A brief history of educational technology………please don’t tell Mr Gove!

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Every once in a while it is good to think back a little and I have been doing some of that recently.  One of the interesting aspects of a long and happy career in education has been the changing face of the classroom and as this is the start of the summer holidays for most of us something not too serious is called for in the way of a post.    There are some things that are just too hard to throw away and I recently came across my teaching practice file form my final school.  Recently qualified teachers will know how much work goes into them but this one was a real shocker.  Not only were all the lesson plans and evaluations hand written in fountain pen on lined file paper but there were also some drawings of the projects that this school were doing at the time.  Now they were a real blast from the past but perhaps more of them another time.  What struck me was a comment from someone who had observed one of my lessons;  “Excellent boardwork.”    For anyone who hasn’t got the hint from the fountain pen this was a few years ago and the board referred to was a blackboard.

Now for all you bright young things this was what could be called an ICB, that stands for interactive chalk board.  It was interactive because the teacher always wrote on it but we had a blackboard monitor whose job it was to clean everything off at the end of the lesson.  Next came ICB 2.0,  this was usually green and flexible, working on two rollers, thereby trebling the amount of usable space.  Writing on a chalk board was a skill in and of itself, drawing quite another level of difficulty, which of course ensured that CDT teachers, (that’s Craft, Design and Technology as we were called then), took a certain perverse pride in being good at it.  You could freehand it, a bit of a risk as if it went wrong you lost stacks of ‘face’ with the class, or if you wanted to pull off a coup de theatre you could draw the whole thing out on thin paper, go over the lines pricking holes every so often with a compass point and then hold the paper over the board and using the heavy wood and rolled felt board rubber, pat all over it.  This transferred small amounts of chalk dust through the holes and left a barely discernable series of dots which you could then join up with a flourish leaving your pupils amazed and impressed.  All this could go wrong if an over zealous board monitor had taken it upon themselves to clean your board before the lesson, leaving you high and dry!   For the real expert there were boxes of coloured chalks and many a happy hour could be passed by creating intricate multicouloured “theory notes” which your pupils were obliged to copy.  By the by, all the classes I taught during my training were single sex, all boys.

Handouts were a different matter.  A machine called a Gestetner would produce copies for you if you hand types the master on a type writer but far and away the best was the Banda machine.  This used an alcohol based solvent and thick carbon paper, available in colour which by devious means you could switch so that you had multicoloured copies, in as many as three or four colours, mark you!  Best of all my first deportment had acquired a broken machine which of course they fixed.  This meant fresh Bandas!  Remember the alcohol?   A good fresh Band handout was so fume ridden that an entire class of fifth form could be lulled into a drowsy stupor on that last lesson on a Friday.  Talk about behaviour for learning.

Then someone wised up.  Not sure if it was teachers or educational supply companies but the next big thing to hit education was…………..the whiteboard!  Same principle but of course white.  And more expensive.  And used special pens which were more expensive than chalk.  And got ruined if someone used the wrong pen.  And of course they were, well, white; so much for dyslexia friendly schools.  Another set of skills to learn, skills which children certainly didn’t have the time to master so still the teacher at the front.

Ah, then we hit OHP territory.  Now there had been things such as slide projectors, loop film projectors, Super 8, epidiascopes ans o on but the OHP was the first ubiquitous, plug and play technology.  By which I mean you had to plug it into the mains.  A lens set up and a strong light source, some transparencies and you were away!  Special OHP pens appeared so that those hard won coloured drawing skills should not be wasted.  The bad news was that you couldn’t even type on these so it was back to handwriting for a while.  Eventually someone invented photocopiable transparencies and finally ones that would work in your computer printer!  Skilled practitioners, and of course Design Technology teachers prided themselves on this, used sequential overlays sellotaped together at the edges so that as you taught you could flip over another layer and add to your drawing, rather like engaging in some demented form of educational origami.  Less skilled teachers simply put a plain piece of paper over the slide and slid it down when required to reveal the next bit of text.

Well by now the Sinclair Spectrum had made it’s appearance and some teachers were getting on the computer bandwagon.  The very first CNC machines appeared in schools, my first contact as it were was with a CNC lathe called ORAC after and AI in a then popular TV series called Blake’s Seven.  BBC computers for schools, Archimedes and finally PCs.  In the classroom things moved slowly until the advent of the data projector and PowerPoint.  What a revelation.  Then IWBs, my favourite of all time the visualiser and hand held devices of every shape and size.    Why not tell Mr Gove all this?  Well he seems to be a great admirer of all that is outdated, I would hate him to get any money saving ideas about blackboards.  On the other hand I am sure that a privatised educational system will only succeed if there is sufficient revenue for all those educational supply companies so we are probably safe.

2 Responses to “A brief history of educational technology………please don’t tell Mr Gove!”
  1. tristramshepard says:

    I’m reminded that when I was a school there was an ‘urban myth’ (though of course they were not called that at the time) that a certain Geography master used to say to his class after introducing a new topic: “Now watch the board while I go through it”. But sadly he never did, and the truly interactive black or whiteboard has yet to be invented!

    And still on the subject of a much smaller item of indispensable educational technology, the same teacher is also believed to have said: “If you want to use a rubber, use the boy’s behind”.

  2. Richard says:

    Well done, I wondered if there might be another edition. I have never heard about the layout paper with pin pricks in it for chalk board drawings – peachy! Your final comment re privatisation and resources for schools is brilliant; a hard stabbing (I’ve deleted hard hitting!) line because it is, of course, sadly based on fact!


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