Issue Number 247 December 15, 2018

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018c). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 29,500 page-views and downloads.

ICT Tools and the Future of Education
Part 1: A Brief History of Tools in Education

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“A new technology does not add something, it changes everything.” (Neil Postman; American author, educator, media theorist, and cultural critic; 1931-2003.)

“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.”
(Thomas H. Huxley; English writer; 1825-1895.)

“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month's study of books.” (Chinese proverb.)

These three quotations capture ideas that I consider to be very important in all informal and formal education. The goal of this newsletter series is to explore some ideas about major needed changes in our educational systems due to the physical and intellectual capabilities of robots and robotic devices, and other applications of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The quote from Neil Postman is the underlying theme of this series. ICT changes everything!

An aside: As an introduction to this series, I believe you will be amused by two parables about major change in education. Both provide examples of educational systems that refused to change as new tools were developed (Peddiwell, 1939, link, link; Moursund, March, 1987, link).

At the time of Thomas Huxley, about 150 years or so ago, an educated person could strive toward knowing something about a very large number of things and a great deal about one thing. The totality of human knowledge has grown immensely since then (Moursund, 2018b, link). So, perhaps a more modern version of Huxley’s quote above would be:

In your lifetime of informal and formal education, strive toward knowing a personally useful amount about a great many things, a lot more about the things that are most important to you, and how to access, learn, and use more information about new topics that interest you.

The third quotation may date back 2,000 years or more, and it still remains very relevant. A “serious” one-on-one conversation with a person who is more knowledgeable than you about a topic is still an excellent way to learn about that topic. This is why so many people are troubled by the exceedingly superficial conversations that are part of Internet-based social networking today. They fear that students are not developing good face-to-face, one-on-one, and small group conversational and learning skills.

Tools and Education

Humans and other animals are born with innate knowledge and skills that are essential to their survival. For some, the inherited knowledge and skills are all they need. But humans and many other animals require a period of growth, nurturing, care, training, and education in order to survive. For humans, this period is many years in length.

A very long time ago, prehumans began to develop tools to help themselves survive and to improve the quality of their lives. Tools can enhance physical capabilities and mental (cognitive) capabilities. Such tools empower their users. Quoting from Stone tool (Wikipedia, 2018f, link):

Stone tools found from 2011 to 2014 at Lake Turkana in Kenya, are dated to be 3.3 million years old, and predate the genus Homo by half million years.… The stone tools may have been made by Australopithecus afarensis… (a 3.2 to 3.5-million-year-old Pliocene hominin fossil discovered in 1999) the species whose best fossil example is Lucy, which inhabited East Africa at the same time as the date of the oldest stone tools.

These prehumans had the intelligence to learn from each other. Showing others how to use as well as how to make tools was a very early type of educational system that can be thought of as apprenticeship learning. Apprenticeships are still an important mode of education. Notice the emphasis on use. The early tools were very helpful and their value could be quickly understood by the learners.

The value of much that we are teaching in our schools today may not be so readily apparent to students. When today’s students ask, “Why do I have to learn this?”, we should realize they are asking a very important question. As the totality of human knowledge continues its exponential growth, we need to continually reexamine the content of school curricula.

In summary, going back more than three million years and continuing today, prehumans and humans have had the physical and metal capabilities to build, use, and share tool-related knowledge and skills that increase their quality of life.

Here are four key ideas to keep in mind as you think about ancient and modern tools, and education.
  1. A tool, together with knowledge about and skill in using the tool, constitutes a very important way to pass on knowledge from one generation to the next. A tool may be discovered and/or developed by a small number of people—indeed, sometimes by one person working alone. For example, 3.3 million years ago a pre Homo habilis may have seen a sharp-edged stone and realized it could be a useful tool. The same or another pre Homo habilis may have discovered that two rocks of a particular kind could be hit together, cracking one or both of the rocks and producing a sharp edge. Of course, a particular tool may be independently discovered and/or developed a number of times.

  2. Through appropriate instruction, study, and practice a person can develop an increased level of expertise in using physical and mental skills to solve the problems and accomplish the tasks in a specific area (discipline). Think about rock knapping. It takes years of a combination of appropriate instruction and practice to become highly skilled in rock selection and knapping (Wikipedia, 2018c, link).

  3. A good educational system teaches transfer of learning. It helps people learn to make use of available tools to help solve the problems and accomplish the tasks that they want to deal with or that someone else wants them to learn to deal with. A good educational system also helps prepare people to be able to discover on their own and/or with a minimum of instruction how to use a wide range of tools—perhaps in novel ways.

