Teaching Machines with Audrey Watters
Welcome everyone! Audrey is a legendary critical voice in the world of education and technology. Audrey's articles are widely read, she's highly cited, she gives rousing keynotes, writes books and conducts painstaking analysis of education markets and finance. She does all of this while operating as an independent scholar and journalist. The reason we've invited Audrey here today as many of you will know is that she has a new book out from MIT Press called Teaching Machines: a history of personalized learning.
Welcome Audrey. Thank you Thank you so much for having me um I'm this is actually I think um my first official book reading um which does mean I'm going to like open up the copy of my book and and read it to you. I don't have any slides so if you are like so many of us completely exhausted by having to stare at another yet another zoom presentation know that it's totally cool if you tab out and work on email or whatever you want to do while I tell you a story. Like I'm not I'm not gonna know and I have nothing to show you um so feel free. But before I tell you a story from my book I do want to give a little bit of context and background both related and unrelated to Teaching Machines.
First of all and I'm sure that this will be mentioned when certain people in EdTech um read my book um the book is really a history of EdTech in the early to mid 20th century in the U.S and that context is important um one of my arguments and not just in the book but throughout my work is that context is really important to technology that is we have to look beyond just the tech itself, right? hardware, software, apps, internet, internet like none of it emerges fully formed out of nowhere like from the ether right like Athena born from Zeus's skull or something. Context matters and the context of the U.S I think really matters then the time period that my book looks at but it matters now, right. It matters that these technologies that we're dealing with today are emerging not primarily, but overwhelmingly and funded overwhelmingly from from Silicon Valley That matters um so I've read a lot of histories of education technology no surprise one does that when one writes a book um well some people do that. I did that, um
and in the introduction to Teaching Machines in I think very academic fashion I kind of lay out what are some of the problems with the way in which we tell the story about edtech. I think academics as I'm sure you know they love to position other people's work as somehow insufficient in order to make their own work seem more important and ground-breaking Even as a non-academic right I know the rules of the game. um I don't really name names and point fingers in the introduction and say that is a terrible book um with the exception of one book and in particular a video made by Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame um and I think that Sal Khan really exemplifies the hubris of tech entrepreneurs who assume that their ideas are earth-shattering that no one else has ever even noticed that there's a problem let alone come up with a solution and of course the solution is the software that they're peddling that'll fix things and so Sal Khan while he was promoting his book the one room school house he made a 10-minute video entitled the history of education in which he offers a very quick i mean 10-minute sketch on the history of education in the u.s he doesn't clarify
that that culminates no surprise with Khan Academy right as sort of the pinnacle of history like all roads lead to Khan Academy that is his work right posting short videos on YouTube offering multiple choice quizzes is sort of this breakthrough in personalized learning that we've needed ever since the advent of public education um his history is terrible and it's woefully inaccurate and I was um I was pleased I suppose that MIT Press considering that Sal Khan is an alumni, MIT Press didn't seem to um care although some of the reviewers were like ooh why are you picking on on Sal Khan. Anyway, I digress um I'll spare you the details and the U.S history lesson today and I actually want to talk about another book that I happen to have with me right um "Never Mind the Laptops" by Bob Johnson and this book, unlike mine, unlike most actually is not entirely focused on the U.S. Rather much of it is about Australia. About the very first school one-to-one laptop program in the world which as many of you probably know started in 1990 at Methodist Ladies College an independent girls school in Melbourne and I, I recommend the book um I'm not sure if you're supposed to do that while you're talking about your own book but there you go um particularly if you know little about the history of ed tech in your country and and don't get me wrong I love this book I love this book in part because I think it examines the constructionist bent of Ed Tech, a path that has really despite a lot of people's hopes has not been followed in the U.S right. Constructionism to review your memory is the theory of learning developed by MIT professor Seymour Papert.
