As part of ISTE's 40th anniversary, we're taking a look back. During ISTE's four-decade existence, technology has changed the world in profound and permanent ways. In a recent forum, we asked asked members, “What has been the most transformative technology in the last 40 years.”
As context, we asked members to think about technologies that offer students experiences and lessons that wouldn’t have been possible in earlier eras.
“Hands down, the most transformative tech of the last 40 years was the birth of the World Wide Web and the corresponding explosion of internet connectivity. That change — from a model of education where we needed to memorize things to one where we have vast amounts of information at our fingertips — is a fundamental one that’s still happening. Web 2.0 allows for new ways of collaborating and honoring student voice and choice.”
— Jennifer Chance Cook, technology integration specialist
Perry Township Schools, Indianapolis, Indiana
“Computer science tech tools — both physical computing and software — have definitely changed over the past 40 years. Block-based computer science programming has changed the game on how we learn computer science.”
— Kim Lane Clark, director of blended learning
Lancaster Independent School District, Lancaster, Texas
“Over the past 40 years, the most transformative types of technology have been those that mitigate developing inequities and that allow all students to participate fully.
These technologies include closed captions for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, text resizing and screen readers for students with visual impairments, translation technology for ELL students and parents, and connectivity hardware like hotspots that can provide students access to the internet outside of the classroom.”
— Matt Hiefield, digital curriculum specialist
Beaverton School District, Beaverton, Oregon
“The most transformative technology over the past 40 years is G Suite for Education. Having the ability to interact, communicate and assess through all of the different applications has really revolutionized how I approach pedagogy. Students being able to easily collaborate and communicate with classmates and teachers in so many different ways truly promotes 21st century learning. Also, the suite makes communication with parents and community stakeholders easy and accessible!”
— Jon Markowich, STEM teacher
Avon Grove Charter School, West Grove, Pennsylvania
“For me the most transformative is the iPad. I love the mobility of the iPad, rear-facing camera and built-in creativity tools where you can app smash to easily and fluidly create a product and then share it in so many ways. Our schools use built-in apps to do field sketches for geography over a photo students have taken, code for STEM, control robotics like Spheros, create digital books, etc.”
— Lisa Nash, digital learning and library services
Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, Parramatta, Australia
“One transformative tech tool is Skype. I remember when I used to write letters to communicate with someone. Nowadays, we can have impromptu or programmed meetings with people around the globe.Teachers can communicate with other teachers all over the world, and their classes can be part of a joint project. Skype allows us to meet experts and make virtual trips. Everything is at our fingertips.”
— Sylvia Fojo, grade and computer science teacher
Uruguayan American School, Carrasco, Montevideo, Uruguay
“I would probably have to pick that point in time (as opposed to a device or app) where access to the internet became the norm and not the exception, as well as access to authoring/creating tools (like G Suite). Now everyone can create and share their own work with very few barriers and the world is their audience. This applies to everyone — children and adults — and is transforming our classrooms in exciting ways."
— Helen Quinn, instructional technology coach
State College Area School District, State College, Pennsylvania
“For me, when I was in the classroom, it was using tech to do things I could never do before. I Skyped with a class in Vietnam and was able to greet them as they started their day while sitting in my PJs in my home in New York. It was doing the Hour of Code with a group of students including several English language learners who found their voice through coding because it was a language that was universal. The most transformational moments using technology were when the lines of communication were opened and students were engaged in ways never before possible.”
— Laurie Guyon, assistant coordinator for model schools
Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Fort Edward, New York
“There are so many! However, as a former special education teacher, I would say the accessible and assistive tech strides made in the last few years, especially those by Microsoft. From Immersive Reader and the Learning Tools built into many of their programs to apps like Seeing AI and Office Lens, all available free, they are innovating like I haven't seen for quite some time. These tools not only benefit those who need them, but can assist all of us, to make us more productive, remove language barriers, and cross platform lines with web-based tools and iOS apps.
As a tech trainer, I was asked to assist a class of students new to America. Five different languages and none English. With Microsoft Translator and the PowerPoint add-in that captions AND translates, I was able to effectively communicate and received the most beautiful thank you letters a few days later from students who could finally communicate with each other and were sharing the website and app with their parents.
With amazing tools, ALL can have a voice and not feel singled out by cumbersome assistive tech equipment or special classrooms. #inclusivelearning #assistivetech
— Karyn Fillhart (@Filibuster3), technology training specialist
Chino Valley Unified School District, Chino, California
“I would definitely say that the internet is the most transformative tech in the last 40 years. I know this is cheating a little, since internet requires a device :). Thinking about how education has evolved due to teachers and students being able to collaborate globally, even small things like the sharpened and unsharpened pencil containers that I see in nearly every classroom. Surely, this along with many other classroom decor ideas came from Pinterest or a similar website. Students being able to connect to other classrooms across the world and learn about other cultures, and teachers being able to connect with those in similar roles on Twitter. It's amazing how quickly ideas and communication can travel now with the help of the internet.”
— Kristin Harrington (@KristinCHarr), digital learning specialist
Flagler County Schools, Bunnell, Florida
“The most transformative technology in my opinion is internet access at home. I was fortunate enough to grow up with the internet in my own home as my father worked for IBM during its heyday in the ’80s. For example, without knowing it, I was learning how to be a global collaborator and a digital citizen by the age of 5 using Prodigy — an online service I am sure a few will remember. Using Prodigy helped me practice how to write clearly, read quickly, engage positively with others. My parents were always keeping a close eye on my activity, but they also thought it was so cool that this tool was enabling some awesome learning opportunities. It set the stage for the increasingly digital life I have had ever since. : ) Growing up with these opportunities is what inspired me to ensure we not only provide access to the tools, but also learning experiences that enable them to be transformative as well.”
— Vanessa Monterosa, program and policy development specialist
Los Angeles Unified School District
“Internet. I remember before the WWW we had other types of connectivity. National Geographic had a service that connected schools all over the world. When the Soviet Union fell, the news — radio, TV, etc. — went dark. There literally was nothing coming out of that country. The first news about what was happening came from a school that was on the National Geographic network!
"Some have mentioned G Suite. I would stretch that to include all of the office suites as they are nearly ubiquitous in nature. For those who use Apple devices, their suite is very similar. The Microsoft Office suite also has many of the same features. The packaging of services and making them integrated is of great benefit.
"If I go back just a little bit further, one technology that definitely changed my life was the CD-ROM. The amount of data that could fit on one CD was absolutely phenomenal compared to the floppy disk that preceded it. Everything from an entire encyclopedia with multimedia built-in to replacing the 36 floppy disks required to install Microsoft office with one CD. This technology revolutionized the delivery of media.
"The last one that I will mention is a technology that over the last 50 years has changed the educational experience for millions of children. I'm referring to the logo programming language with Lego robotics. This was introduced in the 1970s and is still being used today. I'm sure Seymour Papert is still smiling as he sees how this wonderful tool is still alive and well in the hands of creative students."
— Dennis McElroy, professor of education
Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa