Emily Mills and Michael Owens Have Created the First Qualitative Decision-Based Learning Model of its Kind

Emily MillsImportant skills for any student or professor are the ability to find relevant research articles and to determine their worth. Emily Mills and her professor, Michael Owens, PhD, of the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department in BYU’s David O. McKay School of Education, have been working on a model for decision-based learning that helps build these skills in the classroom. The model is all about data-driven decision-making and is geared for qualitative methods.

In 2018 the BYU Center for Teaching and Learning introduced Owens to a model for decision-based learning that he then used in a course he was teaching about data-driven decision-making. As Owens worked to develop the model, Mills became his research assistant; in 2019, she began to focus the model toward qualitative methods. She was able to make a decision tree—a support tool that looks at decisions and their possible consequences—by combining Owens’ research and her own previous classroom experience with decision-making models.

While working on this model, Mills’ position as a student helped her to learn more about qualitative research and how to apply it. “As a result of being able to learn while doing, Emily was able to prove the model as a concept,” Owens says. “So, she was able to see where there were points of strengths and weakness in the model, and then she was also able to help her colleagues and teach them how to use the model.” Being both a student and a researcher helped Mills advance her work on the project.

Michael OwensThe model can be applied in a classroom setting to help students determine the quality of research articles. The following are questions that students should consider when deciding which articles to use and how to use them: Does the article state the purpose clearly? Does the article state the research questions? Do the methods align with the questions being asked? Are the findings adequate? Mills points out that “this decision tree helps us understand not only what the structural points are [in an article], it helps me understand other types of research as well.” Thinking about qualitative articles in this way can help enhance the experience of students and allow for deeper understanding in the classroom.

The model was presented by Mills at the Teaching for Learning Conference in March 2020 and has been incorporated into a chapter of the book Decision-Based Learning: An Innovative Pedagogy that Unpacks Expert Knowledge for the Novice Learner, which will be published this summer.

Writer: Camille Ladd
Contact: Cynthia Glad