This Is What Technology Used to Look Like in Schools
Pictured are some pieces of vintage “high tech” that teachers used in their school classrooms throughout the years. Whether or not you recognize them will tell us how old you are.
Technology has evolved so much over the past decade. Our homes have changed dramatically with the advent of smart home technology, slimmer and ever larger televisions, and home appliances that go above and beyond their forebears. But many people don’t realize just how much technology has changed in the classroom and how differently students are being taught today. Let’s take a look back at what was once considered “new tech” in the classroom. Remember any of these?
The very first typewriters hit the market in 1874. As they started to evolve and become smaller and more portable, teachers began incorporating them into classrooms. In the 1890s typing started to appear in the curriculum in some schools. A study conducted at that time found that students who spent an hour or two a week learning on a typewriter had better reading skills and spelling skills. Typing, the study found, increased the amount of independent writing among students and helped shy students feel more confident in their work. Typewriters are just one of the many things that you won’t find in schools anymore.
Radios had been available to the public since the 20s, and teachers would bring them into the classroom to play broadcasts that enhanced their lessons. Radio broadcasts were used to help students learn about recent and historical events or local and regional geography. By the 1960s and through the 70s, compact cassette tapes had been invented and could be used to record a broadcast. This was a remarkable thing at that time… to be able to insert a blank cassette, record a radio show, news program, song, or performance, and then be able to play it back on demand.
Overhead projectors used mirror images and light to blow up an image and display it on the wall, large enough for all the students in the classroom to see. Teachers would lay a clear sheet of plastic over the image and, using a dry-erase marker, write over it to draw diagrams or demonstrate math problems to help students learn.
Nowadays, teachers use streaming services or even YouTube to access videos that help their students learn. Back in the day AV carts with large televisions up top and VHS players on the bottom shelf would be rolled into the classroom, and this was an exciting signal to students that today’s lesson would include multimedia. Most kids today don’t even know what a VHS tape is. They’ll also never take these school subjects that you were probably taught.
Photocopiers hit the market in 1959, making it easy for office workers to make copies. It took a while for schools to make the investment in the new technology, though, so that teachers could copy worksheets, short stories, and book excerpts. If you were a student in the 60s or 70s, you probably recall the distinct smell of worksheets hot off the duplicator or mimeograph machine—two photocopier precursors. Those devices pressed ink through a stencil, leaving a distinctly chemical odor on the sheets of paper—and on students’ hands.
Calculators gradually infiltrated classrooms in the 1970s. There was a good deal of debate around whether or not student should be allowed to use calculators in the classroom, as many thought they would benefit more by continuing to do math longhand. Today, students use fancy graphing calculators to help with a number of complex math problems and they can cost anywhere from $50 to $175.
Got your No. 2 pencil ready? What student doesn’t recall filling in the bubbles of an exam sheet, called a scantron? Schools and universities started using scantron sheets for testing right after the product was invented in 1972. The little-bubble answer sheets allowed teachers to grade tests much quicker and more efficiently using automation. Amazingly, the technology has not changed all that much through the years, but don’t bet on scantrons sticking around forever. People thought these obsolete technology inventions were going to last forever too.
Did you have a computer room in your school, banked with row upon row of Mac computers? Then you must be a child of the 80s. The Apple II computer started making an appearance in schools in the 1980s. Most families did not yet have a computer in the home, so students would attend computer classes in these rooms, where they would learn to type, use CD or floppy-disc programs, and play games such as Oregon Trail. Steve Jobs credited schools for the success of the Apple II. “One of the things that built Apple II’s was schools buying Apple II’s,” he said.