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  1. 1. NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL VOLUME 26, NUMBER 3, 2009-2010 LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: HOW A CHICKEN CAN HELP TEACH OPERANT CONDITIONING Mary Ann Hooten Frank Hammonds Troy University ABSTRACTStudents often find it difficult to learn the basic principles of operant conditioning. Forexample, many students confuse negative reinforcement with punishment. For thisreason, several authors have evaluated the effectiveness of various methods of teachingsuch concepts as reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. For the current study, thefirst author created a video detailing how to teach a chicken to discriminate betweenplaying cards in such a way that this behavior could be incorporated into a card trick.This video was then evaluated in introductory psychology classes. The video resulted ingreater retention of the material covered than did lectures alone.M any instructors have likely encountered difficulty in getting students to learn the distinctions between positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positivepunishment, and negative punishment, as well as other basic termsassociated with operant conditioning. This is distressing since thedefinitions required in most introductory psychology classes are sosimple. Shields and Gredler (2003) found that participants did notperform well when attempting to answer questions regardingreinforcement and punishment. They observed that students wouldoften define negative reinforcement as punishing bad behavior. Theywere able to improve student performance in this area by utilizinginteractive demonstrations, providing written and verbal feedback forstudent responses, and by having students complete exercises. 4
  2. 2. 5 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________ Lukas, Marr, and Maple (1998) had students train animals at azoo. This probably improved the students’ understanding of thematerial. In addition, students reported enjoying the training and mostof the students spent more time training the animals than was required.While training at a zoo may not be practical in all cases, this highlightsthe usefulness in finding something the students enjoy. Best and Batsell (1998) demonstrated taste-aversion in aclassroom setting using 2 adult albino rats. The students enjoyed thesedemonstrations and rated them as valuable learning experiences.However, as the authors pointed out, many students do not have accessto live animal demonstrations of conditioning procedures. Another approach that has been used was to incorporate aservice-learning activity to help teach the principles of operantconditioning while assisting with a social cause. McDonald (2005)described how students trained dogs in animal shelters to becomemore adoptable, thus resulting in benefits for the students, shelter staff,the dogs themselves, and their potential new owners. While it can be very beneficial for students to have hands-onexperiences in animal training, this may not always be practical. Incases where it is difficult to get students to animal shelters or the zoo,an alternative approach might be to incorporate video of this type oftraining. According to Eskicioglu (2003), instructional techniques thatinvolve multimedia, such as video, can improve performance of lowerachievers and increase interest in learning. Baggett (1987) found thatstudents performed better on an assembly task when presented with acombination of video instruction and practice than with practice alone. Based on these findings, the current study investigated theeffectiveness of a video created by the first author. This video wasdesigned to help students learn basic terms such as reinforcement,punishment, and shaping. The video shows a 4-month-old male DutchBantam chicken being trained to peck at a certain playing card, thequeen of hearts, and not to peck at other cards. This behavior was later
  3. 3. Mary Ann Hooten & Frank Hammonds 6incorporated into a card trick in which the chicken appears to knowwhich card a person has drawn from the deck. This video wasdesigned to be fun for the students and was intended to be a practicalsubstitute for a live in-class demonstration of conditioning. Method There were 126 participants in this study who were enrolled infour different sections of a General Psychology course. The sectionswere taught by three different faculty members. The study was conducted using a between-groups design,where two of the sections watched the video first and then listened to alecture on the principles of operant conditioning. The other two groupslistened to a lecture on this subject first and then watched the video. Two tests were given to each group to measure knowledge ofoperant conditioning and other information. One test was administeredafter watching the video and one after listening to the lecture. Thesetwo tests were identical in that they each contained the same 9 factualquestions related to operant conditioning and 2 questions related tostudent perceptions of teaching an animal a trick. The only differencebetween the two tests was that the test that was administered after thevideo also contained 3 questions that measured the student’s attitudesabout the video. Individual student scores on the test after the videowere compared to the scores on the test after the lecture. Results A paired samples t-test was used to compare the scores fromthe test given after the lecture and the test given after the video.Results indicated that, regardless of condition, the mean score on thevideo test was higher than on the lecture test. The mean score of thevideo test was 71.38 and the mean score of the lecture test was 64.0.