As the name suggests, Constructionism draws on the early work of Jean Piaget and his work of Constructivism that is right learning occurs through the construction, reconstruction of knowledge rather than through the transmission of knowledge and and for Papert learning is most effective when the learner constructs something meaningful and the most powerful way to do that, Papert argued was with the computer, again, "Never mind the laptops" great book, um but it does one of the things that I call out in the introduction to my book to Teaching Machines is sort of problematic. That is it tells the history of edtech as if teaching machines that the devices not the book were supplanted by computers right as if once the technology moved in a certain direction that the beliefs and the theories and the practices behind teaching machines were supplanted as well. Lots of books do this in fact I would say almost all of the histories of edtech do this they catalog one technology after another right there's sort of a list of technologies i'm like kind of implying that on this progress this technological progress means that tech and the teaching and learning are getting better and I'm I'm not sure that that's true at all but they also imply and I think that um perhaps unintentionally Johnson did this that somehow constructionism supplanted the learning theories that underguarded those pre-digital teaching machines namely behaviorism I don't think that cognitive science supplanted behaviorism either that's more the conclusion of my book than the introduction um but you know chapter one of "Never mind the laptops" Never mind the laptops" Never mind the laptops" is titled "guided by pigeons" um it's a chapter as you might have guessed about the work of B.F Skinner. and if you know my work you know um that i'm a fan of pigeons i'm not so much a fan of Skinner but i'm a fan of pigeons and what they I think represent for edtech um but Johnson then traces the development of teaching machines through Skinner but he ends his introduction his first chapter by kind of pronouncing that programmed instruction that is the practice associated with teaching machines had largely disappeared from schools and was soon to be replaced in the 1960s already in the 1960s by this growing demand for computers and furthermore Skinner's theories of behaviorism were replaced with cognitive science he infers and after the first chapter neither Skinner nor behaviorism are mentioned again and that means you know he's telling the story of the first one-to-one laptop program in Melbourne so I'll let it slide but it's a pretty common thing I think that happens when we talk about ed tech the history of ed tech. It's the setup in like I said almost all of the ed tech histories Skinner appears in chapter one or maybe chapter two but then that's it he's gone right his ideas are gone his machines are gone they've been replaced um but you know I look around uh and I see behaviorism everywhere right like i'm that kid in that movie the Sixth Sense you know I see dead people like I see behaviorism everywhere and I think if Skinner was foundational 264 00:10:36,720 --> 00:10:40,640 and almost all these books seem to agree that he was um that means that somewhere along the way we just we demolished that foundation and then rebuilt it but I don't think that's true I think that behaviorism is the foundation it remains the foundation and what we've done is we've built upon it um not just the ways in which computers teach but the ways in which I think we even think about teaching and learning and cognitive science um so I want to read an excerpt from the first chapter of the book um chapter one which like everyone else um deals with B.F Skinner
and his teaching machine um in the fall of 1953 Harvard psychology professor BF Skinner visited his daughter's fourth grade math class at Shady Hill, a private school in Cambridge Massachusetts where he observed the teachers and students with dismay. The students were all seated at their desk working on arithmetic problems written on the blackboard as the teacher walked up and down the rows of desks looking at the students work pointing out the mistakes she noticed some students finished the work quickly Skinner reported and squirmed in their seats with impatience waiting for the next set of instructions other students squirmed with frustration as they struggled to finish the assignment at all eventually the lesson was over the work was collected so the students could take so the teacher could take the papers home grade them and return them to the class the next day. "I suddenly realized that something must be done" Skinner later wrote in his autobiography. The classroom activities violated two principles of his behaviorist theory of learning. Students were not told immediately that they had an answer right or wrong a graded paper returned the next day failed to offer the type of prompt and positive feedback that Skinner believed necessary to modify behavior, that is, to learn. Furthermore the students were all forced to proceed at the same pace through the lesson regardless of their level of ability or comprehension. This method of
instruction provided the wrong sort of reinforcement Skinner argued, penalizing those students who could move much more quickly as well as those who needed to move more slowly through the materials. A few days later, Skinner built a prototype of a mechanical device that he believed would solve these problems and solve them not only for his daughter's classroom but ideally for the entire education system. His teaching machine he argued would enable a student to progress through exercises that were perfectly matched to their level of knowledge and skill assessing their understanding of each new concept and giving immediate feedback and encouragement along the way. It was a primitive machine, Skinner admitted, fashioned out of a rectangular wooden box problems were printed in arithmetic problems in arithmetic were printed on cards, he explained, the student placed the card in the machine and composed a two digital answer alongside one alongside along one side by moving two levers. If the answer was right a light appeared in the hole in the card. He built a second model in which a student manipulated sliders bearing numbers zero through nine in order to compose an answer.
In another prototype, the student turned a knob after setting the answer if the answer was wrong the knob would not turn if the answer was right the knob would move freely and a bell would ring. A bell a ringing bell is associated with some of the earliest and most famous experiments in behavior modification namely those of the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov had published his research on dogs in 1897 describing how he conditioned the animals to respond by salivating. Work
for which he would later win the Nobel prize in medicine. Skinner's own research was to a certain extent built on Pavlov's. Moving from what was considered the classical conditioning of involuntary responses stimulating itself uh salvation with food for example to operant conditioning of voluntary ones by using operant conditioning that is by administering rewards or punishments all sorts of behaviors could be manipulated Skinner argued not simply reflects our responses and these behaviors could be bolstered through schedules of reinforcement. The title of Skinner's 1957 book co-written with colleague Charles Firster although Skinner insisted that he and Pavlov were studying very different processes the Russian scientist was incredibly influential on the early science of learning in general focus as it was primarily on animal rather than human behavior for Skinner studying learning meant studying behavior and vice versa. "For me" he wrote in his autobiography "behaviorism was psychology". Skinner contrasted this with mentalism, a belief to which he would frequently accuse his fellow students and professors of describing by mentalism Skinner meant both Freudianism and Jungian analysis, that is, ideas about the consciousness and unconsciousness. Ideas
