Musings on the History of Education Technology

Cave Painting - Paleolithic, Cantabria, Spain painted 20,000 years agoGetting an understanding of the history of education technology really relies on the definition given to the word technology. Is technology defined only in what might be considered a modern way? As a mechanical or electronic gadget that mediates learning? Or can we look back to see that carving marks into stone (cuneiform script as early as 3200 BC in Mesopotamia) or tying knots into string (going back to the first millennium AD in Andean South America) could be considered technology used to pass on knowledge (to teach)?

I like the idea that we’ve been using all of our technologies to teach each other since the dawn of time, that the only real differences through history are the technological tools we use and the types of information that we convey. I do graphic recording and illustration and think of the power of mark-making as one of the most powerful tools that humans possess to convey information. With this, I think that education technology has been used since the first person went from teaching through oral history to teaching through image and mark making, perhaps by using a stick to draw on the ground during a conversation, and later through the use of pigments to make images on stone and in caves.

Wandering through the research and different perspectives was interesting. The Rosetta stone is the earliest known written translation between languages. Early religious teachings of the contents of holy books were done through paintings (in religions that favour use of images of god), and through illuminated manuscripts in the early centuries AD. The boom of literacy that came with the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century AD was unprecedented and opened up a new era of education, creating a mechanism by which information could be distributed on a mass scale. The next largest boom in terms of mass access to information was probably late last century, with the wide adoption of use of the World Wide Web.

Between the printing press and the adoption of the web was a time rich with ongoing growth in education technologies. I’d not heard of desktop sandboxes for practicing the alphabet (1806), or hornbooks (1450) but remember my grandfather talking about use of slate in his Prairie one-room schoolhouse. As a child, I learned a lot from watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company on our little black and white television. I look at our K-12 and post-secondary settings today with their use of electronics for everything from creating and distributing digital print documents to the use of richly multimodal teaching materials, ones that are interlinked with as much (or little) as a student might like to know.

I’m excited to be stepping into history at this point in the stream, having the opportunity to look back and learn more about what has led us to this point, as well as to squint into the future to see what new ways of teaching and learning it might hold.

One thought on “Musings on the History of Education Technology”

  1. I like your thoughts on the diversity of historical meaning’s of ed tech, Lisa. There are so many divergent paths and meanings of tech in education that it’s difficult to draw a definitive historical path, rather, there are many.

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