History of Ed Tech

Posted By pguichon on Sep 2, 2020 | 4 comments

As mentioned in the book 25 Years of Ed Tech by Martin Weller, it is hard to define the start of Education Technology. Ideas and concepts often predate the invention and popularity of technology. I found this to be the case as well when investigating the roots of mobile learning (often referred to as m-learning) while studying conceptual frameworks for my course LRNT 522. 

Although not well known, m-learning is often attributed to Alan Kay in 1970. Maxwell (2006) described that Alan Kay had visions of creating personal computers similar to laptops and tablets today, back in the early 1970s. This predates Steve Jobs creating apple computers and Bill Gates creating the first MS-DOS operating system, which didn’t occur until the late 1970s. Alan worked on creating what he called, the Dynabook, shown here:

Alan Kay holding the mockup of Dynabook.” by Marcin Wichary is licensed under CC BY 2.0

and here:

Illustration of the Dynabook” by Kay, A.C. is licensed under fair use.

Alan (Children’s Technology Review, 2009) described his vision for the Dynabook as:

By trying different things, we realized it should be really thin, should be light, it would have a stylus for drawing on it, wireless network, flat screen display, keyboard and that stuff. So this kind of the thing I used to hold up back then of what computers should be like; it was kind of if you could have what you wanted, what should it be like? In my image here was the children would be able to play collaboratively games on it and especially games that they could make themselves and I wanted it to be able to do all the thing you could do with a book, but be dynamic.

Alan’s Dynabook actually reminded me a bit of a toy I had when I was a kid, the speak & spell by Texas Instruments.  

Redesigned Speak & Spell with flat “touch sensitive” membrane keyboard.” by Bill Bertram is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

While the Speak & Spell didn’t meet all of Alan’s criteria, such as collaboration, wireless network, and be thin and light-weight, it was a great education tool for children and will be a part of my history for educational learning technology. 



Children’s Technology Review. (2009, December 21). Alan Kay’s Dynabook — Rare NHK video [ video ]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r36NNGzNvjo

Kay, A. C. (2011). A personal computer for children of all ages. Proceedings of the ACM annual conference-Volume 1.

Maxwell, J. W. (2006). Tracing the Dynabook: A study of technocultural transformations [Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia]. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0055157

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. AU Press, Athabasca University. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01

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  1. Speak and Spell? Check!. However, that tool was quickly abandoned mainly due to the fact I enjoyed numbers more—calculators were always my first choice. I was thinking about why it is so difficult to match a particular technology with a specific year. Perhaps it has to do with affluence? I was raised in a family with limited resources and therefore experienced new technologies later than most. Also, I attended and taught in schools with limited budgets. Unfortunately we are dealing with that exact issue right now as we are about to navigate our way through using more technology in our schools.

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    • It’s so true! There are lots of great ideas for technology, but without funding and uptake, many ideas fail before they start.
      Thanks for the comment!

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      • Last summer, when I started the MALAT program, I questioned the learning and technology path and felt defeated, partly because I work in a school district where funds are limited and tech is not the main focus. As well, I struggled with privacy issues. However, in months, the game changed. The pandemic forced teachers, students, and families to survive. Resources became open for use; copyright was of no concern. It was sink or swim. Even I was more willing to open to the public. It’s always amazing to see what good may come out of times of stress. We are in a position to make great leaps in the tech field and I cannot wait to see what happens here.

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  2. Patrick,

    Well, that was an interesting read. Thanks for sharing. I honestly assumed something predated the laptop, but I had no idea what it was. I find the Dynabook shockingly similar to modern smartphones and tablets, but instead of a physical keyboard and stylus, most modern smartphones use a virtual keyboard and finger. It reminds me of Weller’s concept of being “just good enough” – as using a stylus is far more accurate, and a physical keyboard as many advantages over a virtual, yet mainstream adoption is of the easier or more straightforward to use devices (poor Blackberry). Still, thanks for the information again. Have a good one.

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