Emotions, Learning and the Brain

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Chances are very good that you have vivid memories of that day especially if you were in the United States. Why? Because we tend to remember emotional events. Although our memories of that day may not be completely accurate, it is unlikely that we will ever ‘forget’ where we were when we learned of the attacks because memory and emotion are inextricably linked.    

Many people think of teaching and learning as intellectual endeavors that engage the head more than the heart. However, in her book Emotions, Learning and the Brain, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an affective neuroscientist and former teacher, argues that we only think deeply about things we care about and that it is impossible for students to think deeply about a topic unless they are emotionally engaged. Immordino-Yang relates the link between emotion, memory and learning to the fact that the brain mechanisms that regulate emotion evolved to aid survival. “Emotions such as anger, fear, happiness, and sadness are cognitive and physiological processes that involve both the body and the mind.”

She tells the story of a college-aged participant in a study who watches a video about a mother in China who finds a coin on the ground and uses it to buy warm cakes for her son who had been all day at school with nothing to eat. Although the son was very hungry, he offers his mother the last cake, which she in turn declines by lying that she had eaten already. The student is clearly moved by the story and describes the visceral reaction that he had as “a balloon or something just under my sternum”. As he reflects on it, he relates