Reviews, Tips on Teaching

Creating Significant Learning Experiences: Takeaways from the Annual National Workshop

dee fink bookby Sandy Gambill, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Now in it’s 2nd edition, L. Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences has impacted many instructors’ decisions around course design. I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual workshop offered by Fink and Associates on applying the course design model they have developed.  Here are two elements of the workshop that might be useful as you think about your own courses.

Special Pedagogical Challenges In the Reinert Center, we speak of teaching as a situated act, depending greatly upon context. (See our online seminar on course design for more information:
Among the situational factors Fink identifies is one he calls The Special Pedagogical Challenge. Fink asks, “What is the special situation in this course that challenges the students and the teacher in the desire to make this a meaningful and important learning experience?” (Fink, p. 77)

When you really think about it, it does seem most courses have a special pedagogical challenge. A challenge might be that students don’t see the relevance of the course. They might feel underprepared or completely unable to grasp your topic. For example, how many times have you heard someone say they just can’t do math? Sometimes students feel that they know everything about your course and there is nothing new you can teach them. Identifying the special pedagogical challenge in your course and setting up a learning experience to deal with it within the first week of class can make a significant difference in the way students relate to your course.

One idea for addressing the “special pedagogical challenge” of students not seeing relevance: Would an activity the first day of class that involved students searching for examples in the news that related to your general course topic help establish how the course will be relevant to them in the future?

Course Descriptions as Key Questions Take a look at the course description on your syllabus. Try to imagine a student’s level of interest the first time they read it. Now, re-imagine your course description as a series of questions. For example, “In this course we will look at the aging process” becomes “Why do we age?” If you include a course schedule on your syllabus with a list of topics to be covered at each class meeting, could you also frame those topics as questions? These small changes can go a long ways towards sparking student curiosity and developing a community of inquiry.


Creating Significant Learning Experiences
Designing Significant Learning Experiences Website:

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