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2012 Rewind: E-Textbooks, Tablets, Common Core, and More

It's been a busy year in the world of educational technology, from Apple's jump into the digital textbook market in January to mounting concerns about children's privacy when using mobile apps in December.

On the last day of the year, we've decided to take a look back on the biggest stories in educational technology in 2012.

Digital Textbooks: The year started off with big industry news when Apple launched its iBook app, which would allow users to create their own textbooks. Apple also announced a new partnership it had created with the three big K-12 textbook publishers: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Just a few weeks later, the U.S. Department of Education and the FCC released a "Digital Textbook Playbook" to help educators transition from print to digital resources. The two federal agencies then met with textbook publishers and technology providers in Washington to discuss what role they can play in helping K-12 classrooms make that transition. The topic was touched on again at the annual ed-tech extravaganza known as ISTE, where panelists discussed how the industry was changing. And of course, there has been much movement in the consumer e-books market, which could be an indication of what is ahead for K-12 schools.

The Push for Accountability in Online Education: As virtual learning has expanded in classrooms across the United States, this form of education has also faced increasing scrutiny and calls from several organizations to put better accountability measures in place. Online learning giant K12 Inc. came under fire in February when a lawsuit was filed against it, alleging that the company traded at artificially high prices because its investors were not given accurate information about the schools' academic performance. In March, Anne Bryant, then-executive director of the National School Boards Association, cast doubts on the performance of online schools in an article in the Huffington Post, calling for more research and accountability. Just a few months later, the NSBA's Center for Public Education released a report that found mixed results for the performance of online schools compared with their brick-and-mortar counterparts. And in July, the National Education Policy Center released an analysis of the 59 full-time virtual schools run by K12 Inc. That report found that students in those schools performed worse academically and had higher dropout rates than students in brick-and-mortar schools. The organization called for a slowing of the growth of online schools until academic performance improves.

Open Education: Schools have continued to explore the world of open education, partially because strapped budgets have forced educators to look for cheaper alternatives to commercial products, even though open-source offerings may not provide the interactivity that commercial products do. But some schools, such as the Open High School of Utah, are making the concept work, and organizations, such as the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, which operates the OER Commons, are working to make open-source resources even more usable and relevant to K-12 classrooms.

And although the phenomenon has spread much faster in higher education than in K-12, the rise of MOOCs, or massively open online courses, is catching the attention of many K-12 educators and policymakers. The free classes, which garner thousands of students per class from all over the world, have gained momentum throughout the year, causing some backlash from various institutions—most notably, from Minnesota education officials, who banned the use of such courses for about a day before rescinding their position after a wave of protests from the public.

The Rise of Tablet Computing: A report released in March found that tablet ownership among college-bound high school seniors more than quadrupled in a year. 2012 also brought two new tablets from
Intel
and Amazon, both seeking to compete with the hugely successful Apple iPad. Solar-powered tablets are even being distributed in developing countries to help children, who have no access to a formal education, begin to learn. And of course, many pilot programs involving various types of tablets are taking place in schools across the United States.

Blended Ed. is the New Virtual Ed.: Or at least, that was the sentiment the Digital Education blog took away from this year's Virtual School Symposium in October. Earlier in the year, the Innosight Institute published new definitions of blended learning, and the Center for Digital Education released a 56-page report detailing the best practices for blended learning environments. Education Week produced a special report this year about what works in blended learning. One form of blended learning—flipped classrooms—attraced a huge amount of media attention this year. The teaching approach, which combines video lectures viewed outside class with in-class instruction, was featured in a special panel discussion at ISTE. But the concept also attracted criticism from skeptics, who called it a "better version of a bad thing."

Getting Tech-Ready for Common Core: As schools gear up to implement the Common Core State Standards, as well as the common core assessments scheduled to debut in the 2014-15 school year, technology is playing a key role in helping schools prepare for the transition. A technology readiness tool developed by the two coalitions developing the online assessments is helping give districts and schools feedback on what types of technology infrastructure they need to make the transition. In addition, both of the coalitions have released minimum technology standards and recommendations for the tests. One major challenge, of course, is finding the funding to cover the upgrades in infrastructure schools need to successfully implement the new assessments. See the latest issue of Digital Directions, which is all about technology and common core.

Did I miss anything? And what trends are likely to evolve in 2013?

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