Readings in Psychological Foundations of Education

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Teachers College, Columbia Universit y

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We shall see, however, that Wohlwill finds a basis for challenging Skinner's application of this second principle to human conceptual learning . The article on teaching machines reprinted here from Science was important in bringing Skinner's views on education before scientists of many fields at a time when they were becoming interested in and involved with the way their own disciplines were being taught at the elementary and secondary levels. This article restates Skinner's earlier stand and contains in addition a discussion of some intervening developments. Whatever your own current view of programmed instruction, you will find that Skinner's article raises a number of important questions for education. First, it is an interesting proposition that it is impossible for a teacher alone to reinforce any but a tiny proportion of the hundreds of thousands of appropriate responses made by a class of children in the course of the academic year. 1. Does this proposition seem reasonable? Assuming that these responses should be reinforced, are there any ways of accomplishing this other than by machine? 2. If a machine is used, how should the programs be selected for each child? Skinner contends that a device is necessary "if each student is to have individual attention." 3. A program can be selected by the teacher specifically for the individual student, but to what extent does a program give the student individual attention? 4. We continually urge students to organize material in order to remember it. Do different students have different ways of organizing, and will the organization inherent in a particular program work well for all ? Skinner suggests that, with programmed instruction, all students can get an A for what they learn from the program: Some students will simply go through more programs than others . 5. What sort of testing plan and what sorts of tests would such a situation call for? 6. If two students both respond correctly at all the steps of a program, will they be equally able to apply what they have learned to new situations ? Some of the expectations based on Skinner's theoretical viewpoint have yet to be confirmed. Clearly students can learn effectively from well -prepared programs. But, in several studies, the superiority of a machine over a programmed text has not been adequately demonstrated, nor have multiplechoice programs been shown to be any less effective than the constructedresponse programs Skinner says are essential. In fact, many effective multiplechoice programs are being marketed. Undoubtedly, future studies that more carefully manage the basic variables will tell us more about teaching machines and about learning.

Finally, in reading this selection, you should notice two singular statements that Skinner makes. In one of these he comments about the length of the school day (p. 9, par. 3). When you read this statement, think carefully about what you consider education to be and about how Skinner is using the term. 7. If time could be saved by using teaching machines, how do you think the unused time should be spent? how and to what extent should this activity be related to the teaching-machine program? The second statement to look for concerns the difference between asking an outstanding subject -matter specialist to write a text to be used by a teacher and asking him to prepare a program to be used directly by the student (p. 15, par. 2). There are some basic questions of educational philosophy and policy raised by this statement. 8. What are its implications?



There are more people in the world than ever before, and a far greater part of them want an education. The demand cannot be met simply by...
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