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Jennifer Feenstra
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Northwestern College
Joe Joins the Circus (or Elephant Love): A Case Study in Learning Theory

In this interrupted case study, students cover concepts and terms related to classical and operant conditioning as they read about how "Joe," an animal trainer for a circus, trains the two elephants in his charge. Joe sets about his task using concepts he learned in a psychology class before dropping out of college to join the circus. Students work in small groups to answer the questions associated with the case, then, as individuals, take a series of quizzes designed to check their understanding of key concepts and terms including conditioned/unconditioned stimuli and responses, positive/negative reinforcement and punishment, shaping, and partial/continuous reinforcement schedules. The case can be used in upper-level psychology courses as a way to remind students of learning theory concepts. It could also be used in an introductory psychology course following a lecture on learning theory.

The Great Parking Debate: A Research Methods Case Study

Two friends debate whether people leave their parking spaces faster if others are waiting. They decide to see if they can design a study to test their ideas.  In this interrupted case study, students develop a research question and hypothesis and consider how to test a hypothesis. Students read about what researchers have done to answer the research question and identify and evaluate different research designs. Students are also asked to evaluate data. Developed for a use in an introductory psychology course to cover terms and concepts related to research methods, the case could be used in other introductory science classes, early in research methods courses, or in upper-level social science courses.