As promised, here is the first in a series of posts in which I apply Fink’s method to the design a specific course. The method is a simple mental exercise that forces one to think of a course as a system. Fink divides the process into three phases; this post will outline the first, which is to identify primary components. Please note that Fink uses a reverse order for the third and fourth items. In my mind, what gets assessed comes before how it gets assessed, but I will leave it up to you to decide whether it is better to stick with the sequence as Fink presents it in his book.
Where am I? (situational factors)
This will be my third iteration of teaching a first-year seminar to entering college students, but my subject — human migration — is new. Because of academic and personal interests over the years, I have some familiarity with immigration and refugees. Also I’m a first generation college student who might be able to teach skills that will help first-year students be academically successful. So I’m enthusiastic about teaching the seminar.
About eighty percent of students in the class will enroll because it fit their schedules. Other than perhaps two or three students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, the class will have no prior knowledge to build on and little initial interest in the topic. A major challenge thus will be motivating students to engage with lived experiences and perspectives that are very different from their own. And guess what? Retention is critical at a tuition-dependent institution like mine.
Where do I want to go? (learning goals)
- Foundational knowledge of difference — gain an awareness that people have different experiences and perspectives.
- Application of this knowledge through analysis of problems.
- Integrating ideas and skills through design projects and problem-solving.
- Social-emotional development through interaction and collaboration with peers and reading/writing about people who are different.
- Develop an interest in learning about the unfamiliar (curiosity).
How am I going to get there? (student tasks)
- I will use my tried and true reading responses as the most basic means of content acquisition — they force students to constantly engage with course material, whether they want to or not.
- Teams of students will each design three different games related to the course topic. I have had students design games in the two previous iterations of this course, and what I did last year worked better than the year before. Including a few scaffolded assignments to formalize the procedure should improve it further.
- I want students to interact with actual refugees in the community; I think documenting their stories will really help students achieve my learning goals for the course. However, financial and logistical barriers exist, so I am not sure at this point if it will happen.
- I will again use the knowledge plan and quality of failure essays as mechanisms for students to connect their experiences in the course to their own lives.
How will they and I know if they get there? (feedback and assessment)
- The advantage of deluging students with reading responses is that they are getting constant feedback on the manner in which they are communicating their thinking. There are some very basic standards for effective written communication, and specifications grading adequately provides students with transparent feedback on this type of assignment.
- Teammate evaluations might help them understand that how others see them can differ greatly from how they see themselves.
- The knowledge plan and quality of failure essays, as meta-cognitive exercises, don’t need to be assessed in detail. As long as they count toward the final course grade, students will do them, and often just the completion of these assignments leads to engage in my intended outcome — self-reflection.
- I am still toying with the idea of in-class quizzes to encourage the development of notetaking skills, but I haven’t yet identified a foolproof method for doing this.
- I want students to play and evaluate the games their classmates have designed so that they receive feedback from peers. The rubric and method that I have used in the past for this needs improvement. It would be nice if I could incorporate some sort of competitive or field-testing aspect to the process.
Who and what can help? (resources)
I see myself as being helpful to students’ learning, but I think it’s just as important for them to recognize each other as useful and easily-accessible resources. But beyond the classroom interaction that occurs through class discussion and collaborative tasks, I’m a bit unsure how to increase the chances that this happens.
My next post will look at the intermediate phase of course design — assembling the components into a coherent and dynamic whole.