I’ve been banging on about the tendency for educational technology folk, especially those in the technologists alliance to “blame the teacher” as the reason why technology-mediated learning hasn’t achieved all of its promise.

I came across a paper that illustrates just how long this tendency as been around. Petrina (2004) passes a critical eye over Pressey’s early work on the first teaching machines in the early 1920s and what broader lessons there might be. But it also includes a couple of quotes that illustrate Pressey’s tendency to “blame the teacher” for the failure of his utopian dreams.

First, his dream

Within the next twenty years special mechanical aids will make mass psychological experimentation commonplace and bring about in education something analogous to the Industrial Revolution. There must be an ‘industrial revolution’ in education in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education.

And of course now, “blame the teacher”

the intellectual inertia and conservatism of educators who regard such ideas as freakish or absurd, or rant about the mechanization of education when the real purpose of such a development is to free teachers from mechanical tasks.

Pressey about that his machine might

provoke some sentimentalists to an outcry against ‘education by machine’

Later in the paper Petrina tells the story about one teacher who was enthuiastic about Pressey’s teaching machine. This teacher was already in the habit of giving a true/false test at the beginning of every class by the method of him reading the true/false statements to the class and his sister doing the scoring. Pressey’s machine appeared to match his current practice and at the same time do away with the need for him to use his sister.


Petrina, S. (2004). “Sidney Pressey and the Automation of Education, 1924-1934.” Technology and Culture 45(2): 305-330.