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I’m in Princeton, New Jersey this week at the Educational Testing Service headquarters where Ben D. Wood’s papers are housed. I’m here primarily to look into some of IBM’s teaching machine history, and Wood – who was a professor at Columbia as well as the head of ETS – served as an educational consultant for IBM for many years.

I have three boxes of materials to work through while here, and I made it through one box today – funnily enough not one that really dealt with that IBM angle. I looked through some of the materials pertaining to the Committee on Scientific Aids for Learning, of which Wood was a member. And so was Vannevar Bush, interestingly, before he was picked to head the National Defense Research Committee. (I’ve wanted to talk about “As We May Think” as one of the articles in widespread circulation that might’ve influenced some of the thinking on teaching machines. Now I have an actual connection to my characters. So that’s useful.) I also looked through materials relating to a study Wood undertook on the effectiveness of typewriters in education. This particular study was paid for (and paid for quite handsomely) by four typewriter manufacturers who created the Typewriter Educational Research Bureau. (And I guess I can make another connection here as these typewriter companies all refused to work with Sidney Pressey to manufacture his teaching machine. Looks like they were invested, literally, elsewhere.)

I find archival research really exciting, and even though I didn’t move from my chair for six hours straight – turning over page after page after page of correspondence – I’m pretty exhilarated by what I found today. I don’t think I’ll have time for any other research trips after this one. I must start actually writing the book. But I’m glad to be here at ETS, because I think this is going to help me make some really new and unique observations about the teaching machine business.

Audrey Watters


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Teaching Machines

A Hack Education Project

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