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Sidney Pressey and the Automation of Education, 1924-1934

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Rather than dismiss the case of Sidney Pressey and the Automatic Teacher as just another failure in the history of educational technology and psychology, this article makes an argument for paying attention to the automation of the professions. Produced in the 1920s, the Automatic Teacher automated clerical and diagnostic skills and redefined productivity in terms of individualization. While standardizing education with teaching machines and tests, Pressey claimed to liberate teachers from burdens of drilling and testing and students from conformity in mass education. He nonetheless found out the hard way that his project of individualizing the masses was more easily automated than commercialized. The Welch Manufacturing Company produced 250 Automatic Teachers but shelved the project after selling only about 160.
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... Asynchronous instruction is also highly compatible with many forms of behavior-analytic instruction, particularly programmed instruction. Programmed instruction is perhaps best associated with B. F. Skinner, though it existed in various forms prior to his involvement (Petrina, 2004;Pressey, 1950). Programmed instruction refers to a method for designing and presenting instruction with the purpose of bringing specific responses on the part of the learner under the control of specific antecedent stimuli (Skinner, 1968;Vargas & Vargas, 1991). ...
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