that had gathered rather popular support not just among scientists in the early 20th century one could not observe or verify what happens in the mind. Behaviorist like Skinner contended therefore the mind could not really be examined through scientific experimentation or inquiry indeed in reviewing Carl Jung's book, Psychological Types, in 1923 for the New Republic behaviorist John Watson arguably the best known American behaviors before Skinner dismissed the work of the Swiss psychoanalyst as quote "Jung is relying on unjustified and unsupportable assumptions, on magic not science" Scientific study, behaviorists insisted, meant analyzing activities, behaviors, rather than speculating about inward motivations or sensations um let me skip ahead um Skinner described his approach as Radical Behaviorism which he argued does not deny the possibility of self-observation or self-knowledge or its possible usefulness. This questions the nature of what is felt or observed or known. 442 00:17:05,199 --> 00:17:09,760 Rather than the mind being beyond scientific inquiry, Skinner argued that one could actually examine events that take place in the private world within the skin but do so through a behaviorist lens. Skinner's commitment to behaviorism was not simply academic a term that is often used to suggest a theory divorced from practice. Skinner was a best-selling author, a public intellectual, a visible scientist. He was
the inventor of psychological gadgetry and a promoter of what Rutherford has called a technology of behavior a technology that despite Skinner's rather controversial reputation, has become a clearly identifiable component of life beyond the laboratory indeed Rutherford argues that Skinner's most enduring cultural legacy is his technology of behavior rather than his experimental science or his philosophy of radical behaviorism and that is the legacy that is foundational for education technology it's not where the story of teaching machines begins but it's almost always where the story of teaching machines ends. Deeply intertwined with Skinner in his psycho technologies it's the foundation from which education technology has never entirely broken. so i'll stop there um i do go on about skinner at length I'm afraid um rather than disappearing after chapter one he appears in almost every chapter for the rest of the book which, I don't know, maybe that's not a selling point to you um i try very hard to not make him into a caricature or a villain but i hope that by the time we get to the conclusion of the book i hope that i've made it clear that the shape of edtech today um not just its theories but some of its business practices right this terribly exploitative and manipulative shape is in no small part due to Skinner's continued influence so let me just read a few pages of my conclusion and then I'm happy to answer um any of your questions or you know entertain comments in the form of a question whatever suits you um Teaching Machines may then be one of the most important trends in the 20th century both in education and in technology precisely because they were not a flash in the pan as some scholars have suggested but a harbinger their ongoing influence can be found in the push for both personalized technologies and behavioral engineering. The teaching
machine's most significant legacy might be quite broadly in the technocratic culture that they helped engender in education that is teaching machines were not merely aids to teaching. These machines as Eugene Gallagher argued in his report from the very first teaching machines conference in 1958 are a theory of teaching and I think that that theory of teaching is absolutely what ed tech is about today it is fundamentally about behaviorism and Skinner's behaviorist beliefs and I think that I go into this more you know in the rest of the conclusion but I think we have to kind of face up to that legacy and not try to deny that BF Skinner is foundational to the field and some of these other behaviorists that I talk about as well um despite the decades i think the decades since Skinner's work that foundation is as solid as ever right despite the advances in the technology the advances in the science I really do think that ed tech is dominated by behaviorism and i hope that my book makes the argument for why that matters. Why Skinner mattered, why he still matters and I won't spoil it here but maybe what we can do about it what we can do about behaviorism and teaching machines.
How we might dismantle that foundation and how others particularly in the civil rights movement in the student movement in the 1960s actively worked to dismantle what they could of the teaching machines of their time. So let me open it up to questions for it from you. Thank you so much Audrey. I wanted to ask
as well because uh you really went delved into the history with Sydney Pressy and Ben Wood and all the letters that they wrote to each other during this time and I think that that's so valuable uh so if you wanted to talk a little bit about that. Yeah, so thank you, yes I had an amazing time in the archives at the Ohio state university um where Sidney Pressy's papers are he's generally seen as the inventor credited as the inventor of the first teaching machine Skinner gets a lot of credit. Skinner begrudgingly would say well Sidney Pressy he did it first but he did it wrong um ben wood whose papers are at ets educational testing service um and then of course Skinner's papers um boxes and boxes and boxes of Skinner's papers at Harvard and um it was fascinating i think it was it was fascinating of course you know to to read um to read the correspondence between um many of the academics of their time i mean these were you know these are names that if you're familiar with sort of educational psychology you could see a sort of very active um active community of scholars um thinking out loud in in letters um to one another and there were also particularly in skinner's papers because he was such a well-known public figure he had a lot of letters from the public um he got a lot he got a lot of hate mail you'll be shocked to learn but from other from other people as well temple grandin for example who i'm not sure if you're familiar with um she's an activist scholar she writes a lot about autism she wrote to skinner when she was a undergraduate student skinner was in close correspondence with members of the Kennedy family for example and so it was really it was really fascinating to get this sort of this glimpse into the way in which ideas were not just formed in scholarly work but the way in which they were formed and defended in in the personal work and then of course the ways in which um Skinner and Pressy and Ben Wood another figure really struggled with the corporate side the business side of education technology and so i mean i think for me now that i as i look to what my next projects might be and as i look to sort of the importance of this work of documenting edtech history i'm of course super curious what this looks like today. We don't you know we don't write letters um any most of us don't write letters and i don't know that we save things i don't know that we archive things but um the same way in which um work work was archived when it was paper i mean you can um but i know that i've i've i dump a lot of emails into the garbage can and empty the trash to make them go away um there isn't you know i think about how in the future people will reconstruct this moment even you know thinking about the history of the year plus of