During the Fall 1964 semester, Professor Norris G. Haring, then Director of the Children’s Rehabilitation Unit (CRU) at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Professor Richard L. Schiefelbusch, then Director of the Bureau of Child Research at the University of Kansas, actively recruited Dr. Ogden R. Lindsley, then Director of the Behavior Research Laboratory at Harvard University, to become a special education faculty member at the CRU and the Bureau. They were successful. Og arrived at the CRU at the start of the 1965 Spring semester.
Norris’ charge to Og was to develop standard procedures to collect and display data based upon observation of individual child or small group of children’s behaviors. The first source of data data were from students with disabilities in the CRU clinical research classrooms. Norris rented a house for Og to work on the charge. It was across the street from the CRU, a short walk to observe students. It provided parking for Og and a few doctoral level students, a significant perk at the time. So, Og came to Oz and started a new phase of his professional career, one that led to the development of Precision Teaching (PT).
Try to visualize the context. Og came from experimental booths, relay racks, cumulative records, precise measurement, and all of the other accoutrements associated with the experimental analysis of behavior to join the messy settings of clinical research and school classrooms. To say that he faced a challenge is surely an understatement. But, he did not hesitate. He took it on with gusto, a characteristic he displayed until his untimely death at age 82.
Og started his quest to accomplish the charge Norris gave to him with a spring 1965 class in free-operant conditioning. A few special education graduate students enrolled in the course because they were eager to learn how to measure and display behavior by means other than static post-test scores and group statistics. While reluctant to do so, Og finally gave in to student requests to give a lecture on the history of operant conditioning—students gave him an A++. However, Og pressed ahead and assigned projects. Each student had to change a behavior of another person. So, Og taught and showed how to observe, count/record, and display behavior. Of course, the behavior display had to be frequency, number per unit of time which soon became per-minute in standard celeration charts. Projects became Og’s signature method of teaching, one he never abandoned.
As I recall, Og entered college to become an engineer. I believe that interest, motivation if you will, never retreated even though he changed his career path when he returned to university studies after his extraordinary service in world War II. In the 1960s his desk at the CRU annex was a drafting table upon which he could place large sheets of paper and plot data that students and teachers brought to him. He always had a “slide rule”, an engineer analog computer at the time, attached to his belt and would use it extensively as he hunched over the draft table. And we all know that the slide rule is used with logarithmic graph paper and the semi version of it. I don’t remember the precise date that Og had a “eureka” moment about semi-log paper but he guided its first application during the 1966-1967 school year in a CRU classroom. The results were reported in a 1968 unpublished master’s degree thesis by the CRU classroom teacher.
There have been many refinements in the PT procedures, many developed by Og and many more developed by his students and others who believe that precise measurement of behavior is essential to the science of teaching and learning. A recent publication is the Precision Teaching Book by Richard Kubina and Kirsten Yurich [Kubina, R. M., & Yurich, K. K. L (2012). The Precision Teaching Book. Lemont, PA: Greatness Achieved]. This book is a capstone of the PT evolution and will also serve as a foundation for continued refinements.
I believe that Og belongs among the great list of ABA behavioral scientists. In education research, his contributions to evaluating teaching methods and curricula through precise measurement, Precision Teaching, are second to none. Norris, because of his work in PT and ABA at the CRU and the Experimental Education Unit at the University of Washington, and especially his foresight in bringing Og to the CRU to further develop applied operant research in classroom settings belongs on that list too.
I knew Og from the time he came to Oz until he died. I am writing this brief note because as I continue to read about PT, I have not found bold references to the location at which it was founded, Children’s Rehabilitation Unit, nor to the principal person who brought Og to Kansas, Norris G. Haring. I hope these few words will be used to record the remarkable time when two forward looking educators, Norris and Og, came together to start a movement that continues to evolve and serve in this 21st century.
*I wrote this brief historical note from memory of events that happened almost 50 years ago. Any errors of omission or commission are my own.
Richard J. Whelan
Professor Emeritus of Special Education and Pediatrics
Ralph L. Smith Professor Emeritus of Child Development
Director of Education Emeritus of the Children’s Rehabilitation Unit
Dean Emeritus of the School of education
University of Kansas and the University of Kansas Medical Center