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Teaching Machines

A Hack Education Project

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...

It’s official. I signed the book contract late last night: the MIT Press has agreed to publish Teaching Machines. I’m over-the-moon thrilled (particularly as I’ll have a great editor), although to be honest, I’m also feeling quite overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do. I have been...

After my time at the Stanford University archives didn’t work out exactly as planned, I thought about changing my flight and heading back to New York. But a) that was too expensive and b) that seemed like too quick a surrender. So I put out some inquiries yesterday to do...

Today is my first day in Palo Alto, where I had planned to spend the next few days going to Patrick Suppes’s papers at Stanford University. It hasn’t worked out as planned. I had this suspicion, I admit, when I struggled to 1) make an appointment with Special Collections and...

Today was my last day in the archives. I had two boxes of letters to go through and three boxes of newspaper clippings. (In the week I’ve spent here, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Skinner’s papers. There are, for example, still some 23 more boxes of correspondence to go...

I’m out of the archives early today. B. F. Skinner’s papers are housed offsite, so I have to put in a request a day in advance to have materials brought to the reading room. I plowed through everything I’d requested for today in record time. There wasn’t much of interest...