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I’ve spent much of the last week preparing a talk I delivered today to a class at the University of South Florida. You can read it here. It’s a bit rambling, no doubt, but it’s helped me start to think about how central B. F. Skinner is to the book I am writing but also to ed-tech more broadly. I am really interested in this idea of “technologies of behavior,” a concept that York University psychology professor Alexandra Rutherford writes about in her work on Skinner. I see, very much, the teaching machine as one of those core technologies – and even in its post-Skinner manifestations, there is always a kind of behavioral management built it.

Of course, the thing to remember may be that Skinner wasn’t the only behaviorist building teaching machines. Many of the early educational psychologists were behaviorists (although not radical behaviorists). And many of the early CAI proponents were as well. (I found an article in which Patrick Suppes is described as the “white knight of behaviorism.”)

What I find helpful in Rutherford’s analysis is that she points out that this all wasn’t simply an effort in the behavioral adjustment of individuals. Certainly my look at “individualization” via teaching machines might lead one to think that. Rather, with Skinner in particular, this was about a much broader attempt at social engineering. I suppose that is what a “revolution” via teaching machines necessarily requires.

Audrey Watters


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Teaching Machines

A Hack Education Project

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