There were others, too, and when I started teaching in Aurora, Ohio, in 1966, our middle school reading lab had these same machines--and some others. I think I surprised our reading teacher when I named them the first time I went in her room. Points for the rookie!
My mother had also been, briefly, enamored of something called "programmed instruction" and "programmed textbooks." These were publications designed for students to progress at their own pace, completing a series of simple tasks that--so the theory went--increased in difficulty and sophistication as they went along. I was the guinea pig for some of my mom's work with a programmed poetry book. It was boring. Mind-numbing. Soul-killing. It focused on what are probably the least important things about poetry--the things you can identify and measure (rhythm, rhyme, devices of various sorts). Mom, to her credit, realized that the exercises were killing rather than encouraging students' interest in poetry. So she dropped the project. Went back to being the great teacher she'd always been.
Later, someone figured out how to synch the filmstrips with sound narration, and the machines would emit a loud annoying BEEP! when it was time to advance the frame--a sound audible throughout the entire wing of the building. Sometimes, snarky kids would cry BEEP! before it was time to advance it. Wishful thinking.
All of these devices were versions of teaching machines, of course, created to "supplement" and "enrich" instruction. But believe me--if someone could have figured out a way (and I believe there have always been folks willing/eager to try), they would have put a machine in the classroom and sent the human being home.
And now--in the age of the Internet and robots (real ones!) and all, online instruction has emerged as the Next Great Way to Replace Teachers--or, at least, re-program them to behave like, well, like robots.
TOMORROW: Online education ... and teachers.