The Evolution of Technology in the Classroom

Technology has always been at the forefront of human education. From the days of carving figures on rock walls to today, when most students are equipped with several portable technological devices at any given time, technology continues to push educational capabilities to new levels. In looking at where educational methods and tools have come from to where they are going in the future, technology’s importance in the classroom is evident now more than ever.

A History of Classroom Technology

The Primitive Classroom

In the Colonial years, wooden paddles with printed lessons, called Horn-Books, were used to assist students in learning verses. Over 200 years later, in 1870, technology advanced to include the Magic Lantern, a primitive version of a slide projector that projected images printed on glass plates. By the time World War I ended, around 8,000 lantern slides were circulating through the Chicago public school system. By the time the Chalkboard came around in 1890, followed by the pencil in 1900, it was clear that students were hungry for more advanced educational tools.

  • Radio in the 1920s sparked an entirely new wave of learning; on-air classes began popping up for any student within listening range.
  • Next came the overhead projector in 1930, followed by the ballpoint pen in 1940 and headphones in 1950.
  • Videotapes arrived on the scene in 1951, creating a new and exciting method of instruction.
  • The Skinner Teaching Machine produced a combined system of teaching and testing, providing reinforcement for correct answers so that the student can move on to the next lesson.
  • The photocopier (1959) and handheld calculator (1972) entered the classrooms next, allowing for mass production of material on the fly and quick mathematical calculations.
  • The Scantron system of testing, introduced by Michael Sokolski n 1972, allowed educators to grade tests more quickly and efficiently.

The pre-computer years were formative in the choices made for computers in the years following. Immediate response-type systems (video, calculator, Scantron) had become necessary, and quick production of teaching materials, using the photocopier, had become a standard. The U.S. Department of Education reports that high school enrollment was only 10% in 1900, but by 1992 had expanded to 95%. The number of students in college in 1930 was around 1 million, but by 2012 had grown to a record 21.6 million. Teachers needed new methods of instruction and testing, and students were looking for new ways to communicate, study, and learn.

The Entrance and Significance of Personal Computers

Although the first computers were developed in the ‘30s, everyday-use computers were introduced in the ‘80s.  The first portable computer, in 1981, weighed 24 pounds and cost $1,795. When IBM introduced its first personal computer in 1981, the educational world knew that it was on the verge of greatness. Time magazine named The Computer its “Man of the Year” in 1982, and aptly so: the foundation of immediate learning capabilities had been laid. Time declared, “it is the end result of a technological revolution that has been in the making for four decades and is now, quite literally, hitting home.”

  • Toshiba released its first mass-market consumer laptop in 1985 (the T1100), and Apple’s infamous Mac (which later evolved into the Powerbook) was available starting in 1984.
  • In 1990, The World Wide Web was given life when a British researcher developed Hyper Text Markup Language, or HTML, and when the National Science Foundation (NSF) removed restrictions on the commercial use of the Internet in 1993, the world exploded into a frenzy of newfound research and communication methods.
  • The first Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) were released by Apple Computer Inc. in 1993, and with that, computers were a part of every day, if not every moment. By 2009, 97% of classrooms had one or more computers, and 93% of classroom computers had Internet access. For every 5 students, there was one computer. Instructors stated that 40% of students used computers often in their educational methods, in addition to interactive whiteboards and digital cameras. College students nowadays are rarely without some form of computer technology: 83% own a laptop, and over 50% have a Smartphone.

The Future of Technology in the Classroom

It seems like years since MySpace, first introduced in 2003, Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2007) have changed both the communication and business worlds. Instant connectivity has branched out from merely a tool of personal communication, to a platform for educational instruction and outreach. Social media is now being recognized as an accepted form of instruction in some instances, and groups such as Scholastic Teachers provide excellent support and tips for instructors. Many instructors use social media to communicate directly with their students, or to form forum-style groups for students to communicate with each other, and the method seems to be proving valuable in providing one-on-one attention to student’s questions and concerns.

With the classroom having already evolved into a hotbed of technological advances, what can the future possibly hold that could further educational proficiencies even more?

  • Biometrics, a technology that recognizes people based on certain physical or behavioral traits, is on the technological horizon. The science will be used to recognize the physical and emotional disposition of students in the classroom, altering course material to tailor to each individual’s needs based on biometric signals.
  • A second up-and-coming technology is Augmented Reality (AR) glasses, rumored to be on Google’s release list, and this technology could be a whole new world for education. AR Glasses (or even contact lenses) will layer data on top of what we naturally see, to allow for a real-world learning experience. For example, a student wearing AR Glasses could potentially sit at his desk and have a conversation with Thomas Edison about invention. It was Edison, after all, who said that “Books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.”
  • Multi-touch surfaces are commonly used through equipment such as the iPhone, but the technology could become more relevant to education through entirely multi-touch surfaces, such as desks or workstations. This could allow students to collaborate with other students, even those around the world, and videos and other virtual tools could be streamed directly to the surface.

Educators and the Evolution of Technology in the Classroom

With the evolution of technology, educational capabilities are growing and changing every day. The Internet is a vast electronic library of information, and both research and instruction can be achieved through a click of the mouse. With these advances come new responsibilities to the instructor and therefore increase the value of a Master’s of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology. As technology advances, an educator’s abilities will grow by leaps and bounds, and without the knowledge of these changes and capabilities, an instructor has a good chance of being left behind.

A career in education requires hard work and dedication, but, for the diligent educator, can prove very rewarding. For those who are serious about success in the education field, staying well-informed of current and changing technologies is imperative. As the world of technology evolves, the learning environment, both on-campus and online, will equally progress, and the need for teachers who are educated in technology and design will continue to grow.