B.F. Skinner defined a behaviorist model of learning and in general expressed it in a cause-effect relationship, that one could encourage a positive effect by providing positive stimulus. Though his famous skinner box, with the rats and the lever and the food was a good model for a behavior approach, it doesn't effectively describe how this approach can be used on humans and learning. From a teaching and learning standpoint, the behaviorist model describes a model of instruction where desired outcomes are encouraged and rewarded.
"Skinner and others viewed the teacher's job as modifying the behavior of students by setting up situations to reinforce students when they exhibit desired responses, teaching them to exhibit the same response in all situations. " (Roblyer, Edwards, 2000, p.53) By this reasoning, a teacher's main job is to impart information and reinforce students' being able to memorize and restate this information on tests and tasks. Though this sounds like a sterile way to describe teaching and learning, it is not as bad as it sounds. The instruction style that follows a behaviorist approach is "direct instruction" and is a very standard classroom instruction style. Teachers lecture, students take notes, students memorize notes or perform basic tasks on worksheets and then take a test. This method has also gotten somewhat of a bad reputation with the development of new theories, but it does have a place in the education system. It also has a place in my own teaching styles. Biology is a subject that contains a large amount of vocabulary and technical terms that students must learn in order to advance to more intellectual concepts of biology.
Direct instruction is a method I use to facilitate the learning of lower level skills and vocabulary. As it relates to technology, direct instruction and behaviorist theories of learning are best supported by drill and practice programs or tutorials, both of which I have used in my classes. Students are expected to know the structure of DNA, and be able to identify the main components of the theory of evolution: who Charles Darwin was, how did he conduct his research, and the definitition of natural selection. Direct instruction, followed by guided practice and evaluation is the best method for learning these concepts. For instance, I would give students a lecture and notes on the board which they would be expected to write down. This would be followed by individual practice and reading to reinforce the information. The next day, I would spend time reviewing the information by giving the students oral questions and positive feedback for participation and correct answers.
Instructional Technology can support this learning process by allowing students to explore topics using programs or resources on the world wide web. Specifically, I find students have a hard time understanding the process of DNA transcription and translation, or the process by which the code in the DNA is translated to body form and function. Lectures and diagrams do not always give students a wholistic view of the process. To supplement this lesson, students access animations and graphics (using shockwave or quicktime) on the world wide web. I have had several students tell me after the lesson that they can now "see" how the process works, and how each step leads to the next, which in the end results to a protein (or trait) in the human body. Without the clickable animations, students would be left to fill in the blanks between the diagrams, and they often do not see DNA transcription as a continual process until they see it in action. Without animations and other resources available with technology, students may never have seen the process in action at all. Direct instruction and the understanding of advanced concepts is made easier by technology, and affords students the opportunity to work at their own pace, and even review from home topics that are covered in class.
Direct instruction is not, however, the best method for encouraging higher thinking skills in students. Most students can learn to work the system by memorizing facts and figures and regurgitating them on tests, but this does not guarantee that same student can use those facts and information in meaningful ways, such as creating value judgements or comparing theories, or even understanding what differentiates a scientific theory from a fact. For these skills, I use a cognitive approach.
I agree with the idea that behaviorist approach of observable outcome does not lend itself well to higher order thinking. Understanding the definition of natural selection does not guarantee and understanding of the process itself. I use directed instruction to build a foundation so that students can use vocabulary and basic concepts to build a larger knowledge pool about the concept. Once the students have the basics down from direct instruction, I move toward project and lab oriented teaching. Students are required to use prior knowledge to build a wholistic picture of concepts and biological process, also known as constructivsm. I use several specific strategies:
Instructional Technology supports cognitive methods of learning in several ways. The world wide web and science programs offer a vast resource for students to learn complex biological processes. In the past, students and teachers had only black and white, two dimensional graphics to help them understand these topics. I am constantly amazed by the advances in technology and programs that now allow students to VISUALIZE processes that were once a great mystery. Introductory biology students can now use a computer to investigate photosynthesis, DNA replication, and other biological topics. I have found that incorporating technology also promotes a sense of amazement in students, something that has been lacking in many science classrooms. Students often get inundated by the definitions and the diagrams and never get a chance to see a wholistic view of all of life processes. Technology is moving in a direction to help science teachers solve this problem. I will never forget the look of rapt attention on a student's face as she viewed a shockwave simulation of mitosis, and exclaimed "Is all this really going on inside the cell!?" The statement made me realize that I had been missing that element from my instruction, the element of showing students a world that was beyond their eyes in new and innovate ways that awed and amazed them.
In addition, technology allows students the opportunity to explore topics of their own interest. In one project, students had to choose a genetic disease and create a powerpoint presentation to the rest of the class. Students often went beyond the project guidelines to find alternate resources and their presentations often taught me something that I didn't know about a particular genetic disorder. All in all, the power of technology is in its ability to teach the students to be lifelong learners. As we explore sites and topics and students learn how to find information, they become more capable of sorting and finding information on their own. This should be the ultimate goal of education, words and dates and formulas may be forgotten by students, but their ability to explore topics and make judgements outside of an educational institution marks them as truly educated.
Arends. R.I. (1994) Learning to teach. (3rd ed.) New York, NY:McGraw Hill, Inc (ch.11)
Buck Institute for Education. Project Based Learning [ Online ] Available http://www.bie.org/pbl/overview/whatis.html, July 2, 2002.
Ormrod, J. (2000). Educational psychology: Developing learners (3rd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall
Roblyer, M.D. & Edwards, J. (1997) Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, Merrill, Upper Saddle river, NJ.