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Educational White Elephant Technology

By Sean Connick | Published: 22th September 2023

Sometimes the pace of technological improvement can create some interesting but ultimately dead ends in technology. This is referred to as White Elephant Technology (WETech). In this article, we will look at five interesting technologies that seemed to have great potential but ultimately didn't catch on and whether the principles behind the idea have resurfaced in new tech.

Sony Data Discman

The Sony Data Discman was a portable electronic device introduced by Sony in the early 1990s. It was designed to be a precursor to modern e-readers and provided users with the ability to read digital text and view simple graphics on a monochrome LCD screen. The Data Discman used compact discs (CDs) that contained digital data, including text-based content. Users could navigate through the content using simple controls.

The Data Discman represented an early attempt at portable digital reading, it faced limitations such as limited content availability and a lack of popularity compared to traditional printed materials. Ultimately, it did not achieve widespread success and is considered a niche product in the history of electronic reading devices.

While the Data Discman may have disappeared the idea behind it was sound but it would take the rapid rise of the internet in the 1990s and technological improvement to lead to a new generation of internet contented e-readers that can access a vast array of content.Source.

The Auto-Tutor of 1964

The Auto-Tutor of 1964 was an early computer-based educational system developed by IBM. It was designed to provide interactive tutoring to students through the use of a computer terminal. The Auto-Tutor aimed to personalize the learning experience by adapting to individual student needs and progress. While it represented an innovative approach to computer-assisted instruction, it was quite limited in comparison to modern e-learning platforms due to the technology constraints of its time.

Ultimately, the Auto-Tutor of 1964 was a step too far in one go. The equipment was prohibitively expensive and limited by the constraints of the technology at the time. However, the principles behind the idea laid the foundation for the development of more advanced computer-assisted learning systems in the years that followed.Source.

GTE's Classroom of the Future

GTE's Classroom of the Future was an innovative educational concept introduced by the General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GTE) in the early 1980s. It aimed to revolutionize traditional classroom settings by incorporating cutting-edge technology and interactive learning methods. The Classroom of the Future incorporated computers, telecommunication systems, and multimedia resources to enhance the learning experience for students.

While the technology used in the Classroom of the Future may appear severely dated by today's standards, the overarching goal behind its creation was to establish a more engaging and technology-driven educational environment. This vision foreshadowed the eventual integration of advanced technology into modern classrooms.Source.

Seawise University

Seawise University, also known as RMS Queen Elizabeth, was a remarkable educational initiative that transformed the former ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth into a floating university. This unconventional educational institution offered students the opportunity to study while traveling the world's seas and visiting various ports of call. Despite its innovative approach to learning, Seawise University faced logistical challenges and was relatively short-lived.In fact, she never sailed with any passengers, as in January 1972, a suspected arson attack destroyed the ship when she was nearing completion. Her wreck would become a familiar film icon when it appeared in the 1974 James Bond film 'The Man with the Golden Gun.

I am using Seawise to highlight the problems that all mobile educational initiatives have faced, from cost to logistics. However, the principle that education can take place anywhere is very much alive and thriving due to digital technology.Source

Overhead projector

Of the technology on this list, they have all long gone. However, for our last entry, let's delve into the humble Overhead Projector (OHP). This vital educational tool revolutionized teaching by projecting transparent sheets of text, diagrams, and images onto screens or walls. It enabled visual learning, real-time note-taking, and increased audience engagement, making it a staple in classrooms and lecture halls. With the rise of digital whiteboards and teachers' ability to share content from their computers, the Overhead Projector has reached its developmental apex. Over the next decade, it will become an increasingly rare sight in the classroom.Source.

We hope you have enjoyed this look at some of the ideas and technology that didn't quite make the impact their creators had in mind (Apart from the Overhead Projector!). If you know of any other examples of WETech in education, please let us know, and they might make it into a second exploration of Educational WETech.

Remember, the application deadline for this year's awards is fast approaching!


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