Teaching Machines: An American Story (And the Case for Gordon Pask)


Source: Teaching Machines: An American Story (And the Case for Gordon Pask)

6 min read

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 rest of the world’s experiences out of any sense of nationalism. Rather, I believe that education technology is imagined, developed, and implemented in a particular context. And that context is shaped by a country’s school systems, educational policies, and larger social, economic, and political forces.

(I often say: if you want to write an annual ten-part series about how your country has experienced education technology, please do.)

As I’ve written previously, many histories of education technology have been written as though this context is irrelevant. They spend little time talking about what was happening in education (as an institution, for example). As such, new technologies seem to appear out of nowhere – a creation of a genius inventor, rather than a reflection some larger cultural forces.

Teaching Machines will be limited in its scope to a particular time period in a particular country – that is, to the mid–1920s thru the late 1960s in the US. I want to be able to contextualize the work of Sidney Pressey, B. F. Skinner, Norman Crowder, and others by addressing how their machines coincided with developments in educational psychology and standardized testing; how they were responses to changes in student demographics and to the launch of Sputnik; how these machines reflected a twentieth-century fascination with gadgetry and automation; how they were part of a much larger push by businesses to sell curriculum products to schools; how they underscored that most American of values, individualism, with their proponents calling for instruction to become more “individualized.”

Education technology is not solely an American story. But the one I’m writing will be.

There is (I think) one possible exception to the American setting and American cast of characters, and that’s the British cybernetician Gordon Pask.

Continues in source…

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