigate back to PowerPoint or Keynote instead of the interactive proprietary software.  I continue to be bearish on the current investment in and market of interactive white boards.

What I’ve been most interested to see is iPad integration by vendors in the vendor area.  A year ago, the iPad was relatively new, and vendors couldn’t be expected to have iPad-centric technologies.  Sadly, a year later, not much else is new.  Interactive White Board sales representatives are demonstrating apps that integrate with their  systems.  PollEverywhere has offered web or text based voting for years–at a teacher’s level for free.  Epson has a newer projector (the MG-850 HD) that allows an iPad or iPhone to dock and project.  However–it functions as a pre-iPad 2 connection, does not allow full mirroring, and it locks the iPad into portrait mode.  Save yourself the hassle–buy a 2800 Lumen projector with HDMI and buy an Apple TV.  Then you can truly mirror from your iPad 2, wirelessly.  I used my iPad to show the representative a number of apps that were iPad 1 enabled for VGA out so that they could be used with the Epson MG-850 HD.

One of the Promethean vendors had the gall to tell me that the iPad was between and iPhone and a computer, and unless Apple added USB ports to the iPad and made it a computer, it could never be used with an IWB…and then went on to say that video over wi-fi wasn’t possible at this point.  To put it nicely, that is a lie.  Every generation of the iPad is more of a “computer” and increasingly, most people–including teachers–would be hard-pressed to need anything more than an iPad, as long as you provided a Bluetooth keyboard.  As for wireless mirroring–I use it every day in my classes.

Also missing from the vendor area are vendors who would show off “cool” iPad accessories (multiple-iPad docking stations, Apple TVs, styli, other input devices such as external microscopes).  What device are most people using as I sit at a table during the lunch period and write?  iPads.  What device will be the most sought-after in capital budgets this year?  iPads.  There’s money to be made here.

Google isn’t here, although there are a few Android tablets (showing student response software).  Show me how a Google tablet is a better investment than an iPad in education, and I’ll support it.  Android still isn’t there and it is dangerous to invest in something because it is cheaper and might have some of the iPad functions someday.  Someday sometimes never comes.

A number of vendors are software services companies offering their products on a number of platforms.  I have no problem with these products or vendors…they just don’t impact my teaching very much.

A funny note: the freebie this year (SWAG)?  An iPad carrying case from TIES and their new store service, tiesdepot.  What device do the principals get for signing up for a special concentration of sessions? An iPad.  What device is really on the minds of education? The iPad.  Then why isn’t it better represented by education technology manufacturers?

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