1.3 Teaching Machines #ocTEL

If only it was this easy?

If only it was this easy?



I watched the video regarding Teaching Machines from the 1950’s and I’ve had some time to reflect.

Reading some of the comments underneath the video, it was very much 50/50 split with some people appalled at the thought (“We are creating a generation of automatons!”) and some remembering using them with fond memories. The ideology B.F Skinner presents reminded me of a blog post about a school in France called 42  . At this school, students work independently to solve problems. They are not lead in a traditional class and whilst they can interact with one another, they are very much using  technology to help solve the problems.

If we compare this to Socratic Method (which I would just like to point out I am not a fan of comparing one model to another. There is a reason they are different) we can see that there is a majority swing as to whether or not Socrates (or rather Plato) would approve.

Socratic method holds 5 Key Principles:

  1. Knowledge and learning as a worthwhile pursuit

  2. Learning as a social activity pursued through dialogue

  3. Questions lie at the heart of learning to draw out what they already know, rather than imposing pre-determined views

  4. We must realise the extent of our ignorance.

  5. Learning must be pursued with a ruthless intellectual honesty

When taken individually, you can see where Teaching Machines fit:

  1. Knowledge and learning as a worthwhile pursuit – If this is the single belief, then the teaching machine is a good fit, as it clearly aids knowledge and learning
  2. Learning as a social activity pursued through dialogue – Seeing as the Teaching Machine is an individual exercise, we have a clash of opinion here
  3. Questions lie at the heart of learning to draw out what they already know, rather than imposing pre-determined views – The teaching machine is no more than questions, with an immediate assessment to aid the learning
  4. We must realise the extent of our ignorance. – Again, by utilising an immediate response, we can immediately see where our knowledge is lacking
  5. Learning must be pursued with a ruthless intellectual honesty – Don’t really get more honest than answering a question either right or wrong.

Teaching Machines do contradict the teachings in Social Constructivism

With this ideology we are lead to believe that being immersed in a social group (either in practice or on line) with a shared interest in the subject matter will enhance our knowledge and motivate us to delve deeper into the subject being discussed.

When one is immersed within a culture like this, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture, on many levels.


The premise behind this exercise was to explore champions and critics of teaching machines. My conclusion is why must we choose a side?

Despite being devised in the 1950’s, Teaching Machines are still relevant today, only we now know them as iPads. They merely adopt the age old technique of look, attempt, check (a philosophy I used myself to remember words in spelling tests.) it is merely the presentation that is different.

When it comes to approves and embedding technology, surely rather than flashing around you ‘Technology Advocate’ Badge or waving the flag for good old fashioned ‘chalk and talk’, surely we should all be adopting what I like to call the Gringotts philosophy.

For those that don’t know, Gringotts is the wizards bank found in the world of Harry Potter (bear with me, I do have a point). It has numerous vaults full of various treasures. Certain people have access to certain vaults and different people see different treasures as having value.

To me, this is how we should look at Teaching. Every teacher, regardless of level, experience or success has tried some form of technology/activity/resource in their lessons. I guarantee you that for every detractor of an activity (I personally do not like Mini White Boards) there will be a champion (My Course leader when I was training absolutely swore by them!). My point is that we will never reach the pinnacle of one definitive method of delivery that will encompass all learners in every subject passing an assessment and achieving the required results. Learners (and teachers for that matter) are different and react to different methods of delivery. This is where we need a Gringotts. You may have come up with a fantastic online resource (or treasure, if you will) that Group A responded to. Group B on the other hand, do not care for it and are not progressing. You need something else. This is where you can go to Gringotts and find another treasure that you can now see the value of.

Teaching Machines clearly have a place. VLE’s/e-Learning tools/Webinars clearly have a place. Mini White Boards/lollipop sticks have their place too and even Chalk and Talk has a place in teaching. So at some point we will all be critics and champions, it is merely dependant on which vault we need to access and which treasure we value at the time.

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3 responses to “1.3 Teaching Machines #ocTEL

  1. An interesting perspective on the process of learning. I too am very interested in 42. I think that it is a bold but necessary step to challenge the existing pedagogy of delivery as the method. Problem based Learning PBL has been around for a long time and suits many different learning styles (without getting in to a debate about the existence of learning styles). Testing by summative, exam-based assessment is also very unrealistic.

    I don’t know of many professions where you have to go in to a situation with no team, without any preparation, without collective knowledge at your disposal.

    You also don’t have to pass a ‘test’ each year to continue being employed. It is a continual assessment process of managing short, medium and long term goals rather than a single opportunity to pass (or fail) the entire year’s work.

    So why do educators continue to test people in closed book exam situations whereby you are to be tested on what you can remember rather than what you can gather and apply?

  2. Totally agree with both of you! I am a language teacher and all of my courses assessment tasks are “open book”. Students are surprised first but soon realised that there is no dictionary, translator or notes that can help them if they don’t know what and where to look for. The idea is to prepare for the real world, isn’t it?

  3. Pingback: #Octel – Learning Machines | More than just Content

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