Activity 1.3: Champions and critics of teaching machines #ocTEL

Image of Socrates from Louvre

Some rights reserved by derekskey

I thought I would have a go at discussing Activity 1.3 on the ocTEL course. Firstly, having watched B.F. Skinner’s video on Teaching Machines, my immediate thought was here is the start of personalised learning! The children were able to monitor their own progress, work at their own pace, build on their knowledge in small steps, with the teacher being a facilitator of learning rather than the expert. It also struck me as to why, therefore, personalised learning systems are still yet to be fully developed, when here in the 1950s the concept was being understood, although in a fairly simplistic way.  It did feel like, as with so much in education, that the wheel had gone full circle. That sounds quite cynical, I know, but the point I think I am trying to make is, in terms of technology in education, yes there have been advancements, but we never seem to address the underlying issue, which is that we apply the traditional to the new i.e we still teach in the same way but use technology instead to do it. The children were answering questions in a traditional manner by writing down an answer and moving onto the next, we still apply this concept to online quizzes, they were sitting in rows at desks, our classroom spaces are still laid out in many institutions in the same way that we have done for 100’s of years although learners may have a laptop in front of them. The video also introduced the concept of learning design that is applied to e-learning, the idea that a student follows a path of learning, building knowledge in small chunks, with prompts and hints along the way.

I then chose to explore Socrates and his Socratic Method and think about what he would have liked and disliked about the teaching machine approach. It was a little disturbing to know that he was a teacher who died for his craft and a little confusing to know that he hadn’t actually written anything down, other people had done that for him. But then maybe this is an example of a brilliant teacher! He would have approved of the teaching machine in the first instance as his method was about “ideas generated by the learner in terms of understanding and retention”, as well as “education not being a cramming in, but a dawing out”. The teaching machine allowed the students to work at their own pace and allowed them to form their knowledge in small chunks. He also believed that “Questions lie at the heart of learning to draw out what they already know, rather than imposing pre-determined views” and the machine is all about questioning. However, he also believed “Learning as a social activity pursued through dialogue” and at no point were the children engaged in any dialogue with each other. They weren’t able to learn from the peers or even question the question so to speak, so they were still simply learning and repeating facts. So I go back to my original point, when it comes to technology in the classroom educators have not yet addressed the underlying issue. We still teach in the same way, but we simply use a different tool to do it. Comments appreciated!

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1 Comment

  1. You’re quite right, fundamentally we haven’t moved on as much as we might.

    I remember being told that the reason for the original lecture format was purely practical: there was only one book and it was an effective way to share the contents. That hasn’t been the case for a long time yet the format prevails.

    New and more technology (hardware and software) does offer new opportunities, but we (that’s everyone in an institution, management, teachers, students…) need to look at what we really want before we can make the most of this bounty.

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