pandemic teaching um what kind of what kind of personal documents do we have we might have the official documents but what kind of personal communication will we have in the future thank you it's so fascinating. David did you have the questions that you want to ask first yeah i'm gonna uh there are a few that have come through the Menti portal so thank you everybody who's been asking questions and leaving comments I will share those in a moment I wanted to prioritize some that we've received received even before the uh the presentation which is great um so um this is one um from from Simon who's in the audience hi Simon I'm gonna say it was from you because you you signed off as being Simon um in the question so it says "I greatly value the historical context you provide to understand how edtech has emerged especially adaptive platforms and the emptiness of some of its rhetoric but while most of us would agree that skinner and behaviorism had deeply objectionable elements the robust research evidence is that when used skillfully and ethically intelligent tutoring systems lead to more efficient mastery of core knowledge and skills that's an important part of learning but clearly not all that's needed for a holistic education so my question is, is the educational research on the effectiveness of adaptive learning tools evidence that you're happy to recognize and if not can you please explain why?" so um there are several ways in which I'd like to answer that question thank you for that question simon um i'll start with another story so um over the pandemic like many people um we adopted a puppy and uh like she's a rottweiler so she's a she's a big dog um and i wanted to make sure as um the human companion to a big dog and a dog that people i think have a certain idea of their behavior i wanted to make sure that she was well trained um and so well we hired a trainer we worked with the trainer and of course um training the dog it was really an exercise in behaviorism in operant conditioning and indeed one of the articles that skinner wrote at the highlight of his popularity i think it was published in scientific american was on how to train your dog and so you know you know rewarding poppy giving poppy immediate feedback immediate positive feedback when she did the right thing um and less about punishing her right skinner was very adamant that punishment isn't the way to to train um train a pigeon train a dog train a student um that you use positive reinforcement and um here i was working finalizing the book um with my rage against the teaching machines and sort of re-enacting a lot of skinner's work and it's very effective i mean i think that that's that's the trick that's this tricky piece with behaviorism um and with behavioral engineering which i think we see a lot of today is that it works it um not perhaps not 100 perhaps not always effectively perhaps but i think it's it's pretty effective my dog she's a good dog she's she's not here right now she'd be very thrilled to hear me say she's a she's a good dog um and i think that that's one of the things that we that to think about of course you know then so sure yeah behaviorism um effective yay but also um my dog is very different than how i think about other humans and how i think about students i'm willing to curb my dog's freedom autonomy curiosity self-expression for the sake of my sanity for the sake of safety for the sake of other people's comfort for the rules of society um that's really different i think you know behavioral engineering my dog is very different than behavioral engineering other people and particularly behavioral engineering um at the sort of scale that technologists and educational technologists kind of imagine that skinner even imagined right skinner wasn't as as i said skinner wasn't just interested in how do i improve my daughter's math in fourth grade or even how do i improve her her class or her school but really how do i transform the whole system and in his um in his novel walden 2 really how do i transform the world how do we how do we use behavioral engineering to change the world and that's pretty similar to the the fantasies i think of a lot of tech entrepreneurs today um certainly the fantasy of mark zuckerberg right um how do we how do we engineer the world a certain way and i think that that changes the stakes it changes the stakes politically no matter what the research says about how effective it might be it changes the stakes politically and so you know i i don't know that i would necessarily agree that um intelligent tutoring systems or adaptive learning are um better faster more efficient i can't remember exactly what the question was but i because i think that i think that in some cases in some circumstances in some classes with some teachers and some students they do work better but i don't think it's as incredible as a lot of the proponents um like to make it out to be the flip side of that i think is what gets lost what gets lost when we prioritize a mechanic a mechanistic behavioral engineered um orientation towards education and i think at this moment now in particular that it's important for us to think about what are the ways in which we have less individuals working one-on-one with a machine and how do we work on building more community how do we work on building more social interactions how do we work on establishing compassion and care for one another not just how do we how do we fine tune how do we fine tune the pace at which someone moves through you know first year calculus to me that's not the interesting or important problem that the world faces right now and i talk a little bit about that i'll talk a little bit about that in the book um particularly as i said when i look at the civil rights movement the in the u.s
in the 1960s um [Music] uh patrick moses um [Music] was very interested at the snick the civil rights group were very interested in seeing could they use teaching machines could they use programmed instruction to help with literacy to help with adult literacy in mississippi as part of some of the activism that they were doing but i think that the activists actually came to recognize that the what was more important was the community developing knowledge the community working in together to build what matter to them rather than being given um programs that were engineered and designed by other people and so i i do think that um a lot of these issues a lot of these questions about the politics of the politics of education are just as important as any of the research that we might have about um how effective it might be in in certain other ways thanks audrey um we will have time for to open up to a little bit more discussion in a moment but i want to go on to some of the other questions that are in um that are in the mentee there and that we received beforehand um without getting into the weeds one of the other questions that came on early it's a little bit probably perhaps a little bit of a leading question but um it says is politics broken because education has failed society or is it vice versa are we in the education community are we in the education community suffering the consequences or have we do we cause it um you know the this is such a hard one because i think when we when we talk about brokenness i think that this is such a familiar refrain among the tech and ed tech entrepreneurs that i'm always really hesitant to sort of embrace it because when they talk about education being broken they really want to sell you their product that is of course the fix the quick fix um and you know i think that our institutions many of our institutions are um deeply flawed um unsurprisingly flawed right they're built not just on the foundation of bf skinner in the case of ed tech but they're built on the foundation of i