The Case for ‘Teaching Machines’ | Inside Higher Ed


Cover of Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning by Audrey WattersTeaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning by Audrey Watters

Printed in August 2021

One in every of Audrey Watters’s observations in her deeply researched Instructing Machines is that ed-tech evangelists seldom make an effort to study the historical past of academic applied sciences. For these incentivized (ideologically or financially) to position expertise on the middle of studying, the one related time-frame is the long run.

This unwillingness amongst ed-tech champions to acknowledge (a lot much less grapple with) what got here earlier than is that useful classes stay unlearned.

By not contextualizing our work throughout the lengthy historical past of technology-centered interventions in educating and studying, we (and right here I’m reluctantly counting myself among the many tribe of digital studying evangelists) are liable to misjudging the potential influence and success of our efforts.

In brief, figuring out some historical past of academic innovation might trigger us to curb our enthusiasms, mood our guarantees and pay attention to our potential to trigger hurt.

In constructing a historic and sociological case for the boundaries of expertise to advance studying, Watters rewinds the story to the predigital period.

The educating machines of at this time, the MOOCs and adaptive studying platforms, and even our (my) unbridled enthusiasm for scaled on-line levels have their roots in a collection of analog units and within the academic ideologies that spawned their innovations.

Lengthy earlier than Khan Academy first emerged in 2008, or the Year of the MOOC was first proclaimed by The New York Occasions in 2012, the dream of technologically enabled self-paced studying had been dreamed and productized.

Watters fastidiously tells the tales of predigital studying units’ inspirations, creations, financing, diffusion and influence.

The story begins with Ohio State professor Sidney L. Pressey and his invention of the Pressey Testing Machine within the Twenties. The narrative continues by way of the center of the twentieth century, with B. F. Skinner’s creation of his “educating machine,” constructed round Skinner’s rules of operant conditioning that got here to dominate psychology principle.

It isn’t potential to overstate the care Watters takes in unpacking the tales of the teachers and their company companions and foes in telling the historical past of educating machines. Watters meticulously tells the tales of Pressey and Skinner and others of their orbit by way of major paperwork, letters, contemporaneous information accounts and different archival supplies.

This predigital academic expertise story is contextualized throughout the cultural, political and social milieus wherein these innovations (and later enterprise makes an attempt) had been conceived and launched.

A central takeaway for anybody working within the training innovation industrial complicated (together with on-line studying) is that a few of our most “progressive” concepts are, in actuality, a very good century outdated.

The notion that training can benefit from the productiveness positive aspects of different info industries if solely we are able to apply the precise applied sciences and strategies and incentives lengthy predates the invention of the digital laptop.

Our religion within the energy of self-paced studying, chunked content material and frequent low-stakes evaluation and suggestions wouldn’t be misplaced in conversations across the midcentury promise of Skinner’s educating machine.

In Instructing Machines, Watters has supplied a sturdy historic basis for her long-running (and extremely influential) skepticism of the efficacy of most academic applied sciences.

Instructing Machines is a e-book, and Watters is a scholar, and each deserve a central place in our educational conversations about the way forward for educating and studying.

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