The evolution of classroom tech 

From the humble chalkboard to VR: Classroom tech has evolved at an incredible rate over the last few years, writes Cin-Yee Ho

By Cin-Yee Ho, Head of EdTech at XYZprinting, desktop 3D printers

Technology in the classroom is rapidly changing – in the US alone, the past decade has seen investment in technology and the digital curriculum jump from $800 million to almost $12 billion. That’s an incredible 1,400% increase. 

But of course classroom tech didn’t always command such sums – 100 years ago, the humble chalkboard along with mass-produced pencils and paper were enough to revolutionise learning, shaping the course of education to this day. So how did we get to here?

The forefathers

Edtech 1.0 was all about new ways of disseminating information to hungry learners, starting with the introduction of the radio in the 1920s and the rise of on-air classes. Essentially, lessons were open to any student within listening range. This was followed up by the overhead projector in 1930 and video in 1951, offering teachers an exciting and, perhaps more importantly, visual way to instruct large groups of students. 

The advent of the photocopier (1959) and the handheld calculator (1972) brought the revolution of speed. For the first time, educators could produce materials en masse at the click of a button, while students could make quick mathematical calculations. Immediacy was increasingly becoming the standard.

And then came along the personal computer.

The dotcom boom

Believe it or not, The Computer was dubbed Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in 1982, so great was its potential. And once the web came into being in 1993, its full power was unleashed in a frenzy of information sharing and new communication channels. 

Social media was one such tool, starting with Myspace before Facebook and Twitter jumped onto the bandwagon. In some ways, it’s a hindrance to education, distracting students and at times negatively impacting their relationships. But in other ways, it’s also enabled new discussions at times on even a global level, and provided inspiration for the classroom.

Online courses, or ‘MOOCs’, are another, with top universities allowing would-be students from around the world to pursue their passions using free teaching tools. And as digital technologies have evolved to be more portable (for example, tablets and smartphones), apps have also become a key source of learning.

Experiential education

So now that we’ve become so effective at distributing knowledge, we tackle a new era of classroom technology – edtech 2.0, if you will – that focuses not so much on the information itself, but how it can be applied or experienced hands-on.

For example, with entry 3D printers becoming as affordable as their paper counterparts, many schools are experimenting with the technology to enable students to apply their knowledge of STEAM subjects to a creative project, resulting in a tangible object. Raspberry Pis, meanwhile, are offering similar practical, experiential study in areas such as robotics.

Further afield, countries like Dubai are leading the way in virtual and augmented reality in the classroom – one recent case study saw a group of students visit Egypt to measure the bases of pyramids from the comfort of their desks. Given a little more time, it wouldn’t be surprising if virtual school trips became commonplace, or visits to the museum came with headsets and additional interactive information popping up before your eyes on historical artefacts you focus on. 

The personal classroom

Perhaps the greatest challenge that now remains in education is personalisation. To date, the approach has generally been to split students into classes based on ability – but what if technology could enable educators to produce customised lessons for each individual student so that they could work and excel at their own level and pace?

It appears that future is not as far as we might think, thanks to advances in biometric technology.

Normally reserved to the confines of the security industry, there are now companies testing the effectiveness of eye tracking in lessons to help teachers understand how students are absorbing and understanding content. The theory is that the technology could be used to recognise a student’s physical and emotional state, and, combined with interactive adaptive learning systems, could adjust content to suit their needs.

If we thought we’d seen rapid evolution in classroom technology in the last 100 years, it’s clear we’re in for some even bigger surprises over the next century to come. The task now will be to adapt and embrace each development as it comes so that our children of today become capable digital citizens of tomorrow. Not the easiest thing to plan for, granted – but what could be more exciting?