think white supremacy for example the education system um the education system in the u.s it's really so fundamentally wrapped up in questions of white supremacy and questions of capitalism and questions of exploitation um and and violence even that it's sort of um i'm not sure that i'm i think that we have to really we do really have to address um how the history i think of of our institutions um it's not really i mean it it's it's such a deep structural problem that it's sort of hard for me to come up with like a you know the five-point the five-point plan on on how we fix it but i do i mean i do think that they're so deeply intertwined and that's why i think it's important to really look at the foundation really examine the history and not sort of pretend as though the history doesn't matter i think that that's again that is so common among sort of the silicon valley that sort of silicon valley ideology that i talk about in some of my other work is this idea that the past doesn't matter you don't even know need to know about the past in fact the more you know about the past the more expertise you have in a subject the less likely you are to be able to fix it um [Music] so i i do think that the history the history really matters and i think that um but yeah uh yeah i i don't have an answer other than that no that's totally understandable i mean it works they they they interact with each other it's not like one causes the other and the other it's not a simple question to answer um i'm gonna share my screen a little bit and just share some of the other questions that has been coming in so here's one that actually asks about other psychological models so while behaviorism is dominant in your research did you come across any alternative psychological models that informed other kinds of edtech or were you just sort of focusing on um yeah this is a great question um and i i do a thing that probably made me the most nervous when i was writing the book and i was like man people are really gonna kick my ass for this so let me back up a little so i mean i think that most people posit um constructionism um and constructivism as these sort of alternative psychological models i think that that's commonly how we think of things um in ed tech in particular that you can and um you can think actually of seymour papert's work in which he made it sort of clear himself that on one hand you have this model of computer and assisted instruction um in the 1960s and 1970s in which she said that the computer programs the child or you've had his ideas in which the child programs the computer and so i think that that's often seen as the alternative the alternative way of building edtech um the alternative way of thinking about teaching and learning with machines as well the construction of knowledge rather than being programmed um i make an argument and this is the part where i'm like people are going to be pissed off i do kind of poke a little bit at jerome bruner um at papert um at some of these ideas that came along and sort of put the stake in the ground and said um we're different than behaviorism behaviorism is old hat and i have to imagine i didn't find it when going through skinner's papers but i have to imagine that some of the faculty discussions at harvard were a little heated right if you had um you know you had jerome bruner and seymour or excuse me ann skinner like they didn't seem to like each other very much of course and then you also had i think timothy leary was it was in the psychology department at the same time so i don't know maybe they were amazing maybe the faculty meetings were amazing i think they would have been fascinating yeah and so um but i do think that i don't think it's sort of as easy to say that you know we just turned the corner we just flipped the page and behaviorism doesn't influence us any longer i mean i think in some ways um you know cognitive science did sort of say now we're paying attention to the mind um which was certainly a break from skinner's insistence that you systems that you can't know the mind but a lot of the things really still seem to have this um i think certainly undercurrent of behaviorism in them one of them um and this is where i don't know yeah um one of them i think is paper it's one of popper's most famous inventions which is of course the logo turtle right so this was um logo was the programming language that paper and some of his students invented so that children could more readily program computers and the turtle was this little robot that you could give instructions if you're a person of a certain age like myself perhaps you worked with logo when you were younger interestingly sorry to interrupt that my nieces are like yeah five and seven and they use it in school yeah they have little robots that they program so it's still yeah yeah it's still i mean i think that this is sort of um this is i think this alternative this potential alternative but um you would do sort of like forward ten left uh you know left 90 forward to 10 and you could have the the the logo turtle would move around the um geometrically in the way in which you programmed um but of course that's a behavior right that the way in which paper to imagine that you a child could sort of gain epistemol the epistemology of math was to sort of embodied way of seeing math through the behavior of a robot and so you know it i don't think it was simply a cognitive it wasn't simply cognitive it was still connected to to sort of seeing the behavior and understanding learner learning by understanding behavior um yeah i don't i guess that's that's a long-winded answer to to to this question but yeah i mean i think yeah is it part of the issue that behaviorism works really well like it works for what it what you know people want it to do it's sort of yeah i mean i think that that that is one of the challenges i mean that is this reason why i you know again silicon valley likes to pretend as though it's invented everything new and so you have a lot of professors at stanford for example who are working on behavioral engineering behavioral economics but they often don't even use that behavioral piece in there they don't trace it back to skinner's work but the kind of nudges right that's another um richard thaler's idea of nudge these are all very popularized ways um our phones do this to us all the time with the little push notifications um this little insistence that we click on something that we open the app um that we respond i think that we can see behaviorism in so much of the technology not just the education technology so much of the technology that's get that's used and it's because it does seem to get us to respond you know behaviorism is how casinos are designed that they they elicit from us certain behaviors that are desirable for those who are doing the engineering and those who are doing the engineering of applications um you know want to sell ads they want us to click on things they want the metrics to learn to look a certain way i'm gonna mark that one as answered for now um i'm just gonna skip back up to this one um how can we create a space for good socially conscious teaching in the current corporate ed tech environment this one is so hard i mean i think that this and then particularly you know during the pandemic i think it's been incredibly difficult and i think for for for professors who sort of saw themselves as doing something different from i think a lot of the corporate ed tech um the professors who were still the resistors to the learning management system for example the professors who had had um i think to find oneself having to having to adopt some of these tools and having to adopt some of the corporate tools because that's how we get to be together right um zoom for example you know zoom has a lot of problems all of these tools i think have a lot of problems particularly in the ways again that they engineer they want certain behaviors for from us they shape us in certain ways they restrict what we can do and they make us they sort of form they they form our um they really do they they shape in which the ways in which we can interact with it with one another and so it's incredibly challenging it's particularly challenging in a moment where the out there are it's much more difficult for us to say we're not going to have it online right um i'm not going to post anything in the learning management system because damn it you'll get the paper syllabus when you come to class kind of attitude and so i think it's hard i think that there you know for me the that there is still glimmers of political not just technological but political possibility in some of these technologies and i think one of the most powerful technologies is the web and the web is certainly now as much of a corporate billboard as anywhere else but the web itself i think the original idea the original academic idea the idea for sharing research for sharing scientific research does we do have i think the ability a possibility for students to be able to sort of have their own space to be able to interact with one another in spaces that are not um covered with analytics and ads but i think it's i think it's incredibly challenging and i think even with something like the web i think that there you know that there are still so many inequalities i think baked into really baked into a lot of these things that it is it is very very challenging and even more challenging when you're constrained when you don't have an option other than to use the learning management system when it's decreed that you have to use online test proctoring tools um both whether you're faculty or a student i think it's it's incredibly challenging but doesn't mean that the corporate ed tech will win people fight back people resist they always have um ashley did you have any questions of you of your own that came up out of that um there that you wanted to pose to to audrey now well it was actually about the proctoring because i was reading your work about that and then so it's interesting that you had gone into it because i just thought what does this mean for the future especially right now we're in lockdown so many students are forced to be proctored there's no other option and so yeah that was my question i know that's is that your plans for your next research project so i'm not sure what my well well i'm not sure what my next research project is right now and if you read the book um one of the things i know it's skinner again one of the things that skinner invented was an air crib in which he sort of famously um had his second daughter um placed in this in this crib that he designed anyway so i'm really interested in technologies of surveillance around children which does in fact sadly connect to the online test proctoring you know um i think the popularity of online test proctoring is one of those sad examples in which you know it feels and certainly the testing companies like to say that this is inevitable like what else are you gonna do we have no other options but to use this incredibly um exploitative um and really kind of a pretty awful software what else are you gonna do i think the positive like this is actually then a moment to say well we'll show you we there are other ways in which we can assess one another um there are other ways in which we can um build build as the earlier question asked build a kind of learning environment build a learning environment that is purposefully very different from the traditional classroom which um even in its sort of analog existence has a lot of problems right it's still in certain ways really built on the idea of watching students you know so much of what we do is about this deep distrust that we have for students we don't trust them to be honest we don't trust them to keep their hands to themselves we don't trust them well i guess in the u.s somehow we trust them to not breathe on one another but i digress but we really just fundamentally don't trust students so how do we build a classroom how do we build a learning community in which actually trust is the foundation rather than distrust rather than having all of these systems that must surveil and monitor and control students how do we build how do we build practices teaching practices assessment practices community practices that are really built on respecting one another believing in one another and trusting one another and that's a very that's not just a different set of technologies right that's a that's a different way that's a different way of teaching that's a different way of learning that's that analog or digital that's a very different way of thinking about what happens in in a learning in a learning environment but certainly i think that the test proctoring companies want to tell the story and it's a story that i think is very familiar that this is what testing looks like um one of the things that i look at in the book with ben wood who i mentioned earlier is the way in which you know standardized testing the way in which the history of testing itself sort of leads into teaching machines teaching machines are built on testing machines and again it's one of the sort of foundational foundational elements of education technology and i think we recognize the history of testing we recognize that standardized testing for example was deeply intertwined and intelligence testing were intertwined with eugenics that they have this um really troubling um racist history to them um and yet that's foundational to testing that becomes foundational to automating the grading of testing and that automation becomes i think foundational to how we imagine what we imagine teaching to look like and so you know we have at least a century of undoing and dismantling that but this is our opportunity right and i think that that's that's this that is what i think one of the things that we should seize in this moment um if nothing else is that things are such a freaking mess right now that perhaps we can get away with more um although you know on one hand we're being monitored they monitor even more closely on the other hand maybe not so much um but i think that this has to be a time for experimentation because what we're doing isn't working and what we've been doing hasn't been working and so how do we how do we experiment but how do we experiment not just within the latest technology because it's cool gadgetry and that's what we're somehow told is you know that the future must be more technological rather than thinking about what are the technologies that get us there thinking about what are really our beliefs what's our belief system and how do we build practices that support that belief system and then the tech should come out of that the tech shouldn't come out of merely tech for tech's sake right again that's the importance of context um that we have to be thinking about what are the what are the beliefs and practices that matter to us and for me what i want education to look like i want education to look like a practice of freedom right after bell hooks like i don't want education to look like something that's punitive something that's engineered something that's controlled um something that's manipulated and building you know if we have education as a practice of freedom that means that with the technologies are going to look very very different and they certainly aren't going to look like proctorio education as a practice of freedom is antithetical to the testing to test proctoring companies particularly practorial thank you and thank you so much and the other question i had um i was reading about how the grabs like in the