Idea Mining: Minds and Machines in the Early Twentieth Century

The roots of education technology are deeply intertwined with histories of educational psychology, scientific and technological innovation and invention, and with engineering and eugenics.

That's a pretty provocative sentence, I guess, particularly if you see educational technology as something that has the potential for learner liberation. How do we reconcile this legacy with that promise? Can we?

In some ways, this history highlights how education has always been "broken." That is, our schools, our educational practices (how we teach and how we learn) have been viewed as flawed, inefficient, messy. Machines offer standardization. They offer precision. They offer objectivity.

Testing machines and teaching machines go hand-in-hand. What does that testing look like? What does that teaching look like? Why? What role did educational psychology play in the development of both? What role did the professionalization of teaching play? What about scientific management?

Automation of labor -- whether of teaching or of learning should always prompt us to ask: what does "work" look like? Whose work is automated? How and why?

No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush's education legislation, is often blamed for the standardized testing craze. But it's older than that. Indeed, Sidney Pressey was selling books, pushing teachers and principals to use more standardized tests in the 1920s. His first commercial venture was not the teaching machine. It was the book Introduction to the Use of Standard Tests , a “practical” and “non-technical” guide meant “as an introductory handbook in the use of tests” aimed to meet the needs of “the busy teacher, principal or superintendent.” By the mid–1920s, he and his wife had over a dozen different proprietary standardized tests on the market, selling a couple of hundred thousand copies a year, along with some two million test blanks.

A few primary sources:

Sidney Pressey, Introduction to the Use of Standard Tests (free on Google Books )

(a lot of the books from this period are available in the public domain via Google Books or the Internet Archive)

Secondary Sources:

Ludy Benjamin, "The History of Teaching Machines" (PDF )

Stephen Petrina, "Sidney Pressey and the Automation of Education" ( )

Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man