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Teaching Machines

A Hack Education Project

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...

This is Susan Burdorf, age 5. Her smiling face appears in numerous articles about teaching machines in the early 1960s. Often, her name isn’t given in the captions. The kind of machine she’s using isn’t often described either. As such, she’s just a very enthusiastic little girl, pressing on the...

One of the things that taking Sam Freedman’s book writing class made me appreciate was that unwieldy genre called “the book proposal.” Somewhat akin to writing a dissertation prospectus, writing a book proposal helps you think about your project at several important levels: why it matters, why you should be...

I’m going to try to write weekly updates here – sometimes chronicling what I’ve accomplished over the last seven days, sometimes working through thoughts and ideas, and sometimes showcasing discoveries that I’ve made in my research. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks going through all the notes (and photos...