selinger - CLPt PHRM SELINGE R The psychology department's...

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Unformatted text preview: CLPt PHRM SELINGE R The psychology department's favorite son has been put out to pasture after an illustrious career as Drake 's only literate drake. A student in a long. white lab coat prepares a set of flash cards for a reading experiment in the psychology department's learning center. She meas- ures out a treat to reward her subject: a few kernels of corn. Sir Lancelot hops onto a table covered with wood shavings, eager for his reading lesson. Lance reads the first card. "turn". spins in a circle. then burrows into the student's hand for his reward. The subject's reading ability Sir Lancelot: Drake's Reading Duck Photo courtesy of Drake University Psychology Department B/draka magazine normally wouldn't be surprising, but Sir Lancelot is a mallard duck. Lance learned to read under the wing of Kenneth Lloyd, former Drake professor of psychology. Lloyd conducted a ten—year behavior modification experiment teach- ing Lance seven different words and phrases. The experiment came to a halt two years ago and Lance retired to an Iowa farm. but the reading drake has be- come a near legend in Olin Hall. The project of teaching a duck to read was hatched one Friday afternoon in 1975 over a few drinks at Felix and Oscar's. says Lloyd. "There were about eight or nine of us there. both students and facul- ty." he remembers. "The discussion at our table turned to the fact that the Drake University College of Education main- tained a Drake Reading Program to facili- tate reading skills among public school by Tom Selinger children in the Des Moines Community. "The Psychology Department Clearly needed something to distinguish it. The Reading Drake Program was immediately designed. We were trying to razz the Col- lege of Education and at the same time do something to promote the Psychology Department. We always thought it was funny, but I don't know if anyone else ever did." Lance and his companion, Lady Guine- vere, were mere ducklings when they ar- rived in Drake's psychology lab the fol- lowing summer. Soon Lance's behavior was being shaped through the positive re- inforcement of food. Lloyd's students taught Lance to peck in response to a red card and turn in a circle when shown a green card. "Ducks have excellent eyesight and are very sensitive to color." says Lloyd. "So we reasoned that if we slowly took the col— or away but left a word such as 'peck.’ he would respond to our command." The first time the colors were faded out. Lance did not respond. The students were having difficulty getting Lance to associate his behavior with the word instead of the color. But a second try produced the de- sired results: Lance pecked when shown the word "peck" and turned at the word "turn.” "Since all of this had previously been ac- complished by other people with pigeons. we had every reason to expect success." says Lloyd. Lance took about four months to learn "turn" and "peck". his first two words. but Lloyd thinks this long delay was not Lance's fault. "It was more our ineptitude than his slowness." says Lloyd. redundant. It just created confusion." Indeed. Lance was taught the word "talk" in a matter of weeks with the word on a (K He couldn't read Anna Karenina but he was read- ing when he was just two 'years old, which is way "“wah'ead of most humans. white card and no color at all. When he read "talk." Lance would stretch up to the experimenters and quack in their faces. He soon also mastered a pair of opposite com- mands: "do peck" and "no peck." Adding simple commands like these to Lance's vocabulary could have continued indefinitely. according to Lloyd. but at this point the experimenters decided to work to- ward a different type of behavior. "Reading is made up of a variety of activities." he says. People read words and react accord— ingly. as in following instructions. Lance was responding to simple written com— mands. But reading also involves recog- nizing the names of things. "Could he tell us the names of various objects?" Lloyd asks. "As far as I know, no one had ever ”Our original use of colored cards may have been (( I don't think that many people have encountered reading ducks in their lives. This is the only one I know of, and he's pretty special. done this before." When the experiment ended. Lance could identify a ”ball" and a "bell" and pick the appropriate name from a list of five words with 90 percent accuracy. Lance's vocabulary had grown to seven words -- smarter than the average duck. "He couldn't read Anna Karenina.” says Lloyd. "but he was reading when he was just two years old. which is way ahead of most humans." Sir Lancelot even has his own library cards for Cowles and the Des Moines Public Library. Kathy Green. a graduate student in the psychology department. was the last Drake student to work with Lance during the experiment and says she "became real attached to him. He was sort of like a pet." But. she adds. at times. "he was kind of grumpy. especially when it came to getting him in and out of his cage." Sir Lancelot also had his temperamental moments during training. "It depended on who was working with him." says Lloyd. "Sometimes he would try to get at the corn without performing the required task. He knew when he could get free reinforc- ers. and he took advantage of it. He would also come up and