Is #edtech Speeding Back to the 1960’s?

By the early 1960s the price of mainframe computers had decreased to the point where sales to educational markets were possible. At about the same time the potential of using computers in schools was recognized, but some cynics have suggested that the educational applications of computing were invented so that sales could be made to that market. Regardless of what goals motivated early advocates of introducing computers to schools, computers did begin arriving in schools within decades of their invention. Don Bushnell, writing in a monograph for the Department of Audiovisual Instruction for the National Education Association in 1963, predicted “the digital computer and its peripheral equipment will support most of the subsystems in the total school complex” (cited in Bushnell 1964, 56).

Bushnell predicted computer-rich classrooms would be places in which a standardized curriculum would be delivered to all students via computer terminals; students’ learning would be measured based on their being able to provide correct answers to questions posed by the computers (the correctness of answers being judged according to those answers stored in the computer). This picture of highly-standardized computer-mediated curriculum and instruction was promoted as a highly efficient method of teaching. Similar predictions regarding improved efficiency and productivity were made for other businesses and industries that adopted computers. These predictions were being made even when computers were still largely operated by technicians and computers were programmed by physically reconfiguring the circuits. The development of general purpose computers that sat on a desktop and come with graphical user interfaces so they can be operated by almost anyone to perform almost any function was still decades in the future. In the education envisioned by Bushnell, students and teachers would interact with information, but the devices would still remain unseen by and untouched by students and teachers.

As I walk through schools and see students connected to cloud-based test preparation programs and drill-and-practice sites, I am concerned for what passes for “technology integration.” Certainly, there are those educators whose students us IT to create, and who interact with other students as they use IT, and who look at people and resources as much as they look at screens when they are using IT. The fact that we can still observe teachers putting students in front of IT that dispenses answers and that education leaders accept it demonstrates we still have much to do to realize the education our students need.


Bushnell, Don. 1964. “Computers in Education.” In The Revolution in the Schools, edited by Ronald Goss and Judith Murphy, 56-72. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc.