The Evolution of Classroom Technology

Classrooms have come a long way. There’s been an exponential growth in educational technology advancement over the past few years. From overhead projectors to iPads, it’s important to understand not only what’s coming next but also where it all started.

We’ve certainly come a long way but some things seem hauntingly similar to many years ago. For example, Thomas Edison said in 1925 that “books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” I’m pretty sure this is exactly what people are saying these days about the iPad.

Also in 1925, there were “schools of the air” that delivered lessons to millions of students simultaneously. Scroll down to find out how that worked (hint: it wasn’t by using the Internet!)

Here’s a brief look at the evolution of classroom technology. Do you have a piece of technology that you think should be included? Tweet @edudemic or let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to add it to the timeline! **Updated to include items suggested in the comments! Videotapes, Pens, Copiers, and more!**

c. 1650 – The Horn-Book


Wooden paddles with printed lessons were popular in the colonial era. Perhaps this is where fraternities got the idea? On the paper there was usually the alphabet and a religious verse which children would copy to help them learn how to write.

c. 1850 – 1870 – Ferule


This is a pointer and also a corporal punishment device. Seems like both this and the Horn-Book had dual purposes in terms of ‘educating’ the youths of that era.

1870 – Magic Lantern


The precursor to a slide projector, the ‘magic lantern’ projected images printed on glass plates and showed them in darkened rooms to students. By the end of World War I, Chicago’s public school system had roughly 8,000 lantern slides.

c. 1890 – School Slate


Used throughout the 19th century in nearly all classrooms, a Boston school superintendent in 1870 described the slate as being “if the result of the work should, at any time, be found infelicitous, a sponge will readily banish from the slate all disheartening recollections, and leave it free for new attempts.’

c. 1890 – Chalkboard


Still going strong to this day, the chalkboard is one of the biggest inventions in terms of educational technology.

c. 1900 – Pencil


Just like the chalkboard, the pencil is also found in basically all classrooms in the U.S. In the late 19th century, mass-produced paper and pencils became more readily available and pencils eventually replaced the school slate.

c. 1905 – Stereoscope


At the turn of the century, the Keystone View Company began to market stereoscopes which are basically three-dimensional viewing tools that were popular in homes as a source of entertainment. Keystone View Company marketed these stereoscopes to schools and created hundreds of images that were meant to be used to illustrate points made during lectures.

c. 1925 – Film Projector


Similar to the motion-picture projector, Thomas Edison predicted that, thanks to the invention of projected images, “books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.”

c. 1925 – Radio


New York City’s Board of Education was actually the first organization to send lessons to schools through a radio station. Over the next couple of decades, “schools of the air” began broadcasting programs to millions of American students.

c. 1930 – Overhead Projector


Initially used by the U.S. military for training purposes in World War II, overhead projectors quickly spread to schools and other organizations around the country.

c. 1940 – Ballpoint Pen


While it was originally invented in 1888, it was not until 1940 that the ballpoint pen started to gain worldwide recognition as being a useful tool in the classroom and life in general. The first ballpoint pens went on sale at Gimbels department store in New York City on 29 October 1945 for US$9.75 each. This pen was widely known as the rocket in the U.S. into the late 1950s.

c. 1940 – Mimeograph


Surviving into the Xerox age, the mimeograph made copies by being hand-cranked. Makes you appreciate your current copier at least a little bit now, huh?

c. 1950 – Headphones


Thanks to theories that students could learn lessons through repeated drills and repetition (and repeated repetition) schools began to install listening stations that used headphones and audio tapes. Most were used in what were dubbed ‘language labs’ and this practice is still in use today, except now computers are used instead of audio tapes.

c. 1950 – Slide Rule

Slide rule and case

William Oughtred and others developed the slide rule in the 17th century based on the emerging work on logarithms by John Napier. Before the advent of the pocket calculator, it was the most commonly used calculation tool in science and engineering. The use of slide rules continued to grow through the 1950s and 1960s even as digital computing devices were being gradually introduced; but around 1974 the electronic scientific calculator made it largely obsolete and most suppliers left the business.

1951 – Videotapes


What would school be without videotapes? (Thanks to Jaume in the comments for reminding me about this one!) The electronics division of entertainer Bing Crosby’s production company, Bing Crosby Enterprises (BCE), gave the world’s first demonstration of a videotape recording in Los Angeles on November 11, 1951. Developed by John T. Mullin and Wayne R. Johnson since 1950, the device gave what were described as “blurred and indistinct” images, using a modified Ampex 200 tape recorder and standard quarter-inch (0.6 cm) audio tape moving at 360 inches (9.1 m) per second. A year later, an improved version, using one-inch (2.6 cm) magnetic tape, was shown to the press, who reportedly expressed amazement at the quality of the images, although they had a “persistent grainy quality that looked like a worn motion picture”.

c. 1957 – Reading Accelerator


With an adjustable metal bar that helped students tamp down a page, the reading accelerator was a simple device designed to help students read more efficiently. Personally, this looks like a torture device and is probably the least portable thing to bring along with a book. Is turning the page of a book or holding a book really that difficult?

c. 1957 – Skinner Teaching Machine


B. F. Skinner, a behavioral scientist, developed a series of devices that allowed a student to proceed at his or her own pace through a regimented program of instruction.

c. 1958 – Educational Television


By the early sixties, there were more than 50 channels of TV which included educational programming that aired across the country.

