Innovation in teaching

iPads are currently deemed as innovative in teaching. What was new in teaching 50 years ago?


Some 50 years ago, people were experimenting with ‘teaching machines’, an invention created by the American psychologist Skinner. The teaching machines were utterly tedious machines. New questions would pop up behind a small window and students had to write down their answers, after which they were shown the correct ones. Even though the teaching machines appeared to be fairly effective, they are no longer used in teaching. The principles the teaching machines were based on, however, are still up-to-date. You may come across them in some educational iPad apps, such as ‘Math Bingo’. It is not only now that we are very hopeful about the opportunities in teaching, which technological innovations are opening up. At the beginning of the 20th century, Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) mentioned that “Books will soon be obsolete in the schools… It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture”. Obviously, Edison turned out to be wrong. No wonder he knew more about inventing than about teaching. It is striking, however, that something similar has been said about nearly every new technological innovation ever since, whether it be the personal computer, the CD ROM, Internet, the smart board or the iPad. And in most cases, we were wrong again.