For as often as the histories of teaching machines have been written, I find there is still so much untold about these devices – about their design, their marketing, their usage; about the people involved who were not named Skinner or Pressey. I want to make sure that my book doesn’t fall into this trap: a story of what “great men” have built that ignores all the other factors that contributed to (and undermined, even) their inventions.
This is a challenge as I am, indeed, writing about these very men. But I want to underscore that the development of teaching machines was much more complicated than the oft-told story that gives narrative agency only to a handful of psychology professors or to the technology they imagined. That means thinking, if nothing else, about how commercialization worked (and didn’t work) – how and why, for example, certain photographs were taken with certain children and used to promote a certain image of this new educational experience: the experience of being taught by a machine.