Benjamin D. Wood

Ben D. Wood

1917 Columbia University graduation portrait
Born Benjamin DeKalbe Wood
(1894-11-10)November 10, 1894
Brownsville, Texas, U.S.
Died July 1, 1986(1986-07-01) (aged 91)
Westchester, New York
Nationality American
Other names Ben D. Wood, Dr. Wood
Education Brownsville Area Schools
Occupation Psychologist and educator
Employer Teachers College, Columbia University
Known for Father of modern educational psychology
Spouse(s) Grace T. Wood

Benjamin DeKalbe Wood (November 10, 1894 – July 6, 1986) was an American educator, researcher, and director / professor at Columbia University. He was a pioneer in learning technologies and automated testing methods. Wood is the creator of the multiple choice test, which was the state-of-the-art way of measuring a teacher's understanding of certain subjects that in the long run influenced their salaries. He helped in the design of the multiple choice form of the pencil-in bubbles used in the 20th-century and the scoring machine that automatically read these forms, saving many hours in manual clerk labor. His concepts of intelligence tests were expanded to the accounting fields.

Early life

Wood was born in Brownsville, Texas, on November 10, 1894.[1] He had six brothers and five sisters. His father was Alexander Wood and his mother Harriot Wood. His parents moved the family from Central Texas to the Valley in 1896. Wood attended the Brownsville area schools and graduated from Mission High School. At 17, he went to school for an additional semester at Brownsville High School so he could qualify for a college entrance exam for the University of Texas, which normally then had an age requirement of 18.[2]

Mid life and career

Wood attended University of Texas and graduated in 1917 with a B.A in psychology.[3] Wood then attended Columbia University in 1918 and graduated in 1922 with a M.A. degree, and in 1923 received from there a doctor of philosophy degree. At Columbia he became an assistant to Dr. E. L. Thorndike in 1919. In 1921 he became an instructor and an assistant to the university dean. He was promoted to full professorship of collegiate education research in 1938. Wood became head of Columbia's collegiate research bureau in 1927. He became an expert in the educational field and it was his career for some 33 years.[2][4]

Wood's philosophy was to make education responsive to the students. As director and professor emeritus his contention was that teachers spent too much time pressuring the students to take exactly the prescribed information given in the curriculum courses. The prescribed courses were directed by the managers of the higher education system that had their own interest in mind, rather than the student's interest of being able to learn on their own. Wood's philosophy was to get the student to think creatively, rather than memorize bits and pieces that would be lost shortly thereafter. The students always depended on the teacher for the answer, rather than finding the answer themselves. He argued and pointed out that schools were just turning out intellectual zombies. He alleged the concept of thoughtful curiosity was being withheld from students. He understood that certain basics were necessary, but even then should be taught to the student with logic and reasoning behind the principle. He was for teaching reform and to do away with the teaching methods then in place.[5][6]

Wood found through a Pennsylvania statewide study done from 1923 to 1930 of some 36,000 high school students and all the college students that they showed poorly for academic achievement when using a prescribed course system.[7] He preferred objective testing as a way to measure achievement that would mean the same every year with every teacher and every student. He wished testing methods that were to be specifically tailored for the students and to disregard college credits as a way to measure academic achievement, as this method had flaws that did not measure truly. He wanted the idea of a student to think a process through to learn that would cause the concept to stick with the student. He discouraged the idea to just get the answer from the teacher. When he was a teacher, the method he used to teach a student was that when a student would ask a question he would rephrase it and ask it back to the student to make the student think what might be the correct answer.[8]

The Pennsylvania Study sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching caused Wood to urge the idea that there be an upgrade in standardization of the objectives and priorities of the teacher colleges. He argued that the first step to an improvement in higher education was to abandon the course credit system as a measuring instrument for academic progress.[9] He pointed out how medical techniques had improved over the last 100 years and that this concept of technology improvement should be implemented in higher education.[8]

