Mentor Teaching Machines: The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Textbooks

Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971
An Introduction to SI Metric and Applications of SI Metric, published by Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines of London, 1971.

Back in January, in a post looking at the use of forcing functions in education, I mentioned a type of textbook I remembered having somewhere which guided the user through learning in a kind of ‘choose your own adventure‘ style – depending on the answers the reader gave, he or she is routed through the book in a different order, with areas of weakness addressed in more detail to ensure better understanding before allowing the reader to progress to the next level.

At the time of the original post I mocked up how I remembered the pages looked – luckily, after a house move, I’m pleased to say I’ve now found the two textbooks I had, from 1971, and – after the jump – I’ve posted a set of photos to illustrate the system better. I love the way they’re described as textbook teaching machines (following B F Skinner’s lead [PDF]): this really is the application of machine design, or at least pseudo-programming, to a textbook, and, while I don’t know how effective the system really was in terms of advancing readers’ understanding, this type of thinking must have the potential to be relevant in other areas of interaction design…

Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971
How the system works. I’d be very interested to know of other similar textbook or guided learning systems – are they commonly used today? These particular books – proudly displaying the ‘Metric Key’ logo were aimed at adults working mainly within civil service jobs where metrication was being implemented.

Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971
Note that the Student Record Sheet specifically orders the student not to use pencil: if you’re dithering about what the right answer is (and hoping to be able to erase it) then you should move to a remedial stage to sort out that dithering.

Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971
The different levels of ‘response’: Correct. Now read on; You have made a common error; You have made an important error; You failed to make an important distinction; and the (perhaps dreaded) You have failed to grasp a principle.

Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971

8 Comments

  1. Did you ever consider that working in pen could be an “architecture of control” in itself? It renders the book unusable once completed. Pencil on the other hand can be erased and the book reused.

  2. Bill Abel

    Duncan – that’s the first thing I noticed too. I don’t write in my books even with pencil.

    Thanks for sharing the textbook Dan. That’s very interesting.

  3. An easily defeated one. Even pencil writing and erasure will rapidly wreck the paper. But of course there’s this nifty little gadget called the Xerox. And one little page for your own personal use only is surely fair use? 😉

  4. Hi Dan,

    I hadn’t seen the earlier post (until now). What an excellent topic.

    In your previous post which you linked to, you mentioned remembering how great it felt to ‘get’ something when you were a kid. Don’t we continue to feel that kick for the same reason regardless of our age?

    The idea that this is for kids and students, an idea which unintentionally excludes the majority of the population, makes me wonder why we insist on seeing it this way.

    I spend a good amount of energy focusing on the widening gap between ever more sophisticated technology and the non-tech user. This gap is easy to see through the simplification of UIs in social apps at present, with many developers frustrated by their inability to attract big numbers of non-tech boomers (for example), but it is in the so called semantic or next-generation development that I believe ignoring or even widening that gap will make the biggest difference.

    Being a non-techie (who has learned enough to be dangerous :)), I find it amazingly frustrating to be almost always lumped into either the category of the oblivious and inept or invited into the developers’ area(s) where I can only function given a certain level of knowledge and experience. Sometimes I have that level and other times I don’t, but my point is that there are no paths laid out, let alone direct guidance, from the location of first group to that of the second. Anyway, all this is to say that some of the fundamental methodology illustrated here, if applied to creating user advancement tools, could make a big difference for a lot of people, not to mention adoption of your product if you’re a developer.

    Vera

  5. I’ve never had a textbook like this, but the idea of programmed teaching texts was popular in the late 1960s. Popular Science had an article on it and had a set of in page boxes that you could follow and learn how to prove that the square root of two was irrational. The boxes were perhaps 1/8 or 1/4 page and each ended with a multiple choice question and a page number to go to. If you figured it out, or guessed right, it took you to the next step. If you had trouble, it directed you to a series of diagnostic pages. I suppose you could get caught in a loop, but, hey, that’s programming.

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  7. This concept is still around, in the form of interactive (usually computer-aided) learning environments. There’ve been several studies in the field of educational psychology about what kinds of feedback are most effective in helping students learn and retain what they’ve learned. E.g., is it more effective to give them instant or delayed feedback? Is it more effective to simply give them the correct answer when they get a question wrong, or make them try again until they get it right? For an example of this type of study, see Duane Lemley’s article in the Quarterly Review of Distance Education, titled “The Effects of Immediate and Delayed Feedback on Secondary Distance Learners.”

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