How will future technology change the classroom?

In today's classrooms, tablet PCs are becoming a much more common learning tool for students -- even really young ones. Will they continue to be?
In today's classrooms, tablet PCs are becoming a much more common learning tool for students -- even really young ones. Will they continue to be?
Aping Vision/STS/Taxi/Getty Images

When people not born in this generation hear the phrase "technology in the classroom," they might conjure up images of kids playing "Oregon Trail" on an Apple 2G in the corner. If you're of my generation -- that is, ten years out of high school -- you still remember how exciting it was when those gigantic laser discs showed up in school one day.

Well, the excitement was short-lived. Whereas it used to be that technology was a curiosity in the classroom, schools are now acknowledged as (or at least aspire to be) the vanguards of new resources. In 2009, the ratio of computers to students was roughly 5 to 1 in American classrooms [source: NCES]. But aside from just adding quantity to the classroom, how is the rapidity of technological change affecting the way classes are taught, students are engaged and teachers use material?

Before we get into some of the technology that could become an everyday part of the educational system, let's first discuss what educational system we're talking about. Because let's be honest: Not every classroom has the means to take advantage of the technology of the future -- or even the present. And not just third-world nations; remember how even three years ago, there were roughly 5 computers to every 1 student in the American classroom? Well, let's just keep in mind that there are schools like the Bronzeville Scholastic Institute in Chicago, which this year has only 24 computers, shared among a thousand students [source: Pandolfo].

While we can't ignore the fact that these technologies are simply not going to enter some schools, we do need to acknowledge that we're going to be discussing resources that will likely be available to those educational systems that have funds to support them. In other words, we're by and large talking about cutting-edge educational systems and districts.

With that said, let's go to the next page, where we'll explore some ways technology is leading the educational experience to change.

Technology Trends in the Classroom

To see the future of technology in the classroom -- and how it will change the way classes look -- we should probably start with college. Although we can't predict how technology will change, we can make some assumptions about how it will trickle down. Of course, university students are now almost uniformly armed with laptops. But they also often work with Learning Management Systems like Blackboard to post papers, receive instructions or discuss assignments or lectures. This is already starting to show up in lower grades; not just to monitor school work, but to allow parents to keep up and keep tabs on students' grades, homework and progress.

This speaks to a larger trend that technology might lead to in the future. Customizing the student's learning experience has become a hot (and debated) topic. Chris Dede and John Richards are Harvard University professors who propose a digital teaching platform called Time to Know that allows teachers to formulate large and small group learning, as well as individual education. They envision a classroom where each student has a computer, but the teacher can press a button to make all devices freeze, capturing a large group's attention. Beyond that, the teachers would use the broader big-group lessons to let each child find an individual understanding of how that lesson impacts them, personally [source: Dede and Richards]. But how would that occur?

As Dede and Richards point out, our classrooms don't lack content. With the Internet and the technology that lets us connect to resources around the world, what teachers now need is a system to assess what content is going to be most valuable to their class. These digital teaching platforms will have assessments that will theoretically help teachers determine a curriculum that's best for their community, classroom and even each individual student, in real time.

This idea of customization through digital teaching platforms is interesting, but let's consider some of the actual tools that might be used in the future classroom -- as well as some warnings about how technology might impact education negatively.

Tools and Warnings

Will the classroom of the future look like this? Or will it be even more high-tech and automated?
Will the classroom of the future look like this? Or will it be even more high-tech and automated?
Blend Images/Ariel Skelley/the Agency Collection/Getty Images

There are some pretty impressive ideas about how technology will begin trickling into our classrooms. And we're not just talking about a laptop for every kid. Consider a biometric technology that can measure a kid's breathing, facial expression -- even how fast they're typing -- to let teachers know how they're reacting to lessons or the learning environment.

There's also been a fair amount of attention to giving augmented reality glasses to kids in classrooms. The glasses act as a screen that projects information or images on them, supplementing, say, a book or map. Even better, augmented reality glasses could provide a video of the teacher giving instructions to each kid at a time.

But increasingly, there have been concerns about what technology in the classroom might take away from education. For one, there's the concern that technology in the classroom has had no real impact on student achievement or test scores [source: Richtel]. There's the fear that instead of spending money on research that would lead to a better understanding of learning, districts and schools will be forced to upgrade technology with little idea of how it's best used or if it's being implemented at the expense of basic reading, writing and math skills. Even worse, that money would be drained from the pockets of teachers and education professionals.

With that comes the worry that teachers will become obsolete, and the classroom will become an entirely automated experience. Already there is a concern that dependence on technology allows students to have a lot more information at hand, but to collect it too easily. Having a broad, easily accessible wealth of knowledge might harm the deeper understanding that comes from a careful analytical research process [source: Hopkins].

Technology will no doubt play a large part in the education system -- whether you have the technology or not.

Author's Note

With talk of biometrics, customized digital content and holographic teachers, it's easy to be intimidated by how far technology in the classroom can go. But I can't help but wonder who will get access to this technology and which kids will still have to scrape by. While "The Classroom of the Future" sounds like it could contain a dazzling display of technology, I'm more concerned with the teachers of today who don't make what they deserve yet still have to buy supplies out of pocket and students who are left with antiquated textbooks and rundown schools.

Related Articles


  • Dede Chris and John Richards. "Customizing the classroom for each student using digital resources." District Administration. Issue 48, vol. 6. June 2012. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Grantham, Nick. "Five Future Technologies That Will Shape Our Classrooms." Edutopia Blog. April 10, 2012. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Hopkins, Curt. "Future U: Classroom tech doesn't mean handing out tablets." ArsTechnica. May 6, 2012. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Human Computer Interaction Lab. "Classroom of the Future." University of Maryland. 2006. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Ledesma, Patrick. "Can you predict the future technologies in your classroom?" Education Week. Feb. 21, 2011. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences. "Fast Facts." (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Pandolfo, Nick. "Education Technology: As Some Schools Plunge In, Poor Schools Are Left Behind." The Hechinger Report. Jan. 24, 2012. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Richtel, Matt. "In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores." The New York Times. Sept. 3, 2011. (Aug. 24, 2012)
  • Time To Know. "Web site." 2010. (Aug. 24, 2012)