Basic unresolved teaching‐machine problems

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Moskow State Univ Bibliote]On: 04 September 2013, At: 23:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Theory Into PracticePublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/htip20

    Basic unresolvedteachingmachine problemsSidney L. Pressey aa Professor emeritus of psychology, Ohio StateUniversityPublished online: 16 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Sidney L. Pressey (1962) Basic unresolved teachingmachineproblems, Theory Into Practice, 1:1, 30-37, DOI: 10.1080/00405846209541773

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405846209541773

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  • BASIC UNRESOLVEDTEACHING-MACHINE PROBLEMS

    SIDNEY L. PRESSEY

    Mr. Pressey, professor emeritus of psychology at TheOhio State University, devised and exhibited in 1925what is now generally recognized as the first teachingmachine. He raises some thought-provoking questions

    about current methods and devices.

    E FFORTS to develop "teaching machines" and materials to go withthem have been going on for some forty years; for the past fiveyears or so such work has been little less than frenetic. As appar-ently the one person who has from the beginning been active in thisfield, the writer sees changes in basic orientations over this periodwhich seem to have gained relatively little notice, but if considered,might much facilitate progress.

    Adjunct versus Initial Auto-InstructionIn all the auto-instruction up to about ten years ago, the student

    first looked over a reading assignment, laboratory exercise, or othermaterial, and only after some such first contact with the matter tobe learned did the auto-instructional procedure present carefullychosen questions on that matter, immediately appraise each answer,and if it was wrong indicate or guide to the correct answer. Theauto-instruction thus functioned like a good teacher or tutor who,after a student is presumed to have made some effort to deal withan assigned task and as an adjunct to that effort, asks questionspointing up the important and possibly difficult issues, and expli-cates each if difficulty appears.

    Thus in a required course in psychology under the writer'sdirection, each student, having read a chapter in the textbook,went down a mimeographed sheet of 30 four-choice questions onthe major points of that chapter, checking his answer to eachquestion in the appropriate answer space of a 3 x 5 "chemo-card." If, for example, he thought the third alternative was the

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  • TEACHING-MACHINE PROBLEMS 31

    correct answer to the first question, he put a check mark in thethird of the first row of four quarter-inch squares printed on thecard. He used a fountain pen filled with a special red ink ; in each"correct" answer square there had been printed an invisiblechemical which instantly turned a mark black. If his mark re-mained red, the student knew that he had chosen a wrong alterna-tive, and tried again until he did find the correct (color-changing)answer. After many questions on the mimeographed sheet werepage numbers so that he could easily look up an issue which theauto-instruction had not sufficiently clarified. And a second formof each "auto-test" made it easy for the student to assure himselfof his understandings and get further auto-instructional aid, if hedesired.1

    In startling contrast, teaching machines of the past few yearshave attempted to replace textbooks and initially present what isto be learned. The student is shown this material one bit or frameat a time in the window of a mechanism or space of a programedtextbook. He cannot readily look back at what he has been overor ahead to sense what is to come, or discover any outline or struc-ture in the material, or read or review selectively. His view isconfined to the window or program item and he must look atperhaps several thousand frames each by itself and in the predeter-mined order. For effective reading, for general understanding ofmain ideas, and for adequate study and review, this procedureseems to be about as clumsy as asking a person to apprehend apicture but letting him see, in a set order, only one square inch ata time!

    Thus one course may have, instead of the textbook, some twothousand questions on long rolls of paper. Each roll is put in abox with a window just large enough to show one question andspace to write a one-word answer to it. When a student haswritten his answer, he turns a knob which rolls up the paperenough to show him the correct answer and the next question.Another course has a programed textbook which consists of aboutthe same number of such questions so printed that the studentsees on one page a question and space for him to write its answer,then turns the page to find the right answer and next question.Devices such as Crowder's "scrambled books" and some machinespresent more in a frame, but involve similar difficulties of over-view, selective use, and review.

    1 For either student or instructor, the card was a compact yet detailed record.

    The red checks showed the difficult questions. A count of them was an error score,uniquely adequate, since it was possible to make more than one error on a question.

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  • 32 THEORY INTO PRACTICE

    To some psychologists such initial presentation of material tobe learned bit by bit with immediate reinforcement may seem soundtheoretically. However, some half-dozen experiments seem to agreethat, in a given time, no more learning may actually result than ifthat same material were organized in continuous discourse (ques-tions and their answers turned into declarative sentences) andsimply read!2 And most of the materials used were too brief for theadvantages of well-organized continuous discourse over many littlequestions to be realized fully.

    For much drill, as in arithmetic or relatively rote learning in aforeign language, special training as in industry or the military,or work with young children, initial presentation of material one"frame" at a time with immediate response called for may be ofmuch value. But study of a complex and structured subject seemsbetter begun by an overview of reading matter to display thestructure and order the complexity. A good book will show itsstructure in the table of contents and catalog its contents in theindex; with such aids the learner can easily move about in its num-bered pages with only the flick of a finger, using page headings andsubheads in the text to guide him. He may turn back and forthfrom table or graph to related text, skip something already known,review selectively for major and difficult points. In the writer'sopinion, only after such first contact with a complex structuredtopic should a student turn to auto-instruction for review anddifferentiation of major points in material just read or perhapsobserved in a demonstration, field trip, or laboratory. The auto-instruction will then assure the student when he is right and identifyand correct any misconceptionsas a good teacher or tutor mightthen do. Auto-instruction as an adjunct to the usual materials and

    2 Lumsdaine, A. A., and Glaser, Robert. Teaching Machines and Programmed

    Learning. Washington, D. C. : National Education Association, 1960, pp. 500-501.Silverman, Robert E. "Automated Teaching: a (Review of Theory and Research."Port Washington, 'New York: U. S. Naval Training Device Center, June 8, 1960.Evans, James Lee; Glaser, Robert; and Homme, Lloyd E. "An Investigation of'Teaching Machine' Variables Using Learning Programs in Symbolic Logic." Pitts-burgh, Pennsylvania: Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, December,1960. Goldbeck, Robert A., and Briggs, Leslie J. "An Analysis of Response Modeand Feedback Factors in Automated Instruction." Technical Report No. 2. SantaBarbara, California: American Institute for Research, November, 1960. Goldbeck,Robert A. ; Campbell, Vincent N. ; and Llewellyn, Joan E. "Further ExperimentalEvidence on Response Modes in Automated Instruction." Technical Report No. 3.Santa Barbara, California: American Institute for Research, December, 1960. Roe,Arnold, et al. "Automated Teaching Methods Using Linear Programs." Los Angeles :Department of Engineering, UCLA, Report No. 60-105, December, 1960. Clough,John, et al. "Oberlin College Teaching Machine Project 1959-60: a Report Submittedto the Ford Foundation." Oberlin, Ohio : Oberlin College, February, 1961.

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  • TEACHING-MACHINE PROBLEMS 33

    methods of instruction would seem both more widely useful andmore practicable than current efforts to replace textbooks andmethods with radical initial programing. For example, a teachermight prepare only two or three pages of adjunct questions, supple-menting that many especially difficult chapters in the textbook.These pages could be constructed so as to be useable with any oneof a dozen auto-instructional devices. A teaching-machine companyor professional programer might publish, with good profit, suchinexpensive materials for use with textbooks now widely used.3

    Mode of Pupil ResponseUntil about 1950, all efforts at auto-instruction used objective

    types of questions; since then, most programs have called forwrite-in answers. For these last, a theoretical justification can bemade, but so also for objective forms. Choice of form should be onthe basis of empirical findings as to comparative efficiency in bring-ing about learning, and "The findings to date do not justify anyconclusion that multiple-choice responses are less effective thanconstructed responses . . . ."4 As the next section of this paper willindicate, objective questions constructed and selected on the basis oftheir actual effectiveness in bringing about learning should be moreeffective for that purpose; no materials to date seem to have beenconstructed on this logical but laborious basis.

    The total cost in time and trouble of write-in answers should berecognized. Not only must each answer be written in the teaching-machine window or space in the programed book; the paper mustthen be rolled up or the page turned and comparisons madeandall this must be done over and over and over again. A well-knownprogramed text requires over 2300 page turnings back and forth.The total of eye and hand movements (often including puttingpencil down and picking it up again) may well be cumulativelyfatiguingand boring. In contrast, objective material requires onlychecking or key-pressing; and the key machine may automaticallykeep a cumulative score, of value to both learner and teachersub-stantial evidence indicates that knowledge of progress helps learners.Easy versus Difficulty-Resolving Questions

    Auto-instructional research of the past decade has been domi-nated by the concept of error-avoidance: the learner should neithersee wrong answers (in a multiple-choice question) nor be given

    3 A next step might be to issue revised or new textbooks especially planned for

    use with adjunct programs, as will be mentioned later.4 Silverman, op. cit., p. 22. Most of the other citations come to the same con-

    clusion.

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  • 34 THEORY INTO PRACTICE

    questions sufficiently difficult that he is likely to make any mistake.In improving a program, the effort is to make it yet more easy (see,for instance, Holland in Lumsdaine and Glaser, pages 225-28).Inferences from experiments with animals and in special laboratoryprojects may indicate that this is desirable. But there are dataindicating that auto-instructional human learning of meaningfulmatter proceeds somewhat differently (see Pressey and Stephensin Lumsdaine and Glaser, pages 73-93). The right response is notsimply the reinforced response, but the one that is recognized asmost meaningful or logical. A wrong alternative may help thatprocess if it needs to be differentiated as such to delimit or clarifythe meaning. Moreover, if a human learner is "ready" for a topic,he already has some ideas about it; and if he is efficient in studyhabits, he may begin with a rapid overview of it, the programingbecoming "adjunct." An important, if not major, task of the auto-instruction will then be the explication and co-ordination of theseprior learnings. And the major task in any new learning may be torelate it discriminatingly to the old.

    The writer of such a program will not so much seek artfullyto shape the student's responses so that, without his quite knowingwhat is happening, he is cued, reinforced, and faded into his learn-ing; rather he will attempt to present a series of lively challenges,each resolved by the auto-instruction so as progressively to enlargeunderstandings. And revisions will eliminate not only easy itemsbut even easy parts of items. For example, using an auto-instruc-tional device similar to the "chemo-card" described early in thispaper, 30 four-choice questions were given near the beginning of afreshman course in psychology, and then included in an objectivemid-term examination given over a month later. Several of the 30questions showed no gain, mostly because they were so easy thatalmost every student initially knew the answer and there was noroom for gain. But 12 of the questions showed gains of 20 per centor more; on all of these, a control group which did not have theinitial auto-instruction did less well on the mid-term, thus indicatingthat...

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