Teaching Machines

Mobilizing Minds: Teaching Math and Science in the Age of Sputnik

Teaching Machines

Teaching Machine by B. F. Skinner, 1956

Psychologists had discussed the possibility of using machines to teach from the 1920s. In the mid-1950s, psychologist B. F. Skinner and his associates used this device to teach natural sciences at Harvard. Students read questions on a disc visible in the window of the machine, recorded their answers on the roll of paper on the right, and then rotated the disc to see the correct answer. Skinner argued that students who quickly corrected any errors in their thinking would learn better. After the launch of Sputnik, he encouraged widespread adoption of teaching machines.
 

G. M. Barrow, M. E. Kenney, J. D. Lassila, R. L. Litle and W. E. Thompson, Understanding Chemistry: Chemical Bonding, 1967

Teaching machines did not become common in American classrooms. But the idea of presenting information and immediately reinforcing correct answers was widely used in programmed textbooks like this one on chemical bonding. Information and questions to be answered are shown on the left. On the right, in purple sections, are answers to earlier questions. This is the second in a series of five paperbacks developed for the general chemistry course at the Case Institute of Technology.