1959 – Photocopier


Xerographic office photocopying was introduced by Xerox in 1959, and it gradually replaced copies made by Verifax, Photostat, carbon paper, mimeograph machines, and other duplicating machines. The prevalence of its use is one of the factors that prevented the development of the paperless office heralded early in the digital revolution[citation needed].Photocopying is widely used in business, education, and government. There have been many predictions that photocopiers will eventually become obsolete as information workers continue to increase their digital document creation and distribution, and rely less on distributing actual pieces of paper.

c. 1960 – Liquid Paper


A secretary made this white liquid in her kitchen and sold the company to Gillette for about $50 million. The rest is (redacted) history!

1965 – Filmstrip Viewer


A precursor to the iPad perhaps, this filmstrip viewer is a simple way to allow individual students watch filmstrips at their own pace.

c. 1970 – The Hand-Held Calculator


The predecessor of the much-loved and much-used TI-83, this calculator paved the way for the calculators used today. There were initial concerns however as teachers were slow to adopt them for fear they would undermine the learning of basic skills.

1972 – Scantron


The Scantron Corporation removed the need for grading multiple-choice exams. The Scantron machines were free to use but the company made money by charging for their proprietary grading forms. Sneaky stuff.

1980 – Plato Computer


Public schools in the U.S. averaged about one computer for every 92 students in 1984. The Plato was one of the most-used early computers to gain a foothold in the education market. Currently, there is about one computer for every 4 students.

1985 – CD-ROM Drive


A single CD could store an entire encyclopedia plus video and audio. The CD-ROM and eventually the CD-RW paved the way for flash drives and easy personal storage.

1985 – Hand-Held Graphing Calculator


The successor to the hand-held calculator (see above), the graphing calculator made far more advanced math much easier as it let you plot out points, do long equations, and play ‘Snake’ as a game when you got bored in class.

c. 1999 – Interactive Whiteboard


The chalkboard got a facelift with the whiteboard. That got turned into a more interactive system that uses a touch-sensitive white screen, a projector, and a computer. Still getting slowly rolled out to classrooms right now, betcha didn’t know they were first around in 1999! (I didn’t know that, at least)

2005 – iClicker


There are many similar tools available now, but iClicker was one of the first to allow teachers to be able to quickly poll students and get results in real time.

2006 – XO Laptop


The ‘One Laptop Per Child’ computer was built so it was durable and cheap enough to sell or donate to developing countries. It’s an incredible machine that works well in sunlight, is waterproof, and much more. Learn more.

2010 – Apple iPad


Just like the original school slate, could the iPad bring Thomas Edison’s statement to life? Could the iPad make it so “scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” Only time will tell.

Source(s): New York Times, History of Things, Wikipedia


Do you have a piece of technology that you think should be included? Tweet @edudemic or let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to add it to the timeline!


  1. Eleanor Johnson

    October 4, 2011 at 6:12 am

    I have just come across your blog and really enjoyed reading it, I liked the technology time line. I immediately thought of audio technology and thought you might like to know about StoryPhones. My husband and I developed this innovative audio system several years ago and StoryPhones are now being used in schools throughout the UK and abroad. StoryPhones is the next step on from CD listening centres and also goes beyond a normal MP3 player with remote control for group listening, automatic play, abitlity to disable function buttons, multiway usb hub,supporting software and a download store. It has so many features, and our website has a page which lists all of these

    best wishes Eleanor Johnson

  2. Jason

    October 5, 2011 at 4:51 am

    wow its awesome information, you have done really great job. for this. may i use this information in my elearning course for student.

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  4. mundyviar

    October 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    say what you want, but I still love an overhead projector! :)

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  6. AnaDominguesPereira

    November 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I think that in Portugal we were allways around 30 years late.

  7. EXOPC

    December 24, 2011 at 1:11 am

    @Edudemic The candidate for 2012 is the @EXOPC HD classroom…

  8. Pingback: The Evolution of Classroom Technology | Edudemic | Technology and Educational Innovation

  9. milesmac

    February 7, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Well, that was a fun read! From my own elementary school education in the 70s with 50s technology, through to teaching today in the 2010s with 90s technology.

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  11. MidoBan

    February 26, 2012 at 9:23 am

    To begin with, I desire to possess a moment to state what a superb website you have here. I have been reading your blog for a number of days and definately will now be bookmarking it for the future.

