Journal of College Student Development 45.1 (2004) 105-106
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Creating Significant Learning Experiences. L. Dee Fink. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, 295 pages, $35.00 (hardcover)
Creating Significant Learning Experiences represents another useful resource for anyone who is looking to address the concerns raised about the quality of student learning by members of the higher education community (e.g., The Wingspread Group on Higher Education, 1993; National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2000, 2002), state legislators, accreditors, parents, and students. The author draws on almost 30 years of teaching in higher education and two decades of faculty development to create a vision of how individual faculty and institutions can answer these concerns. At the center of this vision is a new taxonomy of significant learning, integrated course design, and better organizational support.
Divided into seven chapters, CreatingSignificant Learning Experiences explores each of these concepts. The author asserts that course design is the single most significant change most faculty can make to improve the quality of their teaching and of student learning. Chapter 1 moves from issues and concerns with the current state of the quality of student learning and ends with alternative forms of teaching and learning that have become more prevalent over the last two decades in higher education.
In chapter 2, the author acknowledges the historical importance of Bloom's taxonomy, but contends that a new taxonomy is needed that goes beyond the cognitive domain and hierarchical learning presented by Bloom. To this end, the author develops a "relational and interactive" (p. 32) taxonomy for the six kinds of significant learning: foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn. The author briefly explores each of the six kinds of significant learning.
The author explains that two major [End Page 105] implications for teachers exist in the new taxonomy of significant learning. These are: learning goals for a course should go beyond foundational knowledge and a combination of learning goals will "create some interaction effects and synergy that greatly enhances the achievement of significant learning by students" (p. 33).
"Designing Significant Learning Experiences," the third chapter, is a step-by-step process of taking a learning-centered approach in relation to Fink's Integrated Course Design model. Fink refers to the first 5 steps in the Integrated Course Design as the Initial Phase: Building Component Parts. This chapter provides thought-provoking questions for each of the first 3 steps (Situational Factors, Learning Goals, and Feedback and Assessment).
The first half of chapter 4 addresses the last two steps of the Initial Phase (Teaching and Learning Activities and Integrate the Component Parts). Fink gives these 2 steps adequate attention, as he asserts that they "shape the nature and quality of the students' learning experiences" (p. 102). The Intermediate Phase (Course Structure, Teaching Strategy, and Overall Set of Learning Activities) and the Final Phase (Grading System, Possible Problems, Write Syllabus, and Evaluation of Course and Teaching) are also explored in-depth and with probing questions and examples.
Fink offers a challenge to change the way we teach; but rather than simply issuing the challenge, he provides examples for successfully overcoming risks associated with change. To this end, much of chapter 5 is devoted to a case study of how one professor proceeded to implement the ideas espoused by Fink.
While changing how faculty approach learning can be revolutionary on some campuses, Fink realizes that support for faculty wanting to implement changes in teaching will need to come from senior or tenured faculty, academic administrators, and various organizations in higher education (e.g., accrediting organizations, funding agencies, journals). This is the focal point of chapter 6, "Better Organizational Support for Faculty."
In chapter 7, the last, "The Human Significance of Good Teaching and Learning," Fink comments on the three main topics and ideas of the book: significant learning, integrated course design, and better organizational support.
The appendixes provide faculty members with a template on how to go about developing a course as well as providing a host of resources available to achieve specific steps along the...