Babintseva Tomash Fellow
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Babintseva Named 2017-2018 Tomash Fellow

Ekaterina Babintseva is a doctoral candidate in the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.  She received a M.A., with honors, from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, and a B.A., with honors, from Urals Federal University in Yekaterinburg, Russia.  She has presented her research at the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) and SHOT’s SIGCIS.  She has received competitive funding for conducting and/or presenting her research from SHOT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Central European University.  In 2015 she co-organized (with Prof. John Tresch, Tabea Cornel, and Matthew Hoffarth) a conference at the University of Pennsylvania entitled, “Sorting Brains Out: Tasks, Tests, and Trials in the Neuro- and Mind Sciences, 1890-2015.”  She is a past recipient of a CBI Arthur L. Norberg Travel Grant.

Drawing on multiple repositories in the US (including CBI and the University of Illinois) and in Russia, Babintseva’s dissertation,“Self, Computer, and Society: The Development of Computer-Based Education in the Cold War United States and the Soviet Union,” examines the connections between Cold War science policies, behaviorist and cognitive psychology, and the development of the first computers designed for education in the US and the USSR. The first American teaching computer, PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), was developed in 1960 at the University of Illinois’ Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL). Created by engineers and psychologists, the earliest versions of PLATO incorporated B. F. Skinner’s principles of programmed instruction, but as a growing number of cognitivists began to accuse Skinner and his followers of modeling human nature as totalitarian, PLATO’s developers began to deny connections between their computer and behaviorism. Instead, they claimed that PLATO’s algorithms concentrated on critical skills and creative thinking, rather than fact cramming. Babintseva’s research explores how during a period of political détente, Soviet psychologists and computer engineers were trying to equal and surpass the United States in computer-based education. Soviet scientists and government officials viewed PLATO as the “paragon” of the teaching machine, but for a range of administrative reasons, the USSR could not create an equivalent computer system. That led the Soviet Union to sign a 1972 agreement on technical knowledge exchange with the United States, and the USSR began a range of negotiations with the US government and Control Data Corporation, the owner of non-exclusive rights for PLATO, to import PLATO systems to the Soviet Union.

Jeffrey R. Yost

 


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