When a software engineer writes a program, she has a specific end result in mind, and tailors the program to achieve that solution. The engineer must work backwards from the goal and create a series of yes/no commands that produce the desired result. A teacher has a very similar role when crafting a series of activities for students to engage in to produce a desired behavior or skill. This method of providing information or a question to a student, and providing an “if/then/else” scenario is called a “Logical Conditional Expression” in software programming and “Programmed Instruction” in education (Laureate, 2008a). B.F. Skinner’s Model of Programmed Instruction falls under the larger umbrella of Operant Conditioning, which is the simple method of reinforcing desired behaviors and discouraging undesirable behaviors (Laureate, 2008a), and more generally refered to as Behaviorism.
As part of my Master’s studies at Walden University, I am studying different modalities of teaching students, as well as effective ways of incorporating technology in the classroom, one of which is a theory called Behaviorism. While it may have a negative connotation and sound overly manipulative, Behaviorism is everywhere. Dr. Patricia Wolfe explains when a baby is first born, its brain is capable of speaking any language, but that the sounds that are reinforced (like “Dada” being greeted with a big smile from Dad), are the ones that remain, the others being dropped from lack of encouragement (Laureate, 2008b). This is not only a natural function of the human brain, it’s Behaviorism.
There are several ways to use Behaviorism strategies to reinforce good learning and technology practices. Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn and Malenoski have suggested that having students keep track of their effort in class using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and an Effort Rubric is an effective way of using technology to promote desired behaviors (increased effort) (2007). When a student is given the responsibility of observing his own behavior and tracking it, and given a sophisticated tool with which to do so, the positive behavior is not only encouraged in a variety of ways, but the student is also gaining valuable experience in data collection and reporting. Furthermore, using online games, webquests, wikis and the research tools in Microsoft Word are another way to use homework and practice as a positive reinforcement strategy that incorporates technology (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007).
For me, as an Art teacher, finding ways to incorporate technology into my class in a way that utilizes Behaviorism and emphasizes a desired behavior or skills is more of a challenge. Perhaps not in a Computer Graphics or Digital Photography class, but certainly in a Painting & Drawing class. The tutorial/Programmed Instruction model of providing guided practice doesn’t really apply to students who need to practice skills like drawing from life or shading or using complimentary colors to add depth to a painting. However, there are artistic concepts that can be reinforced online for homework, such as color theory, art history, terminology and perspective concepts. Wikis and Blogs are also an excellent forum for students to critique each others ongoing projects, reinforcing the in-class lessons on respectful and constructive criticism. The idea that excited me the most, however, was tracking effort. So much of Art is effort, and contrary to the myth, is something that can be taught; no one is magically born knowing how to draw, paint and sculpt realistically. So an emphasis on effort (I usually refer to this as craftsmanship) is essential in my classroom. To this end, I have re-formatted Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski’s Effort Rubric to be an Art Effort Rubric (click to view), and I think this will be an essential tool in showing clearly what good behaviors I would like to encourage and what undesirable behaviors I would like to discourage. And by allowing students to collect and track their own data, I am giving them a chance to deduce whether their change in effort correlates with a change in their grade. I am also giving them the responsibility for their own Studio Time grade, so that they may take ownership of it, and be able to say, “I earned an x,” rather than, “Mrs. Boyd gave me an x.” And that is Behaviorism and Technology coming together for the lasting good of every child.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008a). Behaviorist learning theory. Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction and Technology. Laureate Education, Inc.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008b). Understanding the brain. Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction and Technology. Laureate Education, Inc.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.