This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

#ocTEL MOOC (week 0 A11 ) Champions and critics of teaching machines

The task: Watch this 6 minute video on Teaching Machines, presented by B.F. Skinner (exact date is unverified but believed to be in the 1950s). To put it in historical context, you may find it useful to skim this short history of instructional design, which is itself a historical artefact from the early years of the World Wide Web.

Pick one or two of the following thinkers or approaches and read a bit about them, starting with the resources linked. What would they like about the Teaching Machines approach? What would they oppose, and what alternatives would they propose? Explore the notes made by two or three of your fellow participants. What patterns do you detect? (Socratic Method, Communities of Practice (Etienne Wenger), Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Social Constructivism, Actor Network Theory, Emergent Learning Model). 

I have some ideas about Teaching machines and Behaviourism, but it is the first time that I hear Skinner himself and his view about his machine. The first thing to be noticed is the rather modern discourse about this "device which creates vastly improved conditions for effective study": one machine per child, immediate feedback (like cognitive tutors), learners relieved from uncertainty or anxiety. Eventually the "work" of students is "pleasurable" with "intense concentration". Personalisation is the main benefit from Teaching machine, Skinner emphasize that it generates interest and enthusiasm, the student moving at his own pace despite the heterogeneity of the classroom. However, the design of the Teaching machine is based on a Behaviourism, a learning theory for which we know now the key weaknesses. The argument of Skinner was that the learner would cover the curriculum passing through "a large number of very small steps" carefully ordered maximizing the chance for most students to be right (actually, Skinner mentions that learners are right almost 95% of the time).

Considered with what now know or through the lenses of more recent learning theories we can see several important differences and missing points, if not wrong principles of Behaviourism. Essentially: the reductionist view of knowledge (seen as the sum of its components), the cognitively passive involvement of active learners (and indeed, we can see how active they are in this short video), the social dimension totally absent.
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