My thanks to a recent correspondent for calling to my attention this item from The How and Why Wonder Book of Robots and Electronic Brains (first published 1963):


The Teaching Machine

Machines play chess, compose beau­tiful music, do diff­icult mathe­matical prob­lems, and have shown that they can learn from expe­rience. We also have machines that teach. At first these teach­ing machines were built espe­cially for the purpose, now we can use the com­puter for linking video­scopes in the class­room to a central com­puter. In Chicago there are over 100 video­scopes lo­cated in seven schools linked to the central com­puter. In the Bronx, New York City, there is even a robot called LEUCHIM helping out.

What does a teaching machine look like?

If your school does not already have teach­ing ma­chines, you may not have seen one. These robots are rather simple looking and quite harm­less. In most cases, they are just metal or plastic boxes with two windows in them, and a few knobs or push­buttons here and there.

To operate most teach­ing ma­chines, you press a button and it brings your first ques­tion into view in one of the windows. Then you write your answer on the paper ex­posed by a small window near the top of the machine. When you press the button again to get the correct answer, a shield covers your answer, making it im­possible to change it.

Now, press the button again to get your next ques­tion. As it appears, your answer to the pre­vious ques­tion slides out of view, the shield dis­appears, and you have a clear paper area to write on again.



How does a teaching machine “teach”?

The teaching machine teaches you your lessons in the same way we teach a machine to learn. The pro­grammer (your teacher) puts a pro­gramme (your lesson) into the machine (the input) and you (like the com­puter) process that ma­terial. You study the ques­tion, reach inside your memory ele­ment, and come out with the correct answer — you hope. This, like the com­puter, is your output.

By having the lesson fed to you rather slowly and well‐planned, you learn by trial and error, just like a machine. If you make a mistake, the teacher pushes the “goof” button, but, unlike a machine, your punish­ment may be to stay after school.


Close‐up of the part of the teach­ing machine that con­tains the ques­tion and at the lower right­hand corner your answer. On the illus­tration below it you see the next ques­tion and your check of the answer for the pre­vious one.


Can machines replace teachers?

Teaching machines will not replace teach­ers. But, pro­grammed learn­ing, as this type of teach­ing is called, will help the teacher to teach better. These ma­chines will also help to solve the teacher short­age by allow­ing larger classes. Since pupils using these devices require little super­vision from the teacher, she has more time to give special help or to do other class­room tasks.

We can also use the com­puter as a teach­ing machine. This is called CAI or Com­puter Aided Instruc­tion. Instead of a teach­ing machine we use a video­scope. The com­puter can hold a wide variety of teach­ing ma­terial and make it avail­able to pupils in several classes at once. It can also keep a record of how well you are doing and let the teacher have a note of it. In this way it will help the teacher even more than the teach­ing machine.