Journal of Information Systems Education


Conceptual modeling of databases is a complex cognitive activity, particularly for novice database designers. The current research empirically tests a new pedagogy for this activity. It examines an instructional approach that stresses visualizing gradual transitions between levels of abstraction in different hierarchic levels of a relational database schema. The new approach builds on a four-level TSSL model from the field of human-computer interaction. TSSL, an acronym for the Task, Semantics, Syntax, and Lexical levels, is applied here to describe the levels of conceptual database modeling and to explain how improved instructional design can help minimize extraneous cognitive load during the design of database schemas. We tested the effectiveness of the proposed instructional approach via a controlled experiment carried out on IS students. We divided students into two groups, those exposed to a visual emphasis on the syntax of gradual transitions in a schema structure and those not exposed to it. We then measured performance in terms of errors in students’ solutions while also recording their perceptions and attitudes toward the instructional approach and the activity of database modeling. Our results show that the new approach is an effective tool for teaching database modeling.