  4. 4. 7 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________This was a found to be a significant difference (p < .000). However,the mean score on the test was highest after viewing the video andwatching the lecture at 73.86 which was significantly different fromthe lecture only test (p < .000) but not significantly different from thevideo only (p = .170). A second analysis was conducted on each of the 9 factualquestions to examine differences between percent correct afterviewing the video only, after listening to the lecture only, and afterviewing the video and listening to the lecture. Table One displays thefindings. A third analysis was conducted to determine differences in twospecific questions related to the video. The first of these questionsasked, “Is it possible to teach a chicken a card trick?” Before seeingthe video, only 72.2 percent of participants answered affirmatively, butafter watching the video, 96.8 percent answered affirmatively. Thisdifference is significant at the .000 level. The next question that was analyzed in this manner was, “Howconfident are you that you could teach an animal to perform a trick?”Before watching the video, 32.5 percent reported that they were “veryconfident”, 57.9 percent reported that they were “somewhatconfident”, and 9.5 percent reported that they were “not at allconfident”. After viewing the video, these percentages increased to43.7, 53.2, and 3.2 respectively. This difference was significant atthe .001 level. The fourth and final analysis examined frequency distributionsof the three item designed to measure student attitudes towards thevideo. The first item asked participants to rate their level of agreementwith the statement, “I learned a lot from ‘Chanticleer the AmazingRooster’ video” as either strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nordisagree, agree, or strongly agree. Out of the 126 participants, 70.6%responded as either agree or strongly agree. For the second item, “Ienjoyed watching ‘Chanticleer the Amazing Rooster’ video”, 70.0%
  5. 5. Mary Ann Hooten & Frank Hammonds 8responded either agree or strongly agree. The final video-related itemasked participants to respond to the following statement, “Watching‘Chanticleer the Amazing Rooster’ video helped me to understand theclass material on operant conditioning. For this question, 76.9%responded either agree or strongly agree. These three attitudinal itemsseem to indicate that the video was perceived as an enjoyable andvaluable addition to the class.Table 1—Percent of Students Answering Each Question Correctly in Each Group. Percent Answering Correctly Question Lecture Only Video Only Lecture & VideoQuestion 1: What type of animal 32.4 63.8 69.8training uses food as a reward?Question 2: Which techniqueshould be used to teach a behavior 89.7 93.1 94.4that you want to have repeated?Question 3: Which techniqueshould be used to eliminate an 44.1 46.6 70.6unwanted behavior?Question 4: Not reinforcing 42.6 75.9 67.5behavior means…Question 5: Reinforcing each andevery correct response is can a(n) 73.5 86 87.3__________ schedule ofreinforcement.Question 6: Reinforcing every otheror every 10th response would beexamples of a(n) ______________ 72.1 79.3 76.2schedule of reinforcement.Question 7: The Law of Effect 86.8 94.8 92.9states ___________.Question 8: Who is credited with 35.3 27.6 46.8the Law of Effect?Question 9: Rewarding successiveapproximations of a behavior until 41.2 46.6 51.6the desired behavior isaccomplished is called _________.
  6. 6. 9 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________ Discussion The results clearly indicated that, compared to the lectures, thevideo resulted in a statistically significant increase in correct answersby the students. This is particularly impressive since the video wasapproximately 12 minutes long and the lectures were approximately45 minutes long. While the results showed that the video and lecturetogether produced higher scores than the video alone, this differencewas not significant. This was true regardless of the order in which thelecture and video were presented. This suggests that this video wouldmake an effective supplement to, or could even replace part of, alecture regarding operant conditioning and that instructors could insertthe video at the beginning of end of their lectures as they saw fit. Inaddition to the increased test scores, after watching the video studentswere more likely to say that it was possible to teach a chicken to do acard trick and were more likely to say that they themselves could doso. It is possible that this increased confidence could result in a greaterwillingness to attempt to apply operant conditioning and/or result ingreater interest in the subject. This study joins those mentioned abovein that the component added to lectures resulted in higher test scoresand was enjoyed by the students. An advantage of this video is that itrequires much less time than the techniques used in the other studies.While it is difficult to compare a video to working with live animals ata zoo, this video is much less expensive and more practical than someof the activities used previously.
  7. 7. Mary Ann Hooten & Frank Hammonds 10 REFERENCESBaggett, P. (1987). Learning a procedure from multimedia instructions: The effects of film and practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 1, 183-195.Best, M. R., & Batsell, W. R. (1998). A classroom demonstration of taste-aversion learning. Teaching of Psychology, 25(2), 116-118.Eskicioglu, A.M. (2003). The ideal multimedia-enabled classroom: Perspectives from psychology, education, and information science. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 12(2), 199-221.Lukas, K. E., Marr, M. J., & Maple, T. L. (1998). Teaching operant conditioning at the zoo. Teaching of Psychology, 25(2), 112-116.McDonald, T.W. (2005). Teaching and learning operant principles in animal shelters: Perspectives from faculty, students, and shelter staff. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 32(4), 310-321.Shields, C. & Gredler, M. (2003). A problem –solving approach to teaching operant conditioning. Teaching of Psychology, 30(2), 114-116.