Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Creating Significant Learning Experiences

In the summer of 2003 I was lucky enough to attend Teaching for a Change, a week long conference for community college folks focused entirely on the improvement of teaching. That year it was in Park City, Utah, a not too shabby location for a professional conference.

Though the conference is small -- Richland is one of the sponsors-- it is incredibly rich. I met people there from all over the world who had uncovered it in a web search and decided to take a shot. I talked to many of them and they were never disappointed. Lots of folks said it was the best conference they'd ever attended.

It was there that I was introduced to the work of Dee Fink.

It wasn't like there was a whole program on him. He was really only mentioned in the context of a class that Al Schroeder and I attended about "Constructing Good Tests." It sounded like a real snoozer. We only went because there was absolutely nothing being offered that hour. It turned out to be incredibly enlightening. I eventually realized it was because it was built on the principles of something called "integrated course design" which is the brain child of Dee Fink and his associates at The University of Oklahoma.

Fink started as a geographer but soon realized he loved helping other instructors improve their teaching. He founded the Instructional Development Program at OU in 1979. Most of his work these days is traveling the country giving workshops on how to create new college courses using the principles of integrated course design.

It wasn't too long after the conference that I got notice of the publication of his seminal work, Creating Significant Learning Experiences (Jossey-Bass, 2003). As always, the book provides the most in-depth, sophisticated presentation of the ideas. But there are other ways to get the basics including a powerpoint and a web site. A think that probably a close, careful reading of the 34 page A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning is the very best way, short of reading the whole book (which I plan to do this summer). Anyone else up for the challenge ?

I consider myself privileged to serve on the Core Curriculum Committee charged with the design of the new Learning Frameworks class to begin in 2010. I think The Self-Directed Guide provides the best road map I've seen for creating a class that can be "truly significant" in the DCCCD.