For nearly a decade, Audrey Watters has cast herself as a snarky and skeptical writer about education technology. From theories of personalized learning to new education-technology companies, Watters attempts to cut down the hype and to dash hopes.
In her writings, she frequently covers the history of education, and argues that many of the ideas behind education technology and innovation are neither new nor good.
Her new book, Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning, rests on these two pillars. The book presents two compelling microhistories of teaching machines sandwiched between a preface and a conclusion that attempt unsuccessfully to use those histories to contextualize—and cast doubt upon—personalized learning and today’s efforts to deploy new technology in that effort. Her big objection to personalized learning and education technology is that the two inevitably entail a crude behaviorist approach to instruction that deprives students and teachers of freedom.