New Model: Domains for Good Integrative Learning

In this issue of Connect:ED, I am sharing with our faculty a new idea that I’ve recently begun to develop. It started out as a way of sharing with an online class I am teaching what I really wanted to see happening in their weekly discussions. This is an advanced graduate-level course, so my expectations are rather high. But I wanted to offer the class a clear, simple way to help them decide how and what to do as they worked. (By the way, tools like this that help students determine  how to do what they need to do as they do it is an example of formative assessment.) In my welcome announcement to the class, I shared the following

One of the things I really want to challenge you to do in this course is to come at our discussion from three domains:

  1. the academic/theoretical side (what does research, history, philosophy tell us),
  2. the practical/experience side (what have you encountered in your life), and
  3. the spiritual/faith side (what does Scripture and Christian faith call us to be like).

As I wrote those three bullet points — which I’d never used before this moment — it immediately occurred to me that a visual depiction of this might be even better to help the students get what I was after. So a basic version of the infographic below was born.

And actually, a new model framework was born. While there’s no fancy name to it (yet), the purpose of the model is simple: to help students better integrate scholarly thought, personal experience, and biblical truth & Christian wisdom into class discussions and academic writing.

I shared it with some of our AGS team and faculty, who have already given some valuable suggestions. The current version shown below incorporates these ideas and revisions.

Domains model for good learning work and formative assessment. Click on the image to view a full-size version.

Let me briefly comment on the 3 main sectors of the model.

  1. First, the colored circles. Each circle represents a valuable domain of learning for our AGS students: Academic/Scholarly, Practical/Experiential, and Spiritual/Biblical. Note that this is not discipline-specific, nor does it have to do with cognitive development (i.e, Bloom’s Taxonomy) or pedagogy (teaching styles or learning preferences). The domains refer to the primary concern and scope of the learning content and activities within that domain.The model emphasizes that each are important and necessary for great learning.
  2. Second, the overlap between any two circles. These zones represent the modes of learning work that happens in the intersection of two domains: Analytical work, self-reflective work, and critical evaluative work. Deeper learning takes place at the periphery where multiple domains of learning overlap. This involves questions such as: How does what I know from domain x affect or change what I have learned in the other? or What do I get when I synthesize concepts from each domain together as a new idea?Here, the model emphasizes that all three modes of learning work are necessary for great learning.
  3. Finally, the intersection in the middle. This is the target zone for integrative learning work in which all 3 domains and thus all three modes of learning are present. The model does not prescribe nor require equal proportions of each type of work. The balance of how much scholarly content versus spiritual content, for instance, will be dictated by the assignment and setting, of course. But the model emphasizes that some amount of each domain is desirable and necessary for great learning. The exact amount of each is unique to the context and moment.Here, the model emphasizes that the student’s goal is to hit that middle of the Venn diagram with their learning work.

Now, there may be times when you want students to specifically focus just on one of the overlapping zones and you’re not all that concerned that the third domain be present. Perhaps it’s a spiritual reflection paper or a literature review of a theoretical area. In these types of specific assignments, the inclusion of all 3 domains is not crucial to the learning outcome. That’s perfectly fine. The key, though, is that you as the instructor were intentional about what you needed. This model provides the same kind of intentionality for a normal, routine approach to good learning.

After having shared this with 8 or 10 other faculty, several have already asked me if they can use it in their classes (Absolutely!) and a couple of wondered whether this could be the basis for a revised rubric for class discussions across all online courses. There’s merit to that idea and I’ve asked a couple of folks to think through what that might look like.

But for the moment, this is a new idea that I’ve already found to be very helpful and clear in my own class that just started. So if it resonates with you, feel free to incorporate it into your teaching and feedback. Feel free to share the model or post it in your Blackboard course, put it in a PowerPoint slide for a evening lecture course. Modify it, improve it, see what your students think. The only rule is: you need to share with any good improvements so I can incorporate them and keep the tool circulating.

Continue to model for your students (CONNECTING in the 4C Quality Faculty model) how to think integratively and holistically about their work, including their learning. Perhaps this new tool can be of service to help you do that even better!



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Bryan Easley

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Dean of Online Education, Oklahoma Wesleyan University

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