Editors’ Choice: Teaching Machines, or How the Automation of Education Became ‘Personalized Learning’

This is the transcript of the talk I gave this evening at the CUNY Graduate Center. 

…I do want to talk a little bit this evening about the work I’ve been doing as a Spencer Fellow. That’s not what it says in my title and abstract, I recognize. And that’s the curse of making up titles and abstracts in advance: sometimes you sit down to prepare a talk and realize you really want to say something else entirely, and so your task becomes trying to thread things all together so that no one who shows up expressly to hear you expand on the ideas advertised on the flyer is too frustrated or disappointed…

I love old teaching machines, yes even BF Skinner’s teaching machines, despite their deeply problematic usage. I love them, in part, because they are objects. These objects carry a history. They reflect an ideology. They have substance. They have weight – literally, culturally, intellectually, politically. They are material artifacts, and we can talk about how they were made, how they were manufactured. And that seems particularly important, that materiality. It helps us see design and functionality and production and history and even ideology in ways that I think today’s digital teaching machines and teaching machine-makers are more than happy to obscure.

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