history everything that was published in newspapers the people that were interviewed worked for encyclopedia britannica and so i just wanted to ask you a little bit about that because i found that very interesting so i have to say that when i was writing the book almost it would have been obnoxious but you have to imagine when you read it if you read it when you read it right almost every paragraph you just imagine audrey sitting there thinking and that is exactly what ed tech is like today um because if you look at a corporate publication like we'll say at surge for example or the rolodex actually of almost any journalist has the sort of same people that they go to when they need a spicy little quote to fill in the blanks to sort of say the things that as a journalist being objective you're not supposed to sort of say yourself and so i think you'll often find that people who are cited in newspaper stories today are actually very closely tied to a lot of the products their investors their friends of our friends um that the networks around edtech are very tight and very powerful and so in the book the chapter that looks at the encyclopedias so teaching machines were sold alongside encyclopedias with by door-to-door sales people and these corporations the encyclopedia companies were able to get pilot programs in schools again sound familiar um but yeah the the the people who would be cited were often um were often that were almost always the same people and then after some of these teachers principals superintendents sort of gained notoriety by their successful um edtech pilot lo and behold suddenly a year or two later they would find themselves with a job at the company which um i'm sure you i don't need to name names we can think of many people for whom that similar sort of um arc works today thank you but i have to say the biggest thank you because your work is so important and it's so important for us to be educated about this instead of everyone having blinkers on because i think people do get excited about the latest technology but we have to remember that we're human and that we need to be proper teachers thank you thank you that that means a lot i mean i think you know working on a book is a bit like working on um intelligent tutoring systems is a very isolating um is a very isolating endeavor and it's it's great to actually have the book in people's hands to see other people reading it because um when it's you know that's the difference i think between being a teacher and a writer when you're when you're an educator in the classroom um you know you and as you know when when we're together we get the response from one another that sort of human response and that energy that we get from one another is really um intellectually and emotionally i think gratifying when it's just you and the blinking cursor it's kind of it's kind of dreary um it's kind of it's it's difficult and so i i am thrilled i'm thrilled that the book is in people's hands and that that people are that people are reading it and that we get to that i get to talk about it with other people besides my husband who is um a little sick of bf skinner too thank you david did you have any other questions uh there are a lot of questions uh and comments so um uh or do you just sort of mention the book i just wanted to post in the chat um in case anyone didn't know where you can get it i've just posted a link to mit press uh where there's a few different ways of ordering the book um audrey we've already gone past 10 o'clock are you happy to hang around a little bit longer to have a look i can just do i can do a little bit longer but the dog lesser heart is painful yeah yeah yeah i'm just gonna bring up one uh of the comments here and just have a look at them this one in particular um asking all assessment and feedback works from what learners can demonstrate through what they say and do their behavior surely we can't target that as behaviorism why can't we i mean i think that that's actually fundamental to skinner's ideas right that this is how we this is how we know how we know learning um we can't you know we can't despite despite those um those brain scans that often show up in like um tech entrepreneurs like slides about what the brain looks like in a lecture versus what the brain looks like when it's sleeping like we don't actually we can't actually sort of scan the brain and say you have a you have a full comprehension of the important thematic ideas in romeo and juliet right that's not how it works um we do need we do need demonstration and for skinner um it wasn't just sort of a physical demonstration wasn't simply sort of pigeons playing ping pong it was verbal behavior um and so yeah they think that this is behaviorism this is i mean i think tarring it with behaviorism using that word tar i think is because i think we've you know skinner has become for reasons that i talk about in the book for reasons i think that we all know he's uh you know um there are there are some political and intellectual problems with bf skinner um and but i think that it's behaviorism is so fundamental still to this day again despite the fact that when we read our education psychology textbooks that there are many chapters after behaviorism right the books the books um in fact it's another one of those stories that we have that somehow as you move through psychology that we can close that chapter and then we're on to cognitive science or neuroscience um but yeah i i think that that is behaviorism and that's why it matters and we can't just i you know we can't just say oof makes me feel a bit spooky so we don't do that anymore yeah yeah and i think that that that term like tiring something and the idea of behavior and behaviorism as an inherently negative thing um i mean psychology and neuroscience have gone through so many phases and constantly adapting and changing but some of the foundations are still you know obviously behaviorism and i i don't know i think some of our cultural um some of our objection to it is a little bit cultural and very specific to um our context um and particularly when you talk about you know i know skinner uh talk about skin and not believing in free will um or freedom and those sort of things and again those kind of concepts you know that's not that's not everybody's view of the world like freedom isn't actually what some people want so um i guess my question is is is um if we look at behaviorism some of the positive aspects of behaviorism and the things that still work is it still valid in in any sense or is it just that the uses that it's been put to have been very uh harmful i think that that is such a great question um so you know i think that and that's that's the challenge i think when we when when we have that's such a political challenge of this right um you know i'm going to spoil something from the book again but you know often when we tell the story of skinners skinners fall from grace if you will um often it's told as he wrote this book in which he decried free will beyond freedom and dignity and noam chomsky another mit professor wrote the skating review in which you know he said that this is fast this is sort of fascist um loot it's sort of ludicrous it's not even science it's not at best it's not good science and it works it's fascist right and everyone was sort of like aha oh my god skinner terrible um we're done with him but i think that you know um not everybody read noam chomsky's book review um but a lot of people watched a movie that came out the same year that i think actually really did shape their assessment and that's a clockwork orange um and although um you would you could say that clockwork orange doesn't really depict skinner's radical behaviorism of course the character is not rewarded for good behavior he's punished for bad