I’m planning the rest of the time I’ve scheduled for research this fall, and it looks as though I’m going to go (back) to a couple of archives.

I barely made a dent in Skinner’s papers at Harvard, so I’ll head back there briefly this fall; I will likely go back to Ohio State and look through Pressey’s papers again too, particularly now that I have a clearer sense of how he fits into the book. (Contrary to most of the stories told about Pressey – indeed, contrary to his own insistence in the 1930s that he was leaving the field of teaching machines – he was active throughout his life in designing instructional aids.)

I am going to arrange a trip to the ETS archives in Princeton, New Jersey. There are materials there that pertain to Ben Wood, a psychology professor at Columbia University and president of ETS, and his work with IBM on testing machines. IBM hired Reynold Johnson in the 1930s, a teacher who’d invented a “mark sense” scoring apparatus. Wood and Johnson worked together on developing the IBM 805. I believe some of Johnson’s papers are also at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

I’m still trying to figure out where I can find papers pertaining to Norman Crowder, and I need to figure out who’ll be the main characters in some of the book’s later chapters – so perhaps I have to track down the papers of Lloyd Homme and Leslie Briggs, students of Skinner and Pressey respectively. Homme founded the company Teaching Machines Incorporated, and Briggs conducted research on instructional machines for the US Air Force. (Homme fits into the story of the commercialization of teaching machines in the late 1950s, early 1960s; Briggs, obviously, is part of the military’s push to build them during that same period.)

Why look for the papers? Why visit the archives? Mostly it’s to uncover the parts of the story that haven’t been told before – the challenges of designing, theorizing, manufacturing, and selling teaching machines. There’s a different sort of presentation of “the historical figure” in these archives – different, that is, from the version that appears in peer-reviewed articles or the popular press.

Audrey Watters


Teaching Machines

A Hack Education Project

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