Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why I Think The Fink Road Map is the Way to Go

I've made no secret of the fact that I believe the course design approach championed by Dee Fink is the one we ought to use as we design the Learning Frameworks course.

There aren't many times in life when you have an chance to spend a whole year with colleagues creating something that can potentially help many, many students for years to come. If we get it right, it'll be hugely important in the history of this district. If we give it less than our very best effort, it seems to me, we miss a real opportunity.

Sadly, I could write way too many pages describing why I believe this. I won't.

Here are my reasons -- in a nutshell.

1. Because it's theory based.

The 150 item bibliography in his book Creating Significant Learning Experiences and his frequent references to the literature of the scholarship of teaching and learning bear witness to the fact that he has done his homework. And 25 years working with the faculty at The University of Oklahoma and in consultancies across the country means this is not just ivory tower stuff.

Here's a simple example of how the theory based part helps. At our next committee meeting we'll be discussing the gathering of information from stakeholders -- students, instructors, community members, etc. Because we can connect that to what Fink calls identifying situational factors, we know the real reason we're doing it. He makes that clear: We need to know which factors are important for us and which we can safely set aside. If the identified important factors aren't accounted for well, we could end up with a course that doesn't work.

2. Because it actually is a course design method.

That may sound silly, but when one reads Fink's description of the method that most instructors use in developing a new course (Creating, p. 61) it becomes pretty obvious that something more systematic might be in order. Rather than doing the natural thing -- which is to start listing major topics to be covered, integral course design begins by asking more fundamental questions and building strong course components that will function together as a real system. His 12 step program and the order in which these are done insure that we'll not overlook anything important and that our concern with content won't overshadow other important aspects.

3. Because it makes explicit the pathway we're taking.

By demystifying the processes we're using to create the course, we make it possible for others to improve on what we've done. And if we've made any missteps others can more easily come along and do "course correction" because they'll know not only what we've done but why we've done it. And those who will ultimately teach the course will be able to understand much more deeply the decisions we make which will, in turn, free them to adapt (as all teachers will) in a way that does not depart from the spirit of what we're all trying to accomplish.

I could also say ...

... that that the whole thing just rings true to me and that it holds out the possibility of our creating something truly great! But I won't say that. Instead, I'll just shut up (finally).

Have a nice day. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What is an SLE ?

The road map provided by Dee Fink's approach to creating new courses is premised on two powerful ideas : 1) Integrated Course Design and 2) Significant Learning Experiences (SLE's).

The first idea -- Integrated Course Design-- means you design all the key ingredients (goals, activities, and assessment) from the very beginning so that everything functions as a balanced system. This is rarely done. It's nearly always the case that content (what is to be taught and learned) takes precedence over everything else.

The second idea -- Significant learning experiences -- means ... Well, what exactly does it mean?

Setting aside Fink's technical definition for the moment, what does it mean to you? And what in your experience illustrates it?

If we were sitting together and wanted to enrich our understanding of significant learning experiences, I'd recommend we do one of two things (or maybe both).

First. A sentence completion using the following stem: "A significant learning experience is ... "

Or you might like this one better: "You know its a significant learning experience when..."

If we were then to share those personal definitions, we'd find that each one of them would add some small dimension to our shared perception of the concept.

Second. If some of us were willing to share a particular memory of a significant learning experience, that too would enrich our understanding and become part of our shared, constructed meaning. And if we'd put on our "analytical hats" just for a few moments and share specifically what made those experiences significant, we'd move forward a tiny bit more. The more we did this kind of thing the deeper our understanding of significant learning experiences would become.

Ummmmmm. It occurs to me that we COULD do this ... using this blog.

If you're willing to share, send your definitions and stories to garyduke.siglearningx@blogger.com. The e-mail will be immediately posted to our blog DCCCD Significant Learning Experiences. The subject line will be the post title and the text of your e-mail will be the text of the blog. This is the quick and easy way to do it.

If you want to contribute to this blog, contact Gary Duke and let him know you'd like to be an "authorized blogger." He'll send you an invitation.

PS. If you're not sure of any of this, but you'd like to comment on something here, all you have to do is click on the Comment link. The comment will appear without your name unless you type it as part of the comment. If you're logged into your Google account, your name will appear automatically.

Come on. Join in the fun. :)