James Huff and I ran the second half of our "Developmental Theories and Engineering Thinking" class this afternoon. The topic: behaviorism and social learning. Being the pedagogically adventurous type, we decided to place the following restrictions upon ourselves:

  • no powerpoint slides, no reading handouts
  • no small group discussions and presentations
  • all active learning, ALL THE TIME

This blog post chronicles our lesson plan for future reference. We split the class into two: Mel's team (Farrah, Tosin, Canek, Les, Justin, Francesca, and John) and James's team (Joi, Ruth, Dana, Nick, Farshid, Tasha, and Kelsey).

Part 1: behavorial conditioning with cards

James's team goes off to another activity in a separate room - which we'll reveal later. We're left with Mel's team in the classroom with several decks of cards, a buzzer, and a meditation bell kindly lent to us by Ruth Streveler. Mel's team is given no verbal instruction; the buzzer and bell serve as feedback whether their actions are correct - but eventually they figure out they're playing a game with hidden rules, namely Bartok (chosen for its similarity to the familiar game Uno as well as for its mechanism for adding new rules during gameplay).

Once they figure that out, Mel stops them and explains their challenge: they are to think of several new rules (the rule-adding phase of Bartok) and then try to teach the game - including the new rules - to James's team when they return, without speaking to them or directly instructing them, implying that they need to show them the "correct" actions through example. The group is given some time to come up with the new rules and play a few rounds in order to get used to them; Mel gives the bell and buzzer to another member of the group, and play proceeds.

Part 2: enter social learning, stage left

James and his team return. They are told to pick a person on the other team to "shadow" and to see what they can learn. Mel's team models the desired gameplay behavior for several minutes, then each person hands their cards to their "shadow" from James's team and gameplay continues, with Mel's team providing feedback (via the bell and buzzer) as to whether James's team is getting the rules "right. After a period of gameplay by James's team, the class gets back into one large circle for discussion of the card game -- the rules are revealed, the strategies discussed, behaviorism debated.

Unknown to Mel's group, James and his team have been spending their time outside the classroom talking about Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, and they have their own game to bring in... but they're not telling anyone. Each person has adopted an Erikson stage and is analyzing the behaviorism discussion in light of that specific stage; they are starting all their comments in the person of someone in their chosen Erikson stage, and their goal is to get their partner from Mel's team to do the same. This is obviously a much more subtle and difficult task than playing a card game.

Again, we leave this open-ended; bell and buzzer may be used, verbal feedback ("no, that's not right, you mean... <rephrase>") may be given so long as explicit instructions aren't revealed, James may indicate allowed and not-allowed responses and facilitate the modeling by following each comment from Mel's group with a "correct" rephrasing from someone from his group, and so forth. The discussion will probably get a little stilted and sound odd, because... well, Erikson doesn't exactly make for the most natural flow of conversation! How long will it take Mel's group to figure out that something is going on?

Part 3: all is revealed

Finally, after everyone is thoroughly confused and/or frustrated (or amused), we'll reveal everything we just wrote about, and see how the class responds. Some questions:

  • What was going on during the solo phase of the card game? Behaviorism, obviously... but what sort of conditioning? How was it effective or ineffective? How would it have compared to direct instruction?
  • How was social learning exhibited by both groups? How did the teams plan their social learning strategies? Did the social learning group (James's) learn the card game's rules faster than the behavioral conditioning ones? What did it feel like to be on the receiving end?
  • James's team knew they were supposed to pick up something via social learning (the card game); Mel's group did not. Did this make a difference?


The class had to read several hundred pages of (already-assigned-by-the-professor) work on the topics; student presenters are usually expected to expand on this material. Our original readings from Dr. Evangelou:

  • Crain, W. (2005). Theories of development: Concepts and Applications, NJ: Pearson. Chs. 8, 9, 12
  • Jarvis, P. (2006). Towards a comprehensive theory of human learning. London: Routledge Ch. 8
  • Bandura, A. (1969). Social learning theory of identificatory processes. In Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. D.A. Goslin Ed. Ch. 3, p. 216-262.
  • Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American Psychologict, 44(9), p. 1175-1184.
  • Kelman, H.C. (2006). Interests, relationships, identities: Three central issues for individuals and groups in negotiating their social environment. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, p. 1-26.

In lieu of powerpoint slides and such for the background/expansion, we figured "hey, why reinvent the wheel?" and decided to contribute to the Wikipedia pages on our topics so they included all the information we wanted to give the class. Therefore, our "readings for further reference" follow. Note that these articles also have good links in them (to related topics, researchers, techniques, specific studies, etc) but we centered around these as the "core."