behavior but i think in the popular in popular culture a clockwork orange convinced a lot of folks that behavioral engineering was a really bad idea and it was a bad idea despite a good intention right the intention was let's get rid of crime um let's let's rehabilitate criminals but at the same time through the loss through their loss of free will through the loss of freedom um but i think that that you know this is again this is a political question and i think it's incredibly important now when we think of who has you know who are the ones who are wielding behavioral engineering right um where is the political where is the economic power um that is that is wielding and what what exactly is the kind of world in which they're trying to engineer um you know you think about mark zuckerberg vision of the future for example um yuck um so many so many comments here i want to pull out um and actually i'm just going to go back to the questions rather than going through these comments because i think some of the questions here um this is an interesting one because you were talking about the internet before and different conceptualizations of the internet and one of those is connectivism um where do you see the theoretical practical aspects of connectivism offer of something alternative behavioral thinking that underpins much of learning design ooh that is a really good question um and i don't actually have an office i really i love this question and i want to think about it some more um and i don't have an off off-the-cuff response to it um but uh i think some of these questions i will email you afterwards because they've been a few really meaty ones so yeah i feel like this is a this is someone has assigned me like a an essay to right here and um whoever did this i i i appreciate it i i don't i'm not being sarcastic like that's actually a great question and i i wanna i want to think some more about that cool um let there was another comment here sort of around the testing and feedback area um you pick out skinner's two principles incident feedback is important and we should adapt to the student pace of learning learning um the teaching profession agrees that timely feedback is good and a good principle as is differentiating instruction um not really a question in there or comment but yeah so i would i would actually say one to one point on that is i think that the instant feedback kind of gets oversold um i think that there is something to be said for contemplation and now by saying i don't think that instant i think that instant feedback gets oversold i'm not saying that like when you get your term paper back like you know four weeks after the end of the semester that's not what i mean but i do think that the practices and i see this as a writer as i say this is someone who thinks a lot about ideas um through um through revision is i do think that that it's worth sitting with ideas for a while i do think that i don't that i think that in some ways again when we start to design these things based on us on certain sets of values on this idea that we must have instant feedback then we then there's a trade-off and i think when it comes to writing in particular that it's worth it's worth sitting with ideas it's worth being contemplative um and i don't know that instant feedback on um on on on your writing for example is necessarily is necessarily better than feedback that um that feedback that comes down the road i just think that you know some of these things i don't know some of these things we start we we we get a couple of these b's in our bonnet and then we just start designing systems and i'm not sure that instant feedback and that the pace of the student yeah differentiating differentiating differentiating differentiating instruction yes sure but we should you know we can pause and think about why some of these things matter and how they met how they become [Music] i guess hard-coded in our technologies in ways that defeat maybe other purposes thank you and um one last question if you have time two minutes cool um this one here because because personalized i mean the history of personalized learning is the sort of subtitle of your book and we haven't really had any questions about that yet but in your view is the idea of personalized learning connected to corporate and neoliberal society um do we need to look to community rather than individual learning that is not easily so putting in opposition the idea of well it kind of crosses over a little bit with individualism doesn't it yes yeah i mean i think that that's you know in the book i trace where some of these ideas come from through testing you know and even by the 1920s in the u.s standardized testing was already well underway there were a lot students were tested and standardized testing was incredibly popular it was already a big business and so um and many many scholars at the time including ben wood one of the figures that i look at thought that if we could just if we could just get more data right if we could just get more data about the students then we'd be able to use the word individualized but we'd be able to individualize lessons for them and so you know ben wood thought um he worked he was a professor at columbia researcher at columbia university you know he got in addition to the standardized testing intelligence we do intelligence testing do aptitude testing we could do achievement testing we could do some personality testing um we could just glean as much data as possible from students and then he uh he was friends with a guy named thomas watson who was the president of a little company called international business machines um ibm and ibm get donated to um woods research center at columbia a calculating machine so that uh wood could sort of crunch the data better on students and so again i think that we've had for over a hundred years now or for at least 100 years now this idea that if we can just glean more um glean more data about students that we'll be able to personalize education and i think that um i think that but i think that what that means exactly is i think quite different than um sometimes what it sounds like to you know when what it sounds for people when people hear you know personalization it does sound more self-fulfilling more liberatory um but it it's it's really is i think how do we personalization is sort of automation um it's it's not actually um it's person it's personalized the way in which facebook is personalized right it's personalized the way in which netflix is personalized you watch one disney movie on netflix and then netflix personalizes the suggestions and oh actually maybe they don't have disney anymore well you know what i mean you watch one children's cartoon on netflix and then netflix is certain it'll personalize its suggestions to you within the realm within the realm of the videos that netflix has of course that's personalized education as well it might suggest things to you but they are within the realm of what the curriculum what other people have have specified that the curriculum should be thank you so much audrey um i'm going to let you go walk your dog now and just for um everyone else who's still here um we've just got a little feedback survey um if you want to scan that it will be emailed to you after this session as well um so don't feel like if you can't get your phone out and scan that and leave feedback you're gonna miss out or anything but i just like to thank audrey so much um and actually i'll let you do the the closing sort of remarks and comments and everything well thank you Audrey i just encourage you to keep on researching and writing because we just love your information and we can't wait to read your book so thanks for joining us today thank you thank you everybody for for showing up cheers thanks everyone.