The Drive to Automate Education
"Jujitsu? I'm going to learn Jujitsu?" Neo asks incredulously, as he's plugged in to a machine for the first time since his rescue by Morpheus and the members of the ship Nebuchadnezzar. The operator Tank loads a virtual training program, and Neo clamps his eyes shut, his body jolting in response as the data floods his visual cortex. Seconds later, Neo opens his eyes. "Holy shit!" he exclaims and agrees to more -- 10 hours more -- "programming." Finally, gasping, he exclaims to Morpheus, "I know Kung Fu!"
While The Matrix portrays a dystopian future where intelligent machines have subdued and enslaved the human population, the film's display of learning technologies -- information transferred directly and instantly into the brain – is the sort of thing frequently hailed as a worthy scientific goal: learning that is efficient, scalable, standardized, and fully automated.
The desire to automate teaching and learning is hardly new. It has a lengthy history in science fiction -- a history that certainly predates the Wachowskis' 1999 movie blockbuster -- and a lengthy history in science and education as well -- psychology professor Sidney Pressey received the first US patent for a "teaching machine" in 1928. But despite the achievements imagined in the former -- Neo's rapid mastery of Kung Fu, for example -- the results provided by the latter have been much less transformative. Indeed, while there's much hype about the revolutionizing of education through the creation and implementation of various "teaching machines," that promise remains largely unfulfilled.
Yet the push for more automation in education continues.
Teaching Machines, will examine this drive, not simply as a technological or scientific or pedagogical development, but as a profoundly cultural one. How have we conceptualized the mechanics of human intelligence, for example, and how has that shaped the way in which we imagine and build so-called intelligent machines? How do teaching machines work -- do teaching machines work? And whose work, whose labor, might they replace or enhance? Do teaching machines offer "personalization" or merely a more efficient standardization? Why have we been so keen for so long to automate teaching and learning? What does this say about our vision of the purpose, let alone the future of education?
The History of the Future of Education
This year, I’ve been working on a series of stories that uncover some of this history – lost, forgotten, ignored, dismissed – about teaching machines. Some of this involves research I'm conducting for Teaching Machines. Some of this, simply interesting anecdotes about how the ed-tech leopard got its spots. The entire collection can be found on Medium in the publication The History of the Future of Education. The individual stories in this series are listed below.
- Draw Me: A History of MOOCs
- Multiple Choice and Testing Machines: A History
- Speak & Spell: A History
- The First Teaching Machines
- The Automatic Teacher
- Education Technology and Skinner’s Box
- (25 Years Ago) The First School One-to-One Laptop Program
- The Horizon Report: A History of Ed-Tech Predictions
- The History of the Future of Education
- How Steve Jobs Brought the Apple II to the Classroom
- From Lunchboxes to Laptops: How Maine Went One-to-One
- A Brief History of Calculators in the Classroom
- SRA Cards: A History of Programmed Instruction and Personalization
- Gordon Pask’s Adaptive Teaching Machines
- Buckminster Fuller and Education's Automation