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Teaching Machines

A Hack Education Project

“When people say they’re doing research, I say, You’re just postponing writing.” —Mary Karr https://t.co/i9eMxjL0l0— The Paris Review (@parisreview) October 9, 2018 Yes, I am doing research, and yes, I am postponing the writing. But I disagree strongly here about the word “just.” The research right now is everything, and...

Thanks to the funding and advocacy of tech billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, “personalized learning” is one of the “hot, new” trends in education – even though the concept itself is centuries old. Perhaps Socrates-years-old. Indeed, even “personalized learning” as facilitated by machines is neither that new or...

I’m one day late, according to my own editorial calendar at least, penning this week’s update on the progress on Teaching Machines. I have been busy – I’ve been reading a lot of Douglas Noble and David Noble, for starters. I’ve also been working on a talk I’m set to...

I’ve read a couple of histories this past week on the development of twentieth-century (military) technologies: Thomas Rid’s Rise of the Machines and Douglas Noble’s The Classroom Arsenal. (I’m interested, obviously, in the role of the military in building teaching machines.) One thing that was particularly striking about these two...

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...

Teaching Machines is a work of narrative non-fiction, a historical account of the development of auto-instructional devices in the mid-twentieth century. A historical account written by a journalist. A historical account written by someone who is much more comfortable with criticism than narrative history. One of the challenges of this...

Last week, when I began compiling a list of the teaching machines developed and released from the 1930s thru 1960s, I struggled to find a photo of the Autututor, one of the devices invented by Norman A. Crowder – one of the main characters in my book but also the...

The obituary is a strange genre. (I say this having written two.) An obituary typically contains the basic facts of the deceased’s life: where and when they were born; when and sometimes how they died; where they went to school; the names of wives and husbands and children and the...

The history of the teaching machine often focuses on two devices – or rather, on two psychologists who invented them: Sidney Pressey and B. F. Skinner. The story of these mechanical devices is told often as simply the prelude to computer-assisted instruction. “Computers are now much better teaching machines,” Skinner...

One of the criticisms I get about my work is that it is too focused on education technology in the US. I typically hear this every December, when I publish my year-end review of the field. Although I recognize that Americans are prone to self-centeredness, I don’t purposefully overlook the...