Learning Machines: Past, Present, and FuturePosted by Barbara Schroeder on October 13, 2010
Take some time today to view and reflect upon the fascinating evolution of pivotal “learning” devices through an interactive graphical timeline on the New York Times Magazine.
Starting with the horn-book (c. 1650), a wooden paddle inscribed with letters and lessons and ending with today’s iPad, this timeline represents not only the development and progression of tools, but the evolution of teaching and learning.
The behaviorism of B.F. Skinner is vividly demonstrated through his Teaching Machine (c. 1957), a sterile-looking object that packs about the same amount of excitement as a stack of flash cards.
I was surprised to discover that the film-strip projector, a device I fondly remember from my grade school days, was circa 1925. More multimedia arrived by the late 50s with “educational” television (c. 1958), and by the early 1960s there were more than 50 channels that included some sort of “educational” programming across the United States. (The reason I put educational in quotes is that in my opinion, ALL television is educational. But that’s fuel for another post.)
If we look at which machines have lasted and which have gone away, it can help us make predictions about technology and learning in the future. The hand-held calculator advanced to more sophisticated graphing calculators, which are still required in many math classes. However, the graphing and calculating capabilities of computer apps are quickly replacing these devices. The CD-ROM drive (c. 1985), which could store the contents of an entire encyclopedia, including video and audio, has been replaced by online databases accessible by any computer or smartphone. Older televisions in the classroom will be replaced by flat-screen LED panels, connected to the Internet for accessing and interacting with many different types of content.
The interactive whiteboard (c. 1999) is also going to disappear from the classroom as we move to interactive projectors that can project on any surface. Three companies are already selling this type of projector: Epson’s new BrightLink 450Wi, Boxlight (ProjectoWrite2/W), and InFocus. The cost of these projectors is substantially less than the traditional interactive whiteboard, which will allow schools to use their money more effectively.
The iClicker (c. 2005) and other student response systems allowed teachers to poll or quiz students, receiving instant results. However, these devices required students to purchase them, they were costly and required students to remember to bring them to class. These devices are being replaced by what students ALWAYS carry with them–their mobile devices. Many software tools allow mobile smartphones to act as clickers in the classroom. We will definitely see more of this technology being used in ways that can engage students, especially in larger classrooms, for polling and back-channel conversations.
Finally, the computer of course, is here to stay in one form or another. The One Laptop Per Child initiative (c. 2006) highlighted the need for inexpensive, Internet-capable computers for all children. This initiative had some impact, but the development of computers and resulting lower costs make them more and more accessible to the public. The iPad, an apps-based computing platform, has and will continue to make inroads in how we teach and learn with technology. The ability to now download the Kindle Reader to just about any device makes ebooks very accessible and should increase their use. The day when students will no longer lug heavy textbooks around is coming–although it is still not a reality–and the increasing power and portability of smartphones will make accessing information and learning anytime, anyplace a common occurrence.
What devices are missing from this timeline? Well, definitely the smartphone. Mobile technologies are still in their infancy, but almost all U.S. students own a cell phone and many of these are smartphones. People need and want instant information to make decisions whenever they want, wherever they are.
I can definitely see mobile devices becoming an accepted and required device for all students, along with a tablet or laptop computer. Instead of teachers saying, “Turn off your cell phones,” upon entering a classroom, they will be saying, “Make sure your cell phones are turned on.”
What devices and technologies do you think will enable innovative and effective teaching and learning, and which ones do you see going the way of the hornbook?