peck at the sleeves of the students' lab coats." This pecking often required the students to step back and leave Lance alone on the table Until he settled down. "He knew how to misbehave." says Lloyd. But who can blame him? The life of a lab duck is not an easy one. Lance had to be kept at 80 percent of his normal weight during training periods so he would be motivated to respond. He had to travel in everything from a cardboard liquor box to an airline animal crate. one time spending a week in the back of a VW Bug on his way to Durango. Colora— do. And a dip in a plastic swimming pool that had grown unexpectedly hot in the summer sun scalded Lance's feet. leav- ing him with no webs. Lance was used often as a demonstra- tion in psychology classes to illustrate behavior modification. But Drake's drake )) also made numerous public appearances. He played to children of all ages. doing the old quack and dance from kindergart- ens to high schools. He was the main at- traction at reading promotion programs in Des Moines public libraries and thrilled crowds at homes for the mentally retarded. His talents earned rave reviews at behav- ior analysis workshops in Chicago and Milwaukee. Lance also performed at Drake fund-raising and recruiting dinners. "He was a tough act for the various deans and administrators to follow." says Lloyd. Lance even made it on national televi- sion. In fall of 1982. Jamie Bowers. a graduate student in psychology at the time. was watching ABC's "That's Incred- ible" when he decided to write them a let- ter about Lance. "I thought he was as good as any of the other acts on there." he says. But. admits Bowers. what he was really after was the "That's Incredible" jacket they would send to anyone whose letter led to a segment on the show. In his zeal to impress the network. Bowers exaggerated Lance's talents a tad. "I said he could read something like 50 words. I had the duck running for senate practically. I thought it (the letter) needed a little gusto." But the producers were still interested even when Lloyd revealed the truth to them. So in January. an ABC-TV crew showed up on campus to capture Lance on film. The segment. which aired the following April. opened with Lance wad- dling through the halls of Olin escorted by Pat Bell. the graduate student working with Lance that semester. Lance then performed his entire repetoire of seven words for millions of "That's Incredible" viewers. The feature ended with Lance de- lighting children in the Teachers' Educa- tion Center. Pat Bell says during the taping that she was happy to be able to share Lance with spectators. "I don‘t think that many peo- ple have encountered reading ducks in their lives." she says. "This is the only one I know of. and he's pretty special." wlntor 1987/7 8/drake magazine Lloyd was impressed with the "That's In- credible" feature. even though it didn't promote Drake as much as he had hoped. "They took over nine hours of film to produce what ended up lasting about five minutes. It was very well done. They (( was discontinued for a number of reasons. according to Scott Wood. chair of the psy- chology department. "In a project like this. the animal has to be continuously trained," says Wood. "You have to work with them regularly. We didn't have any I said he could read something like 50 words. I had the duck running for senate practically. treated it with humor, but only with the humor that was already in the situation. I was very pleased." Bowers only regret is the "That's In- credible" jacket. "They never sent me one." he says. "That was a big disap- pointment. And look what happened -— now they're off the air." A year and a half after the "That's In- credible" appearance, Lloyd left Drake for semi-retirement in Washington and Lance's training ended. The experiment )) more grad students for whom this activity was useful, and. quite frankly. the duck was getting along in years. And the senior faculty member (Lloyd) was gone." So Lance has graduated from his schol- arly career. but he won't lose what he's learned. According to Wood. Lance could be brought back to the lab any time, dropped down to training weight, and he would recover his entire vocabulary very quickly. "His behavior would be re- tained." says Wood. ”MW: copies XEROX DUPLICATING Same Day Service 0 Low Prices Offset Quality REDUCTIONS O MAILING LABELS 0 BINDING 0 PASSPORT PHOTOS 0 OPEN 7 DAYS 2301 Univ.: 255-6100 401 Grand: 282-5955 Wood was impressed with the publicity Lance generated for Drake over the years. "Animal demonstrations like this are quite popular," says Wood. "1 don't know, maybe we should do it again." At last report, Lance was floating hap- pily on a pond in southern Iowa. accord- ing to Marilyn Harrison, former secretary to the chair of the psychology depart- ment. She gave the drake to a student who saw him safely to the farm of a friend. "We felt sorry for him when Dr. Lloyd was gone and no students were working with him," says Harrison. "We thought he ought to be turned out with his other feathered friends. Now he's with other ducks, and they said he was really happy." Lance's library days are over, and he's adjusting fine to the normal world of duck illiteracy. His liter- ary talents may not be ap- preciated by his country duck friends out on the farm. but at Drake Univer- sity he'll always be known as the reading drake. @ ...
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