The history of educational technology is long, varied and can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. So, to solve this we asked one of our most experienced teacher writers to write about how it has changed over the 5 decades he has been in UK classrooms. Take a look and enjoy several blasts from the teaching past with this list!

We all know the internet has an affinity with lists, and everywhere you look there is the top 10 of this, and the 5 best of that. As an education technologist I like a list as much as the next person, and that is why I have decided to write one too!

Today’s list is an idiosyncratic and very personal look at 20 technologies that have changed the classrooms that I have been in over the past 50 years.

An Educational Technology List That Can Help You In The Classroom

As a general rule, many of the lists on the internet are designed to save the busy readers time, and this is no different in the world of education technology.

One of the most popular and well-respected lists in this field, not just on the history of educational technology but on the topic as a whole, is created by Jane Hart of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Every year since 2007 she has surveyed learning professionals of all kinds to ask them what their favourite educational tools are.

With the responses coming from a variety of educators, including classroom teachers, her list can be re-organised to show the 100 favourite tools for teachers.

Intuitive Teachers Are Experts At Re-purposing Technology

What quickly becomes obvious when perusing the list is that many of these tools have their origins outside the classroom, and that innovative teachers have found ways to use them to enhance pupil learning.

Indeed, of 2018’s top 20 as chosen by teachers, only one could be said to have been purpose-built for the classroom.

Over the past 12 years alone, 404 different tools have featured in Jane’s top 100 tools for learning, and there are many more that have been used in classrooms that haven’t made the top 100.

There has never been a shortage of technologies for the innovative teacher to explore in the classroom, and yet many of these tools have come and gone, leaving barely a trace. And no education technologist could be expected to even know all these tools, let alone recommend them or give them their due place in the history of education technology.

That Brings Us To My Personal History Of Educational Technology

As a result of what has been discussed above, my list of education technologies does not claim to be definitive, and certainly isn’t a comprehensive look at the last 50 years of ed tech.

It is personal, derived via the lens of my own trajectory through life-long learning, from pupil to teacher, then from education technologist to one advising on the use of digital technologies in and out of the classroom.

You may find unexpected inclusions and omissions. Your opinion may vary. You may be annoyed that I have not looked beyond mainstream classrooms, but I simply could not include everything!

My list will avoid slates, books and bean bags, and the myriad print technologies allowing teachers to produce ever more wonderful worksheets. It focuses in the main, though not entirely, on tools from the perspective of learners, and those technologies that needed plugging in. Whether analogue or digital, most of these technologies required electricity to work their educational magic.

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My History Of Educational Technology – The 20 Pieces Of Tech That Changed My Classroom Experience

EdTech Item 1 – The Epidiascope

My primary school was in a  neglected quarter of a working-class district in a northern town. The headteacher there had taught my grandfather, the infants learned to write on slates, the juniors’ wooden desks still had inkwells filled by the ink monitor each week.

Episcope - Educational Technology In The Classroom
Ever wondered what an epidiascope looks like? Wonder no more (Photo credit – Kierano)

I will never forget the magic of sitting in a darkened classroom and seeing leaves, conkers or text from the pages of a book projected large onto a wall via the hot, Heath Robinson magic of the Victorian epidiascope.

Real time, real life projection and sharing that I would not see again in a classroom for another half century all came with the arrival of the visualiser.

Pros: Instant shared magic projecting anything book size or smaller.

Cons: The Epidiascope was very dim, huge, required total blackout, and even enabled pupils to get up to mischief in the dark!

EdTech Item 2 –  Radio

My other abiding technology memory from primary school was the radio monitor. Not a true radio, just a huge speaker in a wooden case, on a metal stand with wheels. It had to be plugged into another socket on the wall, tapping into the magic provided by Radio Relay,and the cable service that also supplied the wireless to my living room at home.  

There were four channels to choose from, courtesy of the BBC, whose role was “To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain”. The educate part meant that the school switch never moved from the Home Service and its daily Schools Broadcasts.

Whether it was ‘Music and Movement’ which saw us careering around the hall:

Or ‘Singing Together’, which did just what it said on the tin:

we loved our schools broadcasts, which carried on being loved by generations for many years after I left primary school.

Pros: You knew it was going to be professional content from the BBC, and it gave you a feeling of belonging to a wider world.

Cons: It happened in real-time, so required precise organisation of both monitor and children which as you can imagine often wreaked havoc in the primary school classroom!