Wood, a national pioneer in personnel and testing procedure, called high school instructing and teacher's colleges antiquated.[10] He pointed out the main goal of most teachers was to put over their course that they were instructing and to just have the student memorize the material without necessarily understanding it. He proclaimed the main purpose of a teacher should be to study the child and steer them in the right direction.[11] He claimed that it had taken 2,000 years to appreciate Socrates's philosophy that a true learning experience comes from creative thinking and is where one gets education.[12] He proclaimed that curiosity was a precious gift, that should not be discouraged from a child since it is needed as part of their education.[13]

Teaching and test scoring

Wood had an interest in scoring tests automatically, instead of using many clerks or teacher's time to tabulate the test results by hand. One argument was that in the old way of doing exams was for the teacher or professor to ask a question and the student to complete a lengthy written answer. This limited the amount of questions in a timed examination and therefore was a small portion of the course given. The instructor then had to read over and grade the student's paper, a very time consuming labor-intensive process. An experiment was done in 1919 where a standardization method of testing was tried. Instead of handwritten essay answers by the student, a new method of testing was devised at Columbia University which consisted of printed up pamphlets. The first part had a set of true or false statements and a mark next to it indicated by the student, which answer they chose. The second part was a multiple choice and the student could choose from a possible 3 or 4 answers. Since the answers to either part were exact, then all the clerk had to do was score the test compared to a correct master template. This required no skill on the part of the clerk on the knowledge of the subject. Wood contended that in a 1921–22 session this new method saved the staff many man-hours of labor and had more accurate results.[14]

Wood contacted various office-machine companies in 1929 to see if they had an idea for a possible mechanical solution to the extensive time spend on scoring tests by hand. IBM was the only company that showed an interest in the problem. Wood was contacted by Thomas J. Watson, the company president, in that year. The meeting he had with Watson of the scoring problem went on the entire day, an unusually long time. After the meeting, Watson sent trucks filled with punch-card machines and other equipment to Wood to establish Columbia's first computing laboratory, the Statistical Bureau of Collegiate Research.[4] The success of the laboratory inspired Watson the next year to authorize the construction of a special mechanical computer, known as the "Difference Tabulator." It was installed at Columbia University in 1931 and the Babbage-Scheutz-Wiberg instrument was referred to as the Columbia machine.[15] It made possible for the first time uniform testing of student achievement by the scoring of multiple choice answers.[16] Wood ultimately become a longtime consultant to Watson on testing methods and scoring techniques.[17]

Wood is the creator of the multiple choice test.[18][19] The fill-in-the-bubble testing forms have become the 20th century tradition in testing practices and been in extensive use since the 1950s.[20] Wood defined a teacher's ability on the results of tests and was a central figure in developing standardized testing exams in the educational field as well as for the legal and medical fields. He believed in the idea that a person's ability to think was innate, rather than acquired. He considered thinking was based on knowledge of facts. From this conclusion he figured that scientifically constructed tests based on multiple choice answers would be a better way to measure a teachers ability than just paying a teacher based on credentials. He claimed that these type of tests would provide a fairer method for the pay a teacher should receive, rather than just by certificates or semester credits. His logic was that the existing system of college credits was antiquated and not a fair measure on a teachers real ability to teach. This then played a major role in the 1930s and 40s on how salaries were issued in the Southern United States, rather than based on race, religion, gender, or national origin.[1]

Wood was involved with the intelligence test measurement movement of the 1920s that started using the results from multiple-choice answers instead of essay exams questioning their familiarity with certain text book subjects.[19] He was a key figure in the proliferation of standardized educational tests beginning in 1919.[21] Wood helped design the multiple choice form of the pencil-in bubbles and the IBM Test Scoring Machine that was used to read these filled in forms.[4] This was the first commercial test scoring machine.[17] One of its first applications was used to endow graduate student fellowships.[22]

