Why I Use Models

“We all have mental models: the lens through which we see the world that drive our responses to everything we experience. Being aware of your mental models is key to being objective.”
Elizabeth Thornton

I like using models when designing courses and instructional interventions. When I say models, I mean a structured guide that help you build or develop components of a class. In general, I just like models, I generally believe the ability to create a model is strong evidence that not only do you have a deep understanding of the subject, but you can tell a complete story. Educational models have been around for a long time, The Socratic Method anyone? You could even say the Rosetta Stone was a model for teaching language. We might not have ever translated some writing without it.

An image of the front Rosetta Stone.
An image of the front Rosetta Stone.

One of the problems with educational models is that there are so many of them and they can be controversial. For example, the number of things written in favor of and opposition to learning styles fills more space than the learning styles themselves. Additionally, there are a lot of learning styles according to Coffield et al. 2004 there are more than 70 learning styles just a partial list is

  • Neil Fleming’s Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing and Kinesthetics (VARK)
  • Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles
  • David Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI)
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
  • Allinson and Hayes Cognitive Style Index (CSI)

I have in fact taught and used the Kolb learning style, and I think it can be helpful if used correctly, “i.e., the way I use it :)” but that is a discussion for another time.

So, with all the mind-numbing options why do I like models? It’s not because I believe there is a single silver bullet model. I don’t believe in the silver bullet, the idea that one thing can solve all our problems. That there is no one-size-fits-all solution to everything in education? Why? The process of teaching and learning is not one discrete whole it is tens, hundreds, thousands of little interacting pieces. Each of these pieces has their own specific needs requirements and issues. Therefore, I use different models for different things, some of the models I use are:

  • For Rubrics
    • Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, 2nd Edition
      Barbara E. Walvoord, Virginia Johnson Anderson
      Nov 2009, Jossey-Bass
  • Question Design
    • Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain
      Benjamin Bloom, M.D. Englehart, E.J. Furst, W.H. Hill, David Krathwohl
      1956 Longmans, New York, NY, USA
  • Syllabus Design
    • The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach
      Judith Grunert O’Brien and Barbara J. Millis
      March 2008, Jossey-Bass
  • Per-Per Instruction and Student Response System
    • Clickers in the Classroom: How to Enhance Science Teaching Using Classroom Response Systems
      Douglas Duncan
      September 2004, Pearson
  • Course Design
    • Understanding by Design
      Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe
      January 2005, Heinle ELT

I chose these models because they work with my internal model of education. Even when I am working with groups that have different focuses I still like using models. The first thing I like about models is that I am often working on courses that will be taught at multiple locations or by various instructors. Models allow for a consistency that can be reinforced by existing materials.

Consistency across courses, both from year to year and across multiple sections within the same year. Consistency can be especially useful if you have courses with different instructors. Consistency is also helpful internally in a class. Internal consistency frees up working memory for the students. The less students must focus on structure or course layout the more they can focus on content.

Models are also a great way to introduce new instructors to the art and craft of teaching. Models give them guides to follow. Having models for things like syllabi, rubrics, and question writing helps new instructors focus their time and energy on lesson planning and content.

Another advantage of remaining consistent over time is to improve your teaching. When you encounter a problem with your teaching, more specifically your students learning, you’ll want to try and find a way to solve the problem. Even if you’re only doing this for your class, this is educational research which means human research. One of the most challenging things with human research is controlling all the variables. In fact, many people will tell you it’s impossible to control for every single variable. Using models to support the design of your course means that your courses are going to be consistent from year to year and you can have a greater belief that the interventions you created made the difference in the student learning.

What do you think about models? Do you use models? What models do you use?


Thanks for listening to my musings

The Teaching Cyborg

One thought on “Why I Use Models

  1. Pingback: Is It in the Syllabus? – The Teaching Cyborg

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