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  15. masakir

    April 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

    How about a typewriter? Can it be included there?  I had Olivetti’s one actually..

  16. jimlerman

    April 19, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Great List!
    The 1925 “film projector” is misnamed. It is a filmstrip projector. Film projectors show movies, filmstrip projectors show still images on a strip of film.
    I second the addition of the typewriter, phonograph, ditto machine,and the photocopier.
    Other things to consider adding: the opaque projector (forerunner of today’s document cams), laser disc player, reel-to-reel tape recorder, cassette tape recorder, movie projector (8mm and 16 mm),  VCR, and the fountain pen.

  17. Joris Steenbakkers

    April 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Serious games are missing in the overview, I’d say… For example Revolution rpg-game based working with the Neverwinter Nights engine, developed by MUI, but there are more examples, although e.g. Civilization III (that’s originally an entertainment strategy game which can be (and was) used in some classes to teach history. Revolution was used to teach children about the American revolution from the perspective of the societal classes in those times (google it yourself if you’d like)

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  20. Joao Gaspar Farias

    May 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    I remember around 1985 the original “datashow”: a transparent screen receiving data fom a PC and put over the table of an overhead projector. The image, really not bright, was projected like moderns multimedia projectors.

  21. Christina Mason

    June 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Hello Mr. Dunn. I am a student at the University of South Alabama majoring in Elementary Education. I am currently enrolled in Dr. John Strange’s EDM 310 class which is teaching me the many skills and benefits of using technology in the classroom. I found your post to be entertaining (it was fun and kind of scary to see how many of the first teaching tools I was familiar with), informative, and enlightening. I have posted a link to your post, as well as the website, on my class blog. Please feel free to check it out some time at Thank you for an eye opening visual of technology’s evolution.

    • Jeff Dunn

      June 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks Christina! Will definitely check out your site. Great work!

  22. ASDF

    June 6, 2012 at 8:05 pm


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  26. Jennab

    June 24, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Great timeline!! I’m doing a project for school, do you mind if I use some of your timeline in my presentation? (proper credit will be given of course!) Thanks!!

  27. Gianna

    July 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I remember using the Reading Accelerator in grade school, but I think we selected reading selections printed on a sort of flexible cardboard, which were inserted I to the Accelerator. The selections were color coded, according to difficulty level.

  28. Emil Ahangarzadeh

    July 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks, Jeff. Absolutely brilliant. I love the images. Do you mind if we use the content here for a professional development offering we’ve got coming up? We want to make posters out of the tools and have folks date the technology. Is that alright?

    • Jeff Dunn

      July 10, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Not a problem, go for it!

      • ania

        July 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm

        Hi Jeff,

        Thanks for this timeline. Very informative!
        Can we use some of the content here for presentation about tech in the classroom? Just would like to show how technologies evolve?

        • Jeff Dunn

          July 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm


  29. Dawn

    July 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Fantastic timeline. May I get your permission to use some of your content in a presentation for faculty at our university? Thanks.

    • Jeff Dunn

      July 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      Not a problem!

  30. Helen

    July 20, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Very interesting. At least you thought of things that many people would not describe as “technological”. Most people think of technology as being the latest electronic device & don’t think about things like pens, slates, paper and liquid paper as technology. I have just watched a video on YouTube & technology & education. It mentioned nothing prior to the 1980′s, to me this person basically sees that the education system had no technology prior to videos, overhead projectors and photocopiers!

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  32. Drew Jones

    August 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    LOVE this!! Very informative to see how far the world has come in such a short time! I remember the purple ink mimeograph machines of the 1970′s…before copy machines. And my WANG computer in the 1980′s…keyboard and hard drive all in one “box”. Students of today do not know how good they have it.
    Reputation Management

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  34. Gavin

    August 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I am surprised you don’t have more technology from ancient classrooms. For example: the abacus, counting boards, Babylonian cuneiform tablets, and roman wax tablets with writing styles.

    • Noah

      December 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      The question is, how accurate is the date going to be for those? For certain, you can include the approximate date, but it isn’t guaranteed to even be withing a hundred years for most of the examples you provided. And, also, while those are all important to educational development, the only place the abacus is used is in select Japanese elementary schools. The others are only displayed in museums.

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  38. Marina Geronazzo

    November 12, 2012 at 8:47 am

    A small correction regarding the date related to the world’s first interactive whiteboard. It was 1991 – not 1999 as you have noted. SMART Technologies is the company that achieved this milestone and the popular product is the SMART Board interactive whiteboard – currently installed in over 2.3 million classrooms around the world.

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  41. Deb

    January 8, 2013 at 10:05 am

    You might want to add the TSR-80 Radio Shack computer (1980s followed by the early Apple II series.also in mid 80′s. Both used the 5 1/4 inch black floppy disks.

  42. Jene Jones

    July 17, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Where is the ditto machine? Loved turning blue with all those copies! Great shoulder muscles turning the crank around and around…