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B.F. Skinner and the Teaching Machine, Tablet Edition

Home Forums TEL Concepts and Approaches (Week 1) Champions and critics of teaching machines (Activity 1.1) B.F. Skinner and the Teaching Machine, Tablet Edition

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    i love this video. I do wonder if this is the modern equivalent: 



    Yes, great video. I love the name “teaching machine” , rather than “learning machine”, but maybe that’s where the “modern equivalent” comes in.


    Skinner (1958) proposed an educational approach of asking students MCQ questions, text box fill questions and let them to work through at their own pace and receives timely feedback, if answer correct can proceed, if wrong the student is required to repeat the question. This approach is the fore-runner of multi-attempt VLE phase test assessment which be designed with MCQ, true/false, and fill in text box questions. Both technologies provide VLE provide timely feedback after each question. However whereas Skinner (1961) advocated the opportunity for students to work through the learning material at their own pace, we tend to now time bound the activity. One could argue that teaching machine, ibid, was designed for assessment for learning, whereas today the approach with VLE MCQ is typically used as an assessment of learning. Is this progress? I personally think we may have made retrograde step.

    Mazur (2012) Clickers (note can be achieved now using iPhone/Android clicker app Socrative) is the modern day equivalent to Skinner (1958) teaching machine. Use of in class quiz and peer assessment enables a flip class approach, Mazur (1997), and provide timely feedback both for tutor and students on the students understanding and learning, and enable students to reconnect the with the learning. Personally Mazur (2012) approach is more in spirit of Skinner (1958) approach, an assessment for learning.


    Skinner, B. F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science. 128(3330), 969-977

    Mazur, E. (1997, March). Peer instruction: getting students to think in class. In AIP Conference Proceedings 399, 981-988

    Mazur, E. (2012) The scientific approach to teaching… – Eric Mazur at ALT-C 2012, Keynote 4 at ALT-C Conference, [on-line], last accessed at 16th April 2013

    James Kerr

    Agreed, Anortcliffe, there seems to be little assessment for learning these days; rather, the assessment of learning, where students/participants are all assumed to be starting from the same level of knowledge.  This can cause a situation where some are immediately behind, and others are dragged behind only to eventually catch up to where they began later in the course.

    Is it likely that this is due to economics, where it is simply unaffordable and inefficient to individually assess knowledge levels pre-instruction in order to individualize learning goals and plans?

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