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Koko the Gorilla - a Critical Thinking Exercise


Koko, the gorilla who was taught sign language, died on June 19, 2018 at the age of 48. Her signing abilities were amazing (she could sign about 1,000 words) and videos of her on YouTube are very touching to watch. It's easy to believe she's communicating with humans.


But was she really communicating her inner thoughts?


Below is a critical thinking exercise you can feel free to link to or embed in your online course. It is structured in a way that is consistent with ideas suggested in Ken Bain's book, "What the Best College Teachers Do":


  1. Show Videos: before saying anything about whether or not you or other researchers question whether or not Koko was truly communicating her inner thoughts, show students the videos in the Padlet.  Most likely they will be convinced that Koko is communicating like humans.
  2. Koko Question 1: after watching the videos, ask students to commit to a number on the 1-10 scale, perhaps by writing it down (or use a polling tool like PollEverywhere). Then show these videos:
  3. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong: this famous video shows how B.F. Skinner was able, using shaping methods, to get pigeons to do something that looks very human: playing ping-pong.   You may want to talk about how rewards can shape both simple and complex behaviors.
  4. Clever Hans: shows that animal behavior that appears human may be simply the result of reinforcement.
  5. Rubber the Movie: this video shows how easy it is for us humans to anthropomorphize: notice how even something with no face at all like a tire can appear to have motives. 
  6. KoKo Question 2: have students answer this question again.

Now that students have made a commitment before and after viewing the videos their positions have probably changed.  Ask them why they changed (or why they didn't) and where they stand on the issue of animal communication now.


Goals of this activity - have students better understand:


  1. shaping
  2. anthropomorphism
  3. confirmation bias (how we see what we like to see)
  4. the importance of critical thinking

Below are two "Padlets": the first one is the teacher's version.  Scroll to the right to see explanations for the elements on the left. Below this padlet is the one intended for students.  All the professor comments have been removed.  Feel free to share this second padlet with your students. 

Here's the version you may want to show your students (all professor notes have been deleted):



Here's the link to the student version. Feel free to try it with your students!


How to add this exercise to your MindTap course:


Click here to login into MindTap.

Thanks to Faculty Partner Diane Carter @diane_carter for her invaluable help in refining this exercise! 

New Member

This activity promotes deep thinking and I am going to integrate this into our online and residential communications course. This could also be used in an English comp course. I plan on breaking part of it up for a discussion board prompt - "review this video clip and answer....."

The use of videos is great for residential and online courses and the associated videos will also reinforce the discussion around communication versus reinforced behaviors.

Thanks for the great lesson and resources Diane!


Glad you liked it Melissa.  Yes these Padlets were both created using the free Padlet account.  If you want to copy these padlets into your own account, create an account on the Padlet site and then use the "remake" link above:






Yes, I like the way you integrate videos and discussions into this Padlet and make the students think deeply about what  they see and how they respond to it.  Being the tech geek, my only question is how easy it is for professors to set up and students to follow and do as told.  Does it require additional instructor or training or is it pretty intuitive?

New Member


I create a tip sheet with easy directions for students to use Padlet. If you outline the purpose/goals of the Padlet board, and tips on how to use it - it is very simple.You can also clone the board for your next class to use too.

Here is a video on how to use Padlet.


This one is older but I really like it


thanks!  and do students have to sign up for an account even when it's embedded in MT or do they just work off of the instructor's account?

New Member

You can add multiple users or single users, even with the free account.

Go to the link below, and then click on multiple users (in pink)


But, if you embed the code/link in MT, do you still have to import users or can students get right in?

New Member

I have successfully embedded the link into my Canvas and Blackboard courses.

Use the Share menu and add the link as an external tool. You can choose to open in a new page or in the LMS....


My account is now all set up and I added one to Canvas in 5 minutes! It does appear, however, that my students need an account to access it so I need to play around a bit more to see how to bypass that...

New Member

I use Padlet and I love it! It is a perfect way to host class collaboration projects and brainstorming. I think of it as a class bulletin board with links, photos, quotes, etc.



Thanks Diane for sharing. The use of videos and Padlet is a learner-centered, engaging activity. I have been introduced to Padlet before, but never actually used it. However, through your post via Michael, I plan to add Padlet to my toolkit.


Engaging Essie


Valued Contributor

These activities will work nicely in my upcoming criminology course! I'll check out the instructions on how to include it into my MindTap for the course.  Simple, bite-sized critical thinking activities are a fantastic way to start a class. I know I always struggled with new and interesting ways to get students engaged in the material, understanding that simply because I find it intriguing doesn't always mean that they will!


Thanks for sharing!