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The Pigeons of Education Technology

A Hack Education Project

What's with all the pigeons?!

The theme across all the Hack Education projects: pigeons. It's a nod, of course, to the work of Harvard University behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner. Skinner is often credited with inventing the teaching machine. He didn't. But he has shaped education technology immensely. Even though his theories have largely fallen out of favorite in education psychology, education technology (and technology more broadly) has embraced them (often, I think, without acknowledging where these ideas came from).

I wrote about "The Pigeons of Ed-Tech" back in 2014 when I started using a pigeon as the header image across my websites. That article is, to date, the clearest explanation of why I feature pigeons throughout my work.

I find that the pigeon elicits revulsion. It's viewed as a "dirty bird," even though its cousin, the dove, is closely associated in Western culture with purity and salvation. I purposefully choose images of pigeons to subvert this – images that I hope showcase how beautiful the bird can be, how strikingly colorful its feathers, how keenly furious its eye.

Pigeons are a border creature, kin to the cyborg figure formulated by Donna Haraway. They are at the center of science, from the opening chapter of Origin of the Species to the development of educational psychology (and the pigeon-guided missiles designed by B. F. Skinner before he turned to teaching machines and teaching human children.)

According to Skinner, when we fail to properly correct behavior (facilitated by and through machines), we are at risk of "losing our pigeons." But I'd contend that with this unexamined behaviorist bent of (ed-)tech, we actually find ourselves at risk of losing our humanity.

(From time to time, I post stories about pigeons that catch my eye on the blog that accompanies this writing/research project.)

Image credits: Bryan Mathers