The Technology of Teaching (Book review)

This holiday season, I’ve decided to share twelve books with you.
At the bottom of this post, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of this book.
You can also visit this page to find the entire list of books and giveaways.

The second book that I would like to share with you is Dr. B. F. Skinner’s “The technology of teaching.” This book is a collection of essays by Dr. Skinner about teaching and education. Some of the chapters were written specifically for the book, while others were first written for other publications.

This book is a nice introduction to Skinner’s writings if you have never read any of his original work. Many people who don’t know much about Skinner picture him in the lab, hard at work conducting experiments with rats and pigeons. However, Skinner was also greatly interested in how behavior analysis could improve education. He spent much of his later life studying and writing about how behavior analysis could improve society in general. I often assign chapters from this book to my undergraduate students, and they always enjoy reading what Skinner has to say about teaching.

In the book, Skinner addresses many of the things that he thought were wrong with the educational system in the 1960s. Unfortunately, many of these things are still problems today.

However, Skinner also addresses how education can be improved. The ideas that he presents apply to classroom learning and to a variety of other types of learning situations.

Skinner believed that behavior analysis could give us a technology of teaching. That is, it could give us a set of principles and techniques that teachers could use to systematically design and implement teaching programs, rather than relying solely on experience and intuition. (I’ve written previously about this idea of “technology.”)

One of my favorite chapters in The Technology of Teaching is the chapter on “teaching machines.” A teaching machine was a mechanical device that was meant to present material at an individualized pace. It was essentially a primitive computer. (I wonder what Skinner would have been able to accomplish if he had access to today’s technology!)

In the chapter on teaching machines, Skinner discusses how these machines work and the benefits of such devices. Throughout the chapter, he also weaves in much advice about the basic principles that create effective learning, including shaping, immediate feedback, why the student should move at his or her own pace, and the importance of making sure the student fully masters one point before moving on.

Many people over the past decades have dismissed Skinner’s research and writings. However, understanding the basic principles of learning can make us much more effective at analyzing and changing behavior.

I love this quote from one of the chapters in the book:

A critic has recently said that King Solomon must have known all about operant conditioning because he used rewards and punishment. In the same sense his archers must have known all about Hooke’s Law because they used bows and arrows. What is technologically useful in operant conditioning is our increasing knowledge of the extraordinarily subtle and complex properties of behavior which may be traced to subtle and complex features of the contingencies of reinforcement which prevail in the environment.

Interested in learning more? The technology of teaching is available as an ebook and as a printed book from both Amazon and from the B.F. Skinner Foundation.

Enter to win a copy of this book

To enter the giveaway:
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A quote by B. F. Skinner from his book "The Technology of Teaching"

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One lucky reader will win a new copy of this book.
Winner will be chosen at random.
This giveaway ends on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 at 11:59pm Central Standard Time.
Winner will be notified via email on December 15.
If the winner does not respond by Dec 17, he/she will forfeit the prize.
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