  4. A good education encourages and fosters creativity. It prepares all students to make creative use of their knowledge and skills. It helps prepare some people to discover and/or produce new tools, and to advance the human collection of knowledge.
Speech as an Education Tool

Current estimates are that Homo sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago and the tool that we call oral speech developed about 100,000 years ago (Wikipedia, 2018e, link). Oral speech takes a combination of physical and cognitive capabilities. I think of speech as a cognitive tool. Of course, we have no direct evidence of when human oral speech actually developed. Prehumans and humans almost certainly communicated with sounds and gesture language well before this estimated date.

Think about the tool of oral language as a new technology. (I realize this is quite a stretch in the meaning of technology, but it fits in well with the message of this newsletter.) Oral speech is unlike any of the previously discovered and/or developed tools. It requires years of instruction and practice to develop a reasonable level of oral communication capabilities.

As with earlier tools, we use an apprenticeship type of education to teach/learn speech. The teachers—parents, older siblings, and others in the “whole village” that helps to raise a child—have varying levels of linguistic skills, as well as other knowledge and skills.

The phrase other knowledge and skills is an important idea. You know that a baby born into a bilingual home or community grows up bilingual. I was born and raised by parents who were both mathematicians. It is not surprising that I developed an interest in and skills in math at a very young age. I eventually completed my doctorate in math and my teaching and research helped to advance this discipline of study.

Reading and Writing as Education Tools

Reading and writing are an excellent example of world-changing technology. Cave wall paintings and drawings currently provide the earliest known evidence of human progress toward developing reading and writing. Currently the earliest record of such activity is a red-colored cross-hatched design created 73,000 years ago in a South African rock (World’s oldest drawing found, 10/13/2018).

More recent examples of drawings date from approximately 39,900 years ago (Wilford, 10/8/2014, link):

The researchers said the earliest images, with a minimum age of 39,900 years, are the oldest known stenciled outlines of human hands in the world. Blowing or spraying pigment around a hand pressed against rock surfaces would become a common practice among cave artists down through the ages—and even some of the youngest schoolchildren to this day.

A painting of an animal known as a pig deer, of the species babirusa, was determined to be at least 35,400 years old. The team concluded that it was “among the earliest dated figurative depiction worldwide, if not the earliest one.”

The development of stone and clay tokens was a major step forward (Clark, 6/30/2012, link):

The token system was first used around 8000-7500 BCE with the advent of agriculture. Tokens were usually made of clay but some that have been found were also made of stone. Most tokens were formed in geometric shapes including cones, spheres, and cylinders. Animal and tool shaped tokens have also been recovered. The tokens were one inch or less across in size.…

Each token shape represented a certain quantity of a particular good rather than standing for the actual number one, two or three, etc. For example, if a single ovoid shaped token represented a jar of oil, then five such tokens would represent five jars of oil.

And, finally, a written form of oral communication was developed (Schmandt-Besserat, 1/15/2014, link):

Writing—a system of graphic marks representing the units of a specific language—has been invented independently in the Near East, China, and Mesoamerica. The cuneiform script, created in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, ca. 3200 BC, was first. It is also the only writing system which can be traced to its earliest prehistoric origin. This antecedent of the cuneiform script was a system of counting and recording goods with clay tokens. The evolution of writing from tokens to pictography, syllabary and alphabet illustrates the development of information processing to deal with larger amounts of data in ever greater abstraction.

Reading and writing are tools that eventually drastically changed the world. They were a new way to preserve and pass on information from one generation to the next. However, the apprenticeship system could not handle the demands of learning to read and write, so schools were developed.

Schools and Schooling

The early schools, dating back more than 5,000 years, were developed to teach a few select students reading, writing, arithmetic (based on reading and writing), and history (History on the NET, n.d., link). It took many years for a student to develop these needed skills that were based on the newly developed written languages. Such schools changed slowly over the next 5,000 years.

Johannes Gutenberg’s 1439 invention of the movable metal type printing press in Europe was a huge advance in technology related to reading. This and other technology such as the earlier development of paper made possible books at an affordable price. At that time, worldwide literacy rates for people age 15 and older were perhaps only one percent (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 9/20/2018, link.) For the first time, individual people could own a book (such as a Bible). Now the global literacy rate for all people age 15 and older is 86.3 percent (Wikipedia, 2018d, link).

The mass production of books facilitated the development of libraries throughout the world. An important measure of the quality of an institution of teaching and learning became the size, breadth, and depth of its library holdings.

Nowadays, such formal schooling may start at a pre-kindergarten level and extend through a high school education. Even that is not sufficient to meet many modern demands. My own schooling began with kindergarten and included about eight years of undergraduate and graduate college studies. My professional career and retirement have routinely included further professional study and practice.

The steam engine was invented early in the eighteenth century and the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in England by the end of that century. The Industrial Age gave us huge changes in manufacturing, transportation, communication, electricity, and electronics. Progress in electricity and electronics produced the telegraph, electric lights, telephone, radio, audio recording, and television. I find it hard to think about life without electrical power—but nearly a sixth of the world’s population still lives without electric power (Mashable, n.d., link.)