Wood formed the National Committee on Teacher Examinations ("NTE") and in 1939 got a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to finance a set of specially designed multiple choice exams for teachers. These would measure the teachers logical mental abilities in the liberal arts field and other professional fields. The results of the tests would provide a basis for the ability of the potential teacher to teach properly. The first of these exams were set for March 1940 and hopes were for 10,000 applicants to test. Because of the costs of administering and the newness of the concept, there were less than 4,000 that did the tests. It turned out about 80% were from Northern States that took the two-day set of these uniquely designed exams. It was debated then by different professors from different colleges and universities for the next 50 years on the validity of these exams.[23]

Wood's concepts of intelligence testing later revolutionized how students would have the capability to enter certain fields. One of the earliest of these new testing programs was sponsored by the American Institute of Accountants for the accounting field and measured students ability to become Certified Public Accountants or junior accountants. It measured interest, aptitude, and achievement capabilities and the results made available to accounting and business firms.[24]

Wood pointed out that his testing techniques of the use of multiple-choice answers provided a scientific way of measuring a person's intelligence. He claimed that his testing techniques were all embracing – the individualized field multiple choice tests covered all aspects of the subject given in college. This then made it a fairer way of seeing what the student learned from the course than just answering a specific question or fill in the blank questions.[25]

An example of a 1922 Wood multiple choice test was illustrated as -
One reason why the number of farmers in this country is decreasing is because

Wood advocated the use of typewriters for children as early as possible as an excellent tool for learning quickly, which he demonstrated in 1930 in a three-year experiment with over 14,000 school children and 400 teachers in 50 elementary schools in 12 American cities.[26] The children were divided into two groups, one set had typewriters and the other did everything just by writing. The experiment details and results were published in a book. One thing the experiment showed was that children could learn to type before they were able to develop writing skills. Children usually had trouble coordinating their fingers at an early age, therefore developed a dislike for writing. However, those that started with a typewriter got a head start in self-expression. Those that learned the use of typewriters had a much higher output of written material and quality of work than those that wrote by hand.[27][28]

Wood claimed that typing was glamorous to school children. He said that the group that used the typewriters were much improved in spelling, grammar, and arithmetic. He acknowledged that this group formed good habits in concentration and had excellent neatness. Wood recommended to put typewriters in the hands of kindergarten children through the sixth grade. Those as young as 5 years old could grasp the concept of typing and desired as their first typed word to learn to be their name. Seven and eight-year old children learned quickly complicated punctuation with the use of typewriters. By the time they were nine years old the children in the experiment learned how to normally type like an adult with the correct positioning of the fingers.[29]


Wood served in the division of military psychology in World War I. He was a captain in military intelligence of the Officer Reserve Corps from 1924 to 1934.[2] In World War II he was a consultant for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in the U.S. Office of Education and chairman of the joint advisory committee on aviation education.[30] He recommended that all college instructors teach some sort of course in aviation.[31] After that he was a consultant to the Air Force Academy planning board.[2]

Committees and societies


Wood was awarded the Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service in 1969.[17]


Wood has written several magazine articles and seven books.[2]


Later life

Woods retired in 1960 from Columbia College, but maintained an office nearby for another decade. In his office could be found two key books, the Bible and Shakespeare – both in Spanish because they were used when he taught in Brownsville, Texas where Spanish was the primary language and English was the secondary language.[8]

Wood spent much time during his retirement to solve the problem student reading failure. He tried to implement Sir James Pitman's phonemic initial teaching alphabet. He said the 44-character system was merely an extension of the Roman alphabet. He claimed this system enabled children to learn how to read faster and it would be with ease then to transfer to the regular alphabet.[8]


Wood established the Elbenwood Fund for Educational Research, the Ben D. Wood Fellowship Fund and the Institute for Learning Technologies Fund. The Ben D. Wood Fellowship Fund provides a three-year full-tuition scholarship each year to a new doctoral student studying technology and education.[32] Twenty-six students have qualified through 2009.[17]


  1. 1 2 Baker 2006, p. 48.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 "Valley Native Son Gaining Honors in Education Field". The Brownsville Herald. Brownsville, Texas. August 20, 1950. p. 26 via .
  3. "Famous Valley Son Visits Folks Here". Brownsville Herald. Brownsville, Texas. December 21, 1943. p. 8 via .
  4. 1 2 3 "Columbia University Professor Ben Wood". Columbia University Computing History. Columbia University. 2009. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  5. "Trouble is, Teachers Spend too much time in Teaching!". Las Cruces Sun-News. Las Cruces, New Mexico. March 8, 1967. p. 7 via
  6. "Many of Academia's Sacred Cows Brought to Stake". The Indiana Gazette. Indiana, Pennsylvania. March 8, 1967. p. 18 via
  7. "School Methods Today are like Noisy Elevator". Coshocton Tribute. Coshocton, Ohio. January 19, 1930. p. 7 via .
  8. 1 2 3 4 Buck, Jerry (March 8, 1967). "Task is to get the student to Learn by Thinking". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock, Texas. p. 61 via .
  9. Buck, Jerry (March 11, 1967). "Educator says Teacher must stimulate Student to Think". Muscatine. Muscatine, Iowa. p. 1 via .
  10. "College Advisory Committee". Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. p. 33 via .
  11. "Calls Teacher's Colleges 'Antiquated Institutions'". The Scranton Republican. Scranton, Pennsylvania. April 6, 1934. p. 3 via .
  12. "Educator Raps Stress on Teaching". Daily Capital News. Jefferson City, Missouri. p. 10 via .
  13. "Teacher's Business Declared to Stimulate". Alamogordo Daily News. Alamogordo, New Mexico. March 9, 1967. p. 10 via .
  14. Haskin, Frederic J. (December 22, 1922). "The Haskin Letter". New Castle Herald. New Castle, Pennsylvania. p. 4 via .
  15. Branscomb 1997, pp. 9295.
  16. Goldstine 2008, p. 109.
  17. 1 2 3 4 "Leaving a Legacy". Teachers College Newsroom. Columbia University. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  18. Emmis Communications 1973, p. 36.
  19. 1 2 Haskin, Frederic J. (February 26, 1923). "New Test for College Students". The Fort Wayne Sentinel. Fort Wayne, Indiana. p. 4 via
  20. "Automated Test Scoring". Icons in Progress. IBM. 2015. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  21. Haskinm, Frederic J. (December 2, 1922). "New Tests for the College Students". Daily Arkansas Gazetter. Little Rock, Arkansas. p. 6 via .
  22. Schwartz & Arena 2013, p. 12.
  23. Baker 2006, p. 49.
  24. "Test Measures Chances of Accounting Students". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, New York. February 22, 1948. p. 11 via .
  25. 1 2 Frederic J. Haskin (December 8, 1922). "New Tests for College Students". Asheville Citizens-Times. Asheville, North Carolina. p. 4 via .
  26. Lowell, Robert (August 22, 1938). "Typewriter Now Recognized as Education Instrument". The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. p. 17 via .
  27. "Typewriters in Schools". The Independent Record. Helena, Montana. August 17, 1932. p. 4 via .
  28. "Take a Letter, Toodles". Santa Ana Register. Santa Ana, California. April 4, 1934. p. 19 via .
  29. "Experiments with Typewriter Kids Prove Machines Help in Learning". Gettysburg Times. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. August 19, 1954. p. 24 via .
  30. "School Confab enters Third Session Today". Cumberland Evening Times. Cumberland, Maryland. July 8, 1942. p. 2 via .
  31. "Colleges Urged to teach Air Courses". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene, Texas. March 6, 1944. p. 8 via .
  32. "The Ben and Grace Wood Legacy". TC Media Center. Columbia University. 2002. Retrieved March 13, 2016.


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 6/12/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.