Take a look at some of the examples of the amazing programmes that were broadcast throughout the 1910’s through to the 2010’s on this amazing EdTech website. A personal highlight is Mathematics TV from 1953, a sterling item form the history of educational technology.

EdTech Item 3 – 16mm Film

Secondary schools saw us reaching the dizzy EdTech heights of occasional 16mm film projection. The projectors were more powerful than the epidiascope, so absolute blackout wasn’t essential, but blinds or heavy curtains were still a must.

It’s also worth noting that schools didn’t own the films, so the system was dependent on film availability, and teachers that could be bothered to go through the rigmarole of using school film library services.

However, as a teacher, it meant I could run a school film club, hiring commercial rather than educational films, and introduce students to the magic of cinema.

Pros: Professionally-produced moving images were introduced into the classroom. It also made educational and commercial films available to rent.

Cons: The projector was particularly noisy, and you had to ensure the room was darkened enough to see the projection. The rental hassle also put off many!

EdTech Item 4 – Schools TV

I have to confess to being so old that schools TV was not a feature of my own schooling, but just as I joined secondary school the BBC piloted taking the success of Schools Broadcasts from radio onto television.

The TVs and stands closely matched in size and construction the radio monitors that had preceded them, and were similarly wheeled around the school.

Pros: We got professional visual content from the BBC, and another introduction to the wider world.

Cons: The broadcasts happened in real-time, so they required precise organisation of both the TV and children. Aerial sockets were also needed in every room they were to be used in.

This Guardian article from their archives details the introduction of Schools TV and tells you more about how Schools TV came into being.

EdTech Item 5 – The OHP (or Overhead Projector)

Though there had been earlier attempts, the first real OHPs were produced for air-force use in mapping and briefings during World War II. In peace-time they invaded both schools and offices, offering useful projection in rooms that no longer needed to be darkened.

Educational Technology - Overhead Projector
An OHP in action (Photo credit goes to mailer_diablo)

Chances are you were either taught with an OHP or have taught using one, and that fact alone shows just how much of an impact they had in the classroom!

Pros: They gave the teacher the chance to face their class during use, and they were affordable for most classrooms.

Cons: Unless you wanted a silhouette, everything had to be transparent and the bulbs were very expensive.

EdTech Item 6 – The Whiteboard

No, these didn’t need plugging in, but the dri-wipe whiteboard revolutionised teaching and learning by replacing the blackboard.

Suddenly crisp, multi-coloured diagrams could be created without projection, and teachers’ handwriting became that much more legible…and their clothes that bit less dusty.

Pros: They provided clarity and cleanliness for whole class displays, and most importantly they were not dependent on power source.

Cons: The dreaded cry of “Miss/Sir, I used the wrong pen on the whiteboard!” and the fact that the erasers were less effective missiles than the predecessor board rubbers.

Edtech Item 7 – 8mm Loop Projector

Whilst 16mm film was a rental market, 8mm cine-loops in cassettes were designed for schools to purchase, and targeted learning specifically.

The projector often came clipped into a cabinet with a built in screen which was light enough, if cumbersome, to be carried from room to room. Full blackout was unnecessary, though darkening the room helped.

As a biology teacher this really allowed me to show film in a way that was far more accessible and easy to manage than ever before. Then along came video and ate its lunch. Very little trace left of its impact, even on the internet, except for examples in museums or eBay, or mentions in old ed tech guides. It is well worth remembering though, that it was an important advancement in the historical development of educational technology.

Pros: It enabled us as teachers to show moving film, it was relatively portable, and resources could be purchased for it easily.

Cons: There was no audio, and content was only available from expensive education suppliers.

As mentioned, information on the Loop Projector is hard to come by, but you can read a little more about it here.

EdTech Item 8 – Cassette-recorder

The humble audio-cassette revolutionised language teaching, and brought both asynchronicity, and the ability to record as well as listen, to the space formerly occupied by radio.

Cassette Recorder - Education Technology in the classroom
We’re sure everyone remembers what a cassette player looks like….. (Photo credit: J.Smith)

It was a massive relief when they arrived on the scene, as they were much easier to move about than the huge, clunky reel-to-reel audio-tape recorders, and this is perhaps one of my (and my backs) favourite advancements in the history of educational technology!

Pros: Cassettes were affordable and widespread, and came in a standard universal format. They gave us teacher the option to record and playback, something we couldn’t do before easily.