In England, progress in industrial manufacturing led to a major shift in population from farms to cities. The growth of cities gave rise to child labor laws and mandatory schooling that helped keep children off the streets and out of the factories. Such schooling helped prepare future employees who could read, write, and do arithmetic.

[In the U.S.,] credit for our modern version of the school system usually goes to Horace Mann. When he became Secretary of Education in Massachusetts in 1837, he set forth his vision for a system of professional teachers who would teach students an organized curriculum of basic content. For this reason, Mann is often called the “Father of the Common School Movement." (Wonderopolis, n.d., link.)

Our schools have learned to make substantial, effective use of the technological gains since the time of Horace Mann. However, often it has proven difficult to accurately forecast effective and widespread use of some technology. Here is a Thomas Edison quote about the use of motion pictures in schools from more than a hundred years ago:

“Books will soon be obsolete in the schools.... Scholars will soon be able to instruct through the eye. It is possible to touch every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture.” (Thomas A. Edison; American inventor and businessman; quotation from 1913; 1847–1931.)

Today we have another new tool, the Web. While writing this newsletter, I very frequently use the Web to search for useful resources. That is, it is now commonplace in my life to routinely use the world’s largest library. You might want to spend a little time thinking about how this one advance in technology has changed the world and is changing education.

Final Remarks

In the United States, the Industrial Age ended and the Information Age began in about 1956 (Moursund, 2018a, link). In that year, the number of white collar workers first exceeded the number of blue collar workers. The computer industry was still in its infancy, so computers played a negligible role in this change.

The Information Age is just a little over 60 years old. I find the pace of change in computer technology and its applications quite breathtaking. For example, many children’s toys contain more compute power than the multimillion dollar computers of 25 years ago.

When applied to the field of information storage and retrieval, such technological advances have given us the Web—a global library at one’s fingertips! When applied to the discipline of Artificial Intelligence, such progress has provided us with tools that can solve a very wide range of problems and accomplish a very wide range of tasks. When applied to schooling, such technology has transferred the old correspondence school into a vibrant interactive distance education tool useful both in traditional schools and many other educational endeavors. It is making possible changes in the curriculum, instruction, and assessment in schooling.

Subsequent newsletters in this ICT Tools and the Future of Education series will examine some of the educational changes that are starting to occur and will provide some insights into how they may impact the future of education. The first of these will explore math education.

References and Resources

Clark, D. (6/30/2012). Record keeping and the origins of writing in Mesopotamia. Retrieved 11/21/2018 from

History on the NET (n.d.). Mesopotamian education and schools. Retrieved 11/28/2018 from

Mashable (n.d.). How do different countries access energy? Retrieved 11/26/2018 from

Moursund, D. (2018a). Information age. Information Age Education. Retrieved 11/26/2018 from

Moursund, D. (2018b). Information underload and overload. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 11/21/2018 from

Moursund, D. (2018c). The fourth R (Second edition). Retrieved 11/12/2018 from Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Download the Spanish edition from

Moursund, D. (March, 1987). Chesslandia: A parable. The Computing Teacher (Learning and Leading with Technology). Retrieved 11/21/2018 from

Peddiwell, J.A. (1939). The Saber-tooth curriculum. NY: McGraw-Hill. The original Peddiwell article is available at The article is available in a clean pdf format (but without the illustrations) at See also:

Roser, M., & Ortiz-Ospina, E. (9/20/2018). Literacy. Retrieved 21/21/2018 from

Schmandt-Besserat, D. (1/15/2014). The evolution of writing. Retrieved 11/21/2018 from

Wikipedia (2018a). Human evolution. Retrieved 11/19/2018 from

Wikipedia (2018b). Hunter-gatherer. Retrieved 11/19/2018 from

Wikipedia (2018c). Knapping. Retrieved 11/19/2018 from

Wikipedia (2018d). List of countries by literacy rate. Retrieved 11/21/2018 from

Wikipedia (2018e). Origin of speech. Retrieved 11/19/2018 from

Wikipedia (2018f). Stone tool. Retrieved 10/19/2018 from

Wilford, J.N. (10/8/2014). Cave paintings in Indonesia may be among the oldest known. The New York Times. Retrieved 11/21/2018 from

Wonderopolis (n.d.). Why was school created? Retrieved 11/26/2018 from

World’s oldest drawing found (10/13/2018). Science News Magazine.


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner).He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See .

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. See . Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of AGATE.


Reader Comments

We are using the Disqus commenting system to facilitate comments and discussions pertaining to this newsletter. To use Disqus, please click the Login link below and sign in. If you have questions about how to use Disqus, please refer to this help page.

Readers may also send comments via email directly to

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at and all back issues of the Newsletter at