Here's what we think are the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2011.

Teachers use video podcasts to turn learning “upside down” … New web-search formulas have important implications for students and society … “Bring Your Own Device” emerges as a top strategy for integrating technology into instruction: These are among the many key ed-tech developments affecting schools in the past year.

In this special retrospective, the editors of eSchool News highlight what we think are the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2011. To find out how these stories will continue to affect school stakeholders in 2012 and beyond, read on.

What do you think of our list? What other ed-tech stories do you think are worthy of mentioning? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

10. Research bolsters the case for 3D learning.

Two years ago, the first projectors and glasses for delivering stereoscopic 3D images in the classroom emerged, and last year saw a sharp rise in the amount of 3D content available for schools. This year, 3D learning took another step forward with a pair of new developments.

In June, Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), an early adopter of 3D technology, released the results of a pilot project showing that the use of 3D content helped increase student engagement and led to better achievement in some cases—with the lowest-performing students seeing the greatest benefits. A few weeks later, the American Optometric Association issued a public health report saying the use of 3D images in school can help diagnose vision problems among students at an earlier age and can enhance teaching and learning.

AOA President Dori Carlson said using 3D images in the classroom can help in two ways: First, children often learn faster and retain more information in a 3D environment; and second, the ability to perceive depth in a 3D presentation turns out to be a highly sensitive assessment tool, able to assess a range of vision health indicators with much higher sensitivity than the standard eye chart that has been in use for the last 150 years.

“For the estimated one in four children who have underlying issues with overall vision, 3D viewing can unmask previously undiagnosed deficiencies and help identify and even treat these problems,” says Carlson. “This is because 3D viewing requires that both eyes function in a coordinated manner as they converge, focus, and track the 3D image.”

While viewing 3D images can alert experts to children’s eye problems, the AOA says there is no evidence that viewing or attempting to view 3D images will harm a child’s eyes. The group’s report also describes ways to manage the classroom environment for optimizing 3D use in the classroom.

Some examples include: (1) Always preview the 3D materials. This requires the teacher to have appropriate vision health as well. (2) Identify general student health issues in advance. (3) Ensure that students keep the glasses off until the 3D content is ready to view. (4) Keep the transitions within and between the 3D images smooth and slow. (5) If students are feeling dizzy or nauseous, take the glasses off immediately and have them close their eyes for 10 seconds or look at a distant object.

In the BVSD pilot project, teachers used stereoscopic 3D content in eight classrooms within four schools during the 2010-11 school year. A few findings stood out across all test sites, said Len Scrogan, director of instructional technology for the district: higher levels of student engagement, favorable reaction by students, and greater student clarity in understanding abstract concepts. “It provided a better visualization than the textbook,” said one student, referring to 3D renderings of cellular structures in biology. Another student said, “It was easier for me to picture it and understand the structure.”

Perhaps the most encouraging findings occurred at Halcyon Middle-High School, BVSD’s day-treatment facility, where students often have trouble sitting through a 40-minute class period.

“Our special-education population was able to maintain interest in the content for a full 40 minutes, which is extremely rare,” Scrogan said. “Forty minutes of uninterrupted science instruction with no behavioral incidents … is significant. This really pulls kids in and prevents distraction.”

See also:

Research: 3D content can help improve learning

How to use 3D in the classroom effectively