L. Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences, and what’s also going on in the lives of our students

Assessment and integration….

In  Creating Significant Learning Experiences (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), L. Dee Fink focuses on  integration in course design and assessment. He’s on board with the triangles we see appearing in the work of our assigned authors linking  (1) learning goals to (2) teaching/learning activities to (3) feedback and assessment, however he contributes a fundamental element in our educative assessment process: situational factors. He defines those as “all the major situational constraints and opportunities of the course.” (p. 140) One can imagine those might include the number of students who speak English as their second or third language, the students working part-time or full-time jobs who may not have the same time to invest in the class as others. It might be particular to one student who has a severe learning disability or PTSD after returning from a war zone. Situational factors also include the realities facing the teacher: the death of a parent, illness of a child, or pressure to publish or perish. It might include the wider context of the classroom: imagine teaching in New York City the day after 9/11.  These realities play an important role for Fink in how he assesses an entire course, not simply the learning of the students and pedagogy of the instructor.


Fink also encourages teachers to organize their integrated courses into a thematic whole. It is conceivable that we could attend to each of the components we have studied (assessment, learning goals and outcomes, pedagogy and teaching activities, etc.), without attending to a greater coherency. Sequencing of course themes that build on one another and form a coherent whole as they organically integrate the other elements is a hard task for me, I am discovering.


    • Kristy Martyn on July 20, 2014 at 10:47 pm
    • Reply

    Hi David, I enjoyed reading your post. I especially was encouraged to think about Fink’s points on organizing integrated courses into a thematic whole. I find this holistic approach may be used or considered when curriculum for programs is being planned (or hopefully it is at least considered), but the coordinated effort it requires to implement and deliver a thematic whole is not always accomplished. This seems essential, but I am not sure how to facilitate a coherent whole across courses. Possibly if we had program teaching teams that functioned using this model we could accomplish an organized whole. I am thinking that with regular meetings with the goal of achieving a coherent whole on the agenda and in the forefront of program implementation. A hard task as you say! Thank you for helping me to think about this. Kristy

  1. Very insightful post, David. Situational factors play a role in everyone’s life at one time or another, and lives of our learners are no exception. I fall back to the old saying, “Life happens!” It truly does, and sometimes an instructor needs to carefully consider and factor these situations into their instruction and assessment. On the other hand, a good instructor also knows when to give situational factors weight and when they are being taking for a ride with a “fish story.” “The dog ate my homework” isn’t always going to fly.

    To your point on sequencing course themes and thinking about your specific topics, might scaffolding be an appropriate technique? Sequentially building on the foundational elements of your course can be very effective. Take a look at some of the tips listed in this article and see if some will apply to your situation: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/scaffolding-student-learning-tips-for-getting-started/

  2. Your email address will not be published.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.