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The History of Technology in Education

6 Min Read
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The students in your classroom can’t imagine a world without technology. 

Computers have always been a part of their lives. Young learners have been immersed in technology since they could crawl, and they show little to no interest in giving it up. But is that such a bad thing? Perhaps not!

Many educators appreciate using technology, too. It’s an integral part of curriculum mapping, classroom instruction, and assessment. We’ve certainly come a long way since the early days of technology—but maybe it’s worth a history lesson to really put things into perspective. Below we explore the history of technology in education.

A Brief History of Educational Technology

Over the span of fifty years, we’ve gone from treating technology as an isolated novelty to seamlessly integrating a variety of edtech tools into our lessons. How did this change occur?

Technology originally made its way into the U.S. education system as a necessity to prepare for an increasingly digital future and as part of its Cold War era competition. After witnessing the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s first satellite, America shifted much of its attention in education to math and science while embracing technology in particular. The Vocational Education Act in 1963 funded technology use in schools. As a result, students learned programming languages like BASIC, and PCs gradually made their way into some classrooms.

Educators took two approaches when incorporating computers in classroom instruction.

The first was less common. Mathematician and professor Seymour Papert first introduced microcomputers in the classroom by teaching basic programming in the early 1980s. His Logo program taught students basic programming skills. The idea was to create student-centered learning activities that required hands-on exploration. Children learned the language commands that would create graphic shapes. Papert based his instructional program on a theory of constructivism that he termed “bricolage,” which is a strategy in which students assemble the building blocks of learning themselves.

By the mid-1980s, Apple computers had also gained a foothold in classrooms, and a more common approach to technology integration gained popularity. Teachers used edtech software solutions.Teachers routinely assigned students to computer tasks, where learners answered series of questions based on knowledge and recall.

A mere decade later, the Internet connected computers worldwide. The dramatic growth of the World Wide Web introduced email, video, and a variety of digital media. More importantly, it enabled two-way communication between anyone, anywhere, and anytime.

That connectedness revolutionized not only business and interpersonal relationships but also education. Beginning in the early 2000s, there was a greater emphasis on a new form of education: STEM, short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Computers and technology are the future—we may as well embrace them for all the benefits they bring to the classroom.

Technology in Education Today

Because learners need digital skills, educational technology today has taken on a vibrant role in many classrooms. The focus now is on teaching students important computer literacy skills.

Educators and policymakers have arrived at a nexus of thought about what technology integration looks like in the classroom. "The ISTE Standards for Students"  now includes creative innovation, the development of communication skills and collaborative work projects, engaging in the kind of critical thinking that results in solving problems and decision-making, and acquiring 21st-century digital citizenship skills. This is in addition to learning how to operate computer hardware and software.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills lays out a similar vision for integrating technology in the classroom. Information, media, and technology skills are vital components to empowering students in all communities. The organization partners with schools and communities to ensure that students everywhere develop the mindset and skills necessary for living and learning in a rapidly changing environment.

Most teachers support these technology standards. They want to see their students taking technology initiatives and utilizing digital tools for their own learning purposes.

Students should be using handheld devices to engage with content in meaningful ways like:

  • Creating digital video and graphic media design to support concepts
  • Engaging in live vlogging about a topic of study
  • Using classroom polling to hear different perspectives on issues
  • Developing collaborative projects among diverse teams
  • Gathering and interpreting data from a variety of online sources
  • Experiencing virtual simulations that assist in exploring otherwise inaccessible material

Educational technology integration today is interactive and ongoing. Using personal computers, students learn concepts, assess their progress, and continue to add to their knowledge and skill base. In a sense, learners are assembling and building knowledge, like in a modern-day version of bricolage.

The Future of Technology in Your Classroom

Unfortunately, not all classrooms are at the same level of educational technology integration. Adopting state-of-the-art technology can be expensive, and ever-tightening budgets determine what type of tech integration is possible.

It would be wonderful to gleefully issue each student a tablet and tell them to work with the device. But that’s not feasible, nor would it even be effective — students need guidance when it comes to unfamiliar technology. And the need for guidance means teachers themselves must be taught how to navigate edtech.

If you’re in a classroom or school with limited options for technology integration, consider starting with small steps like these:

  • Take a trip—virtually. Attend a theater preview, explore a cave, or visit a museum. By doing so, you’ll broaden your student’s horizons.
  • Integrate digital media into your lessons. Play podcasts, show short explanatory videos from educational YouTube channels, incorporate interactive charts and graphs, and so on. Showing is often more effective than telling, especially when explaining abstract concepts like graphing algebraic equations with multiple variables or understanding biology.
  • Bring your own device. Ask your school to consider implementing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy as an alternative to funding the purchase of new devices. This can make technology more accessible and could allow you to allocate a technology budget for students who cannot afford to purchase those devices themselves.
  • Make the most of the internet. Launch a website, a class media page, or other interactive platforms where your students can curate content and practice their communication skills.
  • Use freely available edtech tools. There are plenty of apps that encourage collaborative learning in the classroom by allowing students to edit documents or other media with each other in real time. You can use those alongside activities like mind mapping, commenting, and providing feedback. You can also manage a digital calendar of events for your classroom, such as for assignment due dates or upcoming school events.

The activities are less about the kind of technology you’re using in the classroom and more about what students can do with the technology that’s available.

Use Technology Effectively

As the history of technology in the classroom demonstrates, technology integration in education teaches students the skills they will need, including creativity and innovation, collaboration, and communication.  Most of all, these integrated and interactive educational technology activities encourage students to take the initiative and engage with the content in every class they take.

Embedding technology in the 21st-century classroom is about creating an opportunity for students to be self-directed learners, now and beyond their formal education.

The world influences the classroom through technology. You can influence how that technology will be used in your classroom by making interaction a priority.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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