Cons: As you would had experienced if you had a cassette player when you were younger, they were often inadequate to volume and robustness requirements.

EdTech Item 9 – Tape-slide

Some bright spark took the idea of a carousel projector and the audio cassette, and added both sound and control to the projector via the audio-tape. As the cassette played the audio track, it also sent signals to advance the slides.

This must be the progenitor of Powerpoint, or at least it’s wicked stepmother, mercifully, it was quickly eradicated by digital technology.

Pros: It created good pictures and sound, and gave the user creative control. It was also magic to the tape-slide enthusiast!

Cons: Did you know that there are 8 possible ways to put back each slide when you have dropped a carousel and the slides all fell out? It was probably the clunkiest and least reliable piece of EdTech ever to be used in classrooms. It was so dire that the internet and even Wikipedia can hardly be bothered with it, and can’t even decide whether it was called slide-tape or tape-slide.


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EdTech Item 10 – The Videotape

I started on monochrome reel to reel video-recorders, but all earlier video technologies were swept aside in the 80s by VHS video recorders.

EduTech for the classroom - The Videotape
A whole film on something this small…Who would have thought it? (Photo credit- Michik)

A truly revolutionary classroom tool that democratised moving pictures with sound both in school and at home. Like most biology teachers, I now confess to illegally showing snippets of Horizon and similar wonders from the BBC Natural History Unit in class. Luckily LAs quickly licensed its use to prevent criminalisation of the teaching profession.

Pros: It was the first widespread consumer technology which was affordable and easy to use.

Cons: As teachers we were back to wheeling large stands with TVs around the school…and some of us bought rival Sony Betamax….

EdTech Item 11 – PC Microcomputer

Literally, the classroom technology that changed my life.  

Even early microcomputers were less frustrating than trying to put slides back in carousels and working out how to set the VHS timers to record school broadcasts (and that is saying something…)

PC Microcomputer - Educational Technology Advancements
Some teachers won’t remember microcomputers, so if this is the case, this is what they looked like. (Photo credit – Evan Amos)

I was so enamoured of their potential that after a few years in school I conned my way into an educational computing centre to learn more about their potential as education technology. I couldn’t have predicted just how much of an integral part they would become in schools, but I was certainly ahead of the curve!

Pros: Text could easily be edited for the first time, and it provided a rapid development of uses for every curriculum subject.

Cons: Like all technology when it first comes out, it was expensive, and difficult to carry home for the weekend (in the early days).

Take a look at a fascinating article from the 1980s on How To Go Into The 80s With Microcomputer Learning.

EdTech Item 12 – Video-projector

One of the challenges of whole class teaching is generating an image that 30 people can see at once. The arrival of the video-projector meant that tools 10 and 11 could now easily be shared with the whole class. Curtains were again required, though rapid developments meant that rooms needed to be progressively less darkened as time went by.

Pros: The video-projector made the microcomputer and video-recorder a genuine whole-class resource.

Cons: It was probably the most popular item in encouraging thieves to break into schools. Ever more complicated ceiling-mounted security cages meant they were less and less accessible when expensive bulbs needed changing.

EdTech Item 13 – Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs)

IWBs took the whiteboard, the principle of a concept keyboard,  and combined them with a video-projector to provide either the most impactful classroom edtech resource, or the greatest waste of ed tech funding in the UK, depending on your pedagogical point of view.

Edutech Interactive Whiteboard
Children using an interactive whiteboard at a BESA stall. (Photo credit – Svonog)

Pros: They made whole class teaching possible, and gave teachers the chance to use them as a pupil-led resource. Many also consider them the first truly universal display tool.

Cons: They are hugely expensive, especially if only used as a projection screen.

EdTech Item 14 – The Visualiser

Finally someone reinvented a relatively low-cost tool with all of the epidiascope’s benefits digitally, but without needing a blacked-out room. Books and 3D objects could also be projected, and this was revolutionary!

They were called document cameras elsewhere, but this name limits their true potential as a classroom tool, and the impact they had in the history of educational technology.

Pros: Books, 3D objects, science experiments and 101 other things could be displayed easily and effectively.

Cons: It needed a computer and interactive whiteboard to be useful, which some teachers found to be one gadget too many.

EdTech Item 15 – The World Wide Web

Whilst this is hardly classroom EdTech per se, but the arrival of the web into schools, along along with the class computer and video projector, allowed truly global content sharing for the first time.

A fourth wall window on the world that could be used in any classroom with ease. What more could we want?

Pros: Everything that was online could be brought into the classroom

Cons: Everything that was online could be brought into the classroom

EdTech Item 16 – Web 2.0

When people realised that it should be as easy to create online as it was to consume, lots of very useful websites began to appear. The arrival of YouTube, blogging sites and many others allowed classrooms to generate materials to share, as well as consume the plentiful resources the internet had to offer.

Pros: Teachers and students could create and share learning resources. Many web 2.0 apps were free to use, and this was such a blessing for teachers around the world.

Cons: It became the world wild west, and managing the suitability of resources became a lot more difficult as time went on.

Take a look at how the WWW 2.0 came into being here.

EdTech Item 17 – Virtual Learning Environments

VLEs (or Virtual Learning Environments) brought with them the safe, walled-garden of controlled resource sharing, and meant proprietary content sharing became commercially viable without the teacher or student having dozens of usernames and passwords to manage.

Pros: The best VLEs were easy to use, accessible from anywhere via a web browser, and offered commercially-licensed and open resources via a single login.

Cons: Many VLEs (especially the early ones) were not the best, being clunky and not particularly intuitive for pupil and teacher alike. Many were great in [principle but not in execution!

EdTech Item 18 –  Learning Platforms

VLEs on steroids, offering proprietary content sharing PLUS student homework allocation and hand in, parental access and a range of more sophisticated data handling tools. Learning platforms had the potential to very quickly become a teacher best friend if used correctly!

Pros: They genuinely offered anywhere, anytime learning that could be symmetrical and asynchronous.

Cons: They were very expensive, were administratively demanding, and some found the pedagogical shift required to implement them just too challenging and time consuming.

EdTech Item 19 –  Mobile Technology

The arrival of iPads and other lightweight devices such as chromebooks, plus pupils having mobile phones, suddenly made Bring Your Own Device and 1:1 a feasible model, even if many found the logistics and pedagogy shifts required unmanageable.

Mobile technology opened up a large number of possibilities within the classroom, often enabling each pupil to learn at their own pace, something which has been shown to be hugely beneficial on Third Space Learning’s own platform.

Pros: Control shifts to the learner, helping them to take in information in a pace they are comfortable with. They were also very flexible in their use, and ensured personalisation of both learning and device.

Cons: There were often equitability issues, and the management of behaviours and pedagogies was extremely challenging.

EdTech Item 20 –  Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality

Both still in relative infancy, AR & VR bring with them a wow factor, and demonstrably useful learning benefits, but are still really yet to be proven as a mainstream tool for classroom use.

Augmented Reality in the classroom

As the most recent entry in the history of educational technology timeline, they may not have made an impact yet, but I am sure they will in the near future.

Pros: Both are very exciting for students! AR works on typical student phones and tablets, and VR can also be used on affordable headsets with phones to offer immersive environments. This is something that is otherwise impossible to do.

Cons: They are not really usable in whole-class teaching. The complexity involved is arguably greater than the learning gains afforded, and whilst in a few years they may be at the level required to excel in the classroom, they aren’t quite there yet.

Wondering what the difference is between virtual and augmented reality? Wonder no more!

What Does The Future Hold For Education Technology?

But what of the future? Undoubtedly artificial intelligence will be the next education technology to make a difference. AI has yet to become an obvious presence in the classroom, but is already being used behind the scenes to make online learning systems far more flexible and responsive.

Algorithms added to some of the tools above offer the real promise of flexibility, personalisation and adaptive learning. And this will blossom even more as inputs ceases to be so text-based, and visual and auditory interfaces add even more flexibility and responsiveness to learning.

The reality is that AI, augmenting existing technologies, under the pedagogical control of a teacher now equipped to be even better informed and assisted to help the learner, will undoubtedly be the next major ed tech to make a real difference.

What do you think the next advancement in ed tech will be? Let us know on our Facebook or Twitter pages!


Other blogs you may like:

What you can learn from a KS2 Maths Revision Programme That Has Prepared Over 30,000 Pupils For SATs 

Education Technology: How We Use AI, Voice Recognition & 1-to-1 Learning To Improve Classroom Learning

Tony Parkin , ,

Tony is a teacher with over 50 years of experience of working both in classrooms and as a freelance educationalist.