Technology in the Classroom: Looking Back

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The introduction of new technology in the classroom is hardly a modern concept. This article takes a brief look at the history of classroom technology.

Modern classrooms have come a long way. Students and teachers are more connected than ever before, both to each other and to the wealth of information available online. The rapid pace of technological innovation in the modern classroom has created educational opportunities that would have been unheard of decades ago.

However, the introduction of new technology is hardly a new concept. The best way to understand what the classroom of the future will look like is to take a look back. The following provides a brief look at the history of technology in the classroom.

  • Horn-book: These wooden paddles held printed lessons and were introduced around the year 1650. The papers attached would usually feature the alphabet and religious verses, to be copied and recited by rote. As education was primarily delivered via recitation exercises, the horn-book played the important role of providing personalized lessons to children in the classroom.
  • Ferule: This device, introduced from 1850-1870, had a dual purpose — it served as a pointer as well as a method of delivering corporal punishment. Teachers used it to draw students’ attention as well as choosing who would answer questions in front of the class.
  • Magic lantern: Though its name sounds fantastical, this piece of classroom technology was the precursor to slide projectors. Invented around 1870, it showed images that were printed on glass plates, displaying them in darkened rooms. Edudemic notes that by the end of World War I, Chicago public schools alone had about 8,000 lantern slides.
  • School slate: Upon its introduction in 1890, the school slate enabled students to make mistakes without having to redo their work completely. Because it could be erased and reused, this hand-held, personal device was also beneficial because it conserved ink and paper supplies.
  • Chalkboard: This is one of the most significant innovations in classroom technology; in many classrooms, teachers still use chalkboards today. When it was invented in 1890, the chalkboard revolutionized how teachers delivered lessons to their students. Because classrooms were set up so that students faced the teacher at the front of the room, it allowed instructors to provide lessons to an entire classroom, giving all students access to the exact same information.
  • Pencil: Much like the chalkboard, pencils have been in constant use since their introduction around 1900. No longer did students have to wrestle with pens and inkwells. Pencils allowed for mistakes by letting students erase incorrect work. In the late 19th century, mass-produced pencils and paper became widely available and replaced the school slate.
  • Stereoscope: These three-dimensional viewing tools were popular as a source of home entertainment. The Keystone View Company began marketing them to schools in 1905 and created a wide variety of images that could be used as part of lectures.
  • Radio: In 1925, the board of education in New York City began delivering lessons to schools via radio. These “schools of the air” became wildly popular over the following two decades, broadcasting educational programs to millions of students in America.
  • Overhead projector: This piece of classroom technology was originally used by the U.S. military to train soldiers; overhead projectors were then marketed to schools and organizations around the country around 1930.
  • Ballpoint pen: Though it was invented in 1888, the ballpoint pen wasn’t widely adopted until 1940. Suddenly, it was recognized as a useful classroom tool that made writing with ink a far less messy process.
  • Mimeograph: Around 1940, the mimeograph was introduced. Teachers were able to make copies for the first time, just by operating a crank. Though far more labor intensive than the Xerox machines enjoyed in later years, at the time this saved educators a significant amount of time.
  • Handheld calculator: The first handheld calculator was introduced in 1970 and was the first iteration of the graphing calculators used in classrooms today. Initially, teachers were concerned that the use of a calculator would cause students to forget basic skills like addition and subtraction.
  • Scantron: In 1972, the Scantron Corporation eliminated the personal grading of multiple choice tests. When grading forms were placed into the machine, they were graded automatically in a matter of seconds. Still in use today, these forms revolutionized the grading process for teachers.
  • PLATO: In 1984, U.S. public schools had about one computer per every 92 students. The PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) was one of the most popular computers marketed to schools. The PLATO enabled a large number of students to access data centers and individual lessons for the first time.

From the 19th century onward, new ways of teaching and learning have been facilitated by tech advancements. As classrooms continue to change, echoes of past devices may be part of the new technology of the future. Of course, some staples of the classroom have stood the test of time. Open any student’s backpack, and it is likely that you’ll find a pencil or two.

Teacher Education at King University

Educators who are invested in the future of classroom technology will play important leadership roles as more and more new devices are introduced in coming years. The online Master of Education in Teacher Leaders from King University provides the specialized education teachers need to become mentors, providing support to fellow educators both in the classroom and beyond. Continue working in the classroom while gaining the skills to lead. Learn more about the online Master of Education degree program from King University to get started.