Timeline of Technology in the Classroom - Curriculum & Instruction

Over the last 50 years, the evolution of technology in the classroom has changed as rapidly as the technology in our personal lives. But classroom technology goes much further back than 50 years.

In fact, some of the tools listed below you may not even think of as technology, but were groundbreaking at the time and led to future inventions that improved the classroom experience for both teachers and students.

The Evolution of Technology in the Classroom

Technology is always changing to solve problems and to make life easier. The classroom, one of the most important places in our society, is no different.

Applied to students specifically to help make teaching and learning easier and more efficient, the history of technology in the classroom is filled with inventions and enhancements, ranging from pencils and ballpoint pens to interactive whiteboards and tablets.

Follow along on the timeline below to see how technology has evolved in the classroom and how the classroom has changed to accommodate new technology.

1564 – The Pencil

While the pencil was invented in 1564, it wasn’t mass produced until 1900, which was another big step forward in helping make classrooms more effective, as the pencil replaced the slate and chalk.

1654 – Slide Rule

A prequel to the calculator, the slide rule was originally designed for scientists and engineers. In 1950, it made its way to the classroom and was very common until the invention of the calculator.

1650 – Horn Book

The horn book was a wooden paddle with lessons printed on it that usually included an alphabet and a religious verse, which children would copy to learn how to write.

1801 - Slates and Chalk

Entering the 1800s, paper was still too expensive to buy for many families and school districts, which meant they needed another way to write in the classroom. Personal slates and chalk solved that problem and allowed for students to erase any mistakes.

1870 – Magic Lantern

This was the first attempt at the projector as the Magic Lantern projected images printed on glass plates onto walls. By the end of World War I, Chicago’s public schools had about 8,000 lantern slides.

1873 – Typewriter

Christopher L. Sholes first introduced the typewriter in 1873, though his version was limited to only capital letters. By the end of the 1800s, other competitors offered both uppercase and lowercase letters.

1890 – Chalkboard

One of the most important inventions in terms of educational technology, the blackboard is an important part of nearly every classroom, regardless of age or grade, though the popularity of interactive whiteboards is growing.

1905 – Stereoscope

A prequel to virtual reality and VR glasses, the stereoscope was a three-dimensional viewing tool that was a popular source of entertainment. The Keystone Viewing Company, which manufactured them, marketed stereoscopes to schools and created hundreds of images meant to illustrate points during lectures.

1925 – Radio

The radio allowed organizations to send lessons to schools through a radio station. New York City’s Board of Education was actually the first to do so and over the next couple decades, lessons through the airwaves became the first type of distance learning.

1925 – Film Projector

Designed to bring movies to the classroom, the film projector was used in classrooms up until the early 1980s. Accompanied by an audio recording, the projector displayed still images that had to be manually changed as you advanced through the film strip.

1930 – Overhead Projector

The overhead projector allowed teachers to write specific points on reusable transparency sheets while facing the class, as opposed to turning their back to the class when writing on the blackboard.

1940 – Ballpoint Pen

Originally invented in 1888, the ballpoint pen didn’t gain recognition as being an important part of the classroom, and life in general, until 1940.

1940 – Mimeograph

One of the first copy machines, the mimeograph allowed teachers and school staff to print copies of various materials by cranking the ink filled drum. It was also referred to as a ditto machine.

1950 – Headphones

Introduced as a way to reinforce concepts and class materials, headphones also offered a chance for schools to create language labs where students studied foreign languages.

1951 – Videotape

The first videotape demonstration occurred in California and eventually allowed schools to offer visual and audio learning to students that moved as opposed to still frames. In future decades, teachers used videotapes as a way to show documentaries and movies to reinforce classroom lessons.

1957 – Skinner Teaching Machine

Created by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner, the teaching machine allowed students to learn at their own pace. His teaching machine varied slightly from others that had been around since the 1920s by offering questions and answers on paper discs.

1959 – Photocopier

Though not nearly as important today, the photocopier helped teachers and administrators to quickly and easily create copies of classroom materials. Almost immediately, it replaced the mimeograph and other similar machines.

1960 – Liquid Paper

Nowadays, all it takes to correct mistakes while typing is hitting the backspace key. But back in 1960 typewriters were still the only game in town and mistakes happened. Liquid paper helped many students easily fix mistakes.

1970 – Hand-Held Calculator

Many teachers worried that using calculators would undermine basic learning skills, which helped delay the initial rollout. However, very quickly the hand-held calculator became widely popular and paved the way for today’s calculators.

1972 – The Scantron

Created by Michael Sokolski, the Scantron system of testing allowed educators to grade multiple choice tests more quickly and efficiently by putting answer sheets into the machine.

1977 – Apple II

Even though it had no internet access, the Apple II allowed students to learn geography and solve math problems by using computer games on floppy disks.

1980 – Personal Computer

The personal computer and Plato computer were introduced and targeted to the education market as well. These were both used for a variety of learning purposes, but their most important use may have been replacing typewriters.

1985 – CD-ROM Drive

The CD-ROM Drive allowed a whole encyclopedia to be saved on one disk, which is one of the many reasons it eventually replaced the floppy disk and is still used on computers today.

1990 – World Wide Web

Though invented in 1990 and released in 1991, the internet wasn’t available to the general public until 1993. At that time, all connections were dial up that occupied your telephone line and offered a very slow connection that couldn’t handle video.

Still, the access to information and to people from around the world helped its popularity explode and change the world.

1999 – Interactive Whiteboard

Still being rolled out to many schools and classrooms today, the interactive whiteboard uses a touch sensitive screen, a projector, and a computer as a combination of past classroom technologies, the chalkboard and overhead projector.

2005 – iClicker

Though there are many similar options available now, the iClicker was one of the first tools that allowed teachers to take polls in real time, offer quizzes, and either share the results or keep them private, and take attendance.

2010 – iPad

A couple years after the smartphone was invented, iPads and other tablets were much more accepted in the classroom as learning tools. Students can use educational apps and allows teachers to easily track students’ progress.

What’s Next for Tech in the Classroom

The future of technology in the classroom is almost certainly virtual reality, augmented reality, or some combination of the two. Similar to what stereoscopes did so many years ago, these different tools will allow students to get a feel for specific topics from lessons and lectures in more engaging and realistic way.

Plus, there will be plenty of opportunities for distance learners to connect with on-campus learners through a single virtual management system.

Which New Technology Has Most Improved Classroom Instruction?

Computers have certainly been the most important technology in the classroom because of the other amount of lessons, course materials, and research that can come from it.

For instance, word processing, spreadsheets, and many other tools are extremely important, even before you take into account the videos, research, maps, and everything else the internet offers to reinforce lessons.

However, after following the history of technology in the classroom, it’s difficult to choose just one that has most improved classroom instruction. This is especially true because so many of these advances have become integral parts of the classroom and of helping students learn, that they are indistinguishable from the overall learning experience and the classroom experience.

Benefits of Technology in the Classroom

Some of the benefits of using technology in the classroom include:

  • Helping students learn at their own pace
  • Improved retention rate
  • Preparing students to use technology outside of the classroom
  • Makes learning more fun
  • Reinforce lectures and other class materials
  • More personalized learning

Used in conjunction with lessons, tests, lectures, and exercises, technology continues to be one of the driving factors in effectively preparing students for their future.

Will Technology Replace Teachers?

Even with all the technology that is sure to appear over the next few decades, teachers will still be needed. In fact, some experts believe that teachers will be more important in order to offer insight into why particular students are struggling and be thoughtful educators.

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