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This year's education innovations focused on technology, leadership, and creative thinking. From the expansion of free college courses to teachers becoming entrepreneurially minded leaders, these are the most important educational advancements of the past year—all of which are sure to impact schools well into 2012 and beyond.
A College-Level Education for Free
MIT's OpenCourseWare project turned 10 this year, so it's fitting that universities started taking their free offerings beyond syllabi and course readings. Stanford University led the way, with renowned professors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun offering in-demand computer science courses online. They made taking the class as close to the full Stanford experience as possible, and more than 160,000 people signed up. MIT's Sloan School of Business also got on board, offering an online simulator that enables anyone to learn elements of an MBA education.
Educators Embraced Gaming Technology
An Atlanta teacher made headlines earlier this year for using Angry Birds to teach physics, and that was just the beginning when it came to gaming in schools. Games can be fun and motivational, so teachers are accessing countless learning apps to help kids brush up on skills. One successful New York City school centered on "gaming-based systems thinking" expanded to a second site in Chicago. Other schools are relaxing their anti-cellphone policies, allowing students to bring their smartphones to class to play educational games. There's even a game that turns teachers into superheroes.
Social Media in the Classroom
In 2011, social media truly became a force at all levels of education. Teachers used student blogs to get kids writing and turned to Twitter as a tool to engage shy students in classroom discussions. And with the launch of Google+, college faculty began using the Hangouts feature to hold office hours and connect students working on projects with each other.
Twitter as a Collaborative Education Platform
In 2011, educators found their voice on Twitter. Grassroots hashtags like #edchat and #edtech allowed educators to find and share best practices. Another called #pencilchat turned the spotlight on education's technophobia and simplistic reform solutions. Educators used Twitter to call out Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's teacher-bashing, and to help organize and spread the word about the Save Our Schools National March and Conference.
The Tech Literacy Boom
The ongoing push to educate the science, technology, engineering and math workforce of the future meant more students started learning tech literacy and basic programming skills in school. Schools like South Los Angeles' Foshay Tech Academy are teaching basics like web design and Photoshop, and New York City's Pathways in Technology Early College High School created a collaboration with IBM. Parents launched an initiative to get computer science taught in schools, while a U.K. charity began developing Raspberry Pi, a $25 computer designed to teach programming to kids. Tech literacy is so hot, even sixth graders are starting app clubs.
Photo courtesy of Raspberry Pi
Teaching Conceptual and Creative Thinking
Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson kept on beating the drum for radical change in schools this year. He keynoted the national Imagination Summit, and other education experts began thinking about how they could recapture the playful, creative energy of companies like Google and Pixar. Initiatives like the No Right Brain Left Behind challenge harnessed America's creative industries to develop ways for educators to teach soft skills like creativity and design thinking. The Imagination: Creating the Future of Education and Work project even created a lab to test ways for educators to effectively build imagination and creativity in the classroom.
The Library Revolution
With the advent of digital texts and online content, the role of libraries is changing. This year, Drexel University in Philadelphia launched a book-free Library Learning Terrace, which comes complete with cozy chairs, tables for study group meetings, whiteboards, and computers. Private schools like Massachusetts' Cushing Academy went all-digital and let librarians focus on teaching students how to research. And in Chicago, YOUmedia, a two-year-old teen learning experiment that merges digital media into a wider educational experience, could become a model for public libraries of the future.
Teachers as Entrepreneurial Leaders
The job description of the modern teacher got revised for the 21st century in 2011. The book Teaching 2030 gave voice to the growing number of educators who believe that teachers have to become entrepreneurially minded leaders. Whether they're borrowing best practices from Jay-Z or coming up with student-centered learning opportunities, the days of a letting eduction reformers who aren't in the classroom dominate the education conversation are over. Teachers must generate education policy and reform and serve as "community organizers and trustees of their profession."