The (brief) History of Technology in Education

I wanted to take a little time on this dreary Tuesday to write about the history and the role technology has played in education as it has advanced through the years.  I didn’t  know much about it before this post and, with just a few minutes of your time, you can easily learn about it too!

I found this excellent interactive timeline created by Brian Tate. Seriously though, this guy did an amazing job and if you didn’t just click that link while reading this, stop what you’re and check it out!

If you still cant be bothered then maybe I can interest you with another, shorter timeline. This one was produced by The New York Times and is not quite as recent.

So what was the first real “breakthrough” in technology use for education? Well, both timelines disagree on the date (either 1650s or 1700s) but both authors agree that it was the hornbook that was the first “transformer” in education. The hornbook was a wooden paddle with printed lessons and biblical verses for the children to practice writing. The hornbook was also notoriously used as a paddle for discipline. Glad we changed that! From then came the various other firsts that soon were compiled into smaller, more efficient tools; the first projector, the first blackboard, the first whiteboard, the first online school etc. Computers as we know them today did not get introduced into school systems until after the invention of the Apple II in 1972. In their timeline, the NY times says that in 1980, schools averaged one computer per 92 kids. Now, the ratio is one in four. This means the last three generations of children have never known what it’s like to go to a school without computers. Both timelines agree that the last major advance in technology use for education has been the launch of the iPad in 2010.

We have come a long way, but how far must we still go before? Soon, we will produce generations of children that have never gone to school without a personal tablet. When we get there, what will be the advantages and the disadvantages? I read a post the other day about how a teacher could teach the concept of sharing if every child is plugged into their own virtual assistant? That question left me boggled for days. I am an advocate of technology in the classroom but even I couldn’t figure out how a teacher could supplement the social interaction when there is a monitor in their face constantly. Maybe that is where our next technological breakthrough needs to happen.

Learning to Use Your Words

When I hear the term “use your words,” I immediately get flashbacks from working my first job out of college. I was the lead teacher in a private daycare. I started in a classroom of six freshly turned two year olds. I loved every moment of working with those terrible twos because I am particularly good at establishing boundaries, which is what toddlers crave. After a few months of getting myself established, management decided that I needed more of a challenge and switched me into a classroom with ten 3.5 – 4 year olds. If you have ever paid any attention to the sudden burst of language that happens between these ages, then you are missing out on a neurological wonder. In my classroom of toddlers, there wasn’t much back-sass because most of them were still only babbling. However, my older three year old classroom could not only back-sass, but they were also learning to form “cliques” and gang up on each other. This is where the phrase “use your words” conjures up memories.

For all my preparation, patience, and prowess, I went into the daycare everyday and faced what was sure to be a day of boogers, tears, and fights. Obviously, language bursts in the first few years of life but it takes almost a life time to learn how to use it correctly. This can mean in very basic forms such as students gaining the ability to ask the teacher for juice when they’re thirsty or it can be more complex like learning to talk through an argument with a friend. Another important aspect to learn is learning when not to use your words as well. A three year old can be stubborn but at this age he/she is also learning about empathy and compassion. Sometimes it’s hard not to tell someone when their hair looks stupid, or they’re being poopy-heads. So how do you explain these concepts to children when all they want to do is say every word that comes to mind all the time? Learning to talk is amazing to see in children, and to see what they do with the skills once acquired it something to be proud of. You had a hand in teaching them to use their words. Combined with the gift of language learning itself, sometimes knowing when to use your words is equally as important as knowing how to use them.