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Sister Mary Theresa Brentano, O.S.B.: Innovator in the use of magnetic audio tapes. An overlooked story in the history of educational technology

, The University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

The University of Wisconsin - Madison . Awarded


This study tells the story of Sister Mary Theresa Brentano, O.S.B., (1902–1987) and her experience as a pioneer in the innovative use of magnetic audio tapes and earphones in K–12 classrooms to individualize instruction. I situate her story within the larger story of the history of educational technology since her work as a pioneer in this field has been overlooked and consequently forgotten. This study documents the life cycle of Brentano's innovation from the initial idea in 1952 through the sale of the tapes to a commercial company and their subsequent return to her in 1971. Using the framework of an interpretive biography, I interweave Brentano's story with those of former tape teachers, tape students, her friends and colleagues, as well as newspaper and magazine articles about tape teaching to make the story more complete and accurate.

Brentano's theory of individualized (within the group) tape teaching required the teacher to create three different tapes and worksheets to meet the needs of students in three ability groups who used these materials while the teacher personally worked with a fourth group of students. During the 1956–57 school year, Brentano oversaw the design and construction of Our Lady of Wisdom Hall, the first school building in the United States totally wired for electronic teaching at the site of the initial experiment at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. Shortly after that, Brentano returned to her home religious community of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, where she established the Tape Institute affiliated with Mount St. Scholastica College. At the Tape Institute, with funding from the Ford Foundation Fund for the Advancement of Education and from the Raskob Foundation, Brentano conducted summer tape workshops from 1958 through 1961. Here she taught teachers from around the country to write scripts, record tapes, and create worksheets to use when implementing her innovation. A thorough discussion of the benefits as well as the problems and challenges involved with individualized tape teaching helps present a complete picture of this innovative use of magnetic audio tapes in the 1950s and 1960s.


Herndon, L.J. Sister Mary Theresa Brentano, O.S.B.: Innovator in the use of magnetic audio tapes. An overlooked story in the history of educational technology. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Wisconsin - Madison. Retrieved July 23, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 22, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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