Educational Course Design
In contemporary psychology, the behavioural perspective known as
behaviour analysis emphasises careful measurement of overt observed
behaviour, along with an appreciation of the role of environment just
before and just after the response. Prediction and control of
behaviour are of vital interest to mankind, and behaviour analysis
offers the tools to accomplish this. Behaviour analysis maintains the
primary emphasis on observable behaviour and its relation to
environmental events. This is expressed particularly through the
principle of reinforcement, the idea that patterns of emitted
behaviour can be selected by their consequences (Grant and Evans,
It is impossible to study behaviour either in or outside the
laboratory without encountering a schedule of reinforcement: whenever
behaviour is maintained by a reinforcing stimulus, some schedule is in
effect and is exerting its characteristic influences. Only when there
is a clear understanding of how schedules operate will it be possible
to understand the effects of reinforcing stimuli on behaviour.
Most educational institutions use one of two general forms of testing
schedules, predictable or unpredictable. In an unpredictable schedule,
variable inter-test intervals occur where no anticipation can be made
of when they will happen - pop quizzes are the most common form of
this schedule (Chance, 1999). Predictable schedules can be fixed ratio
or fixed interval in nature.
Fixed interval schedules reinforce behaviour on the basis of time.
Specifically, reinforcement delivery follows the first occurrence of a
designated response after a fixed interval of time has elapsed since
the previous reinforcement delivery; responses occurring during the
interval itself have no programmed consequence. These reinforcement
contingencies typically generate a highly characteristic "scalloped"
pattern of responding marked by periods of little or no responding
early in the interval, which is followed by a gradually increasing
rate of responding as the opportunity for reinforcement delivery
approaches (Ferster and Skinner, 1957). The wide range of species
across which this response pattern is observed attests to the
generality of the underlying behavioural processes (Kelleher and
Morse, 1968). Ferster (1968) studied the cumulative records of
students who were taking oral exams and who were allowed to work on
the course materials at their own pace. Scalloped response patterns
were presented by four of the subjects where interviews became more
frequent as the temporal proximity to the end of the course decreased.
Cumulative records of individual behaviour are investigative
techniques that are based on visual (geometric) techniques of showing
changes in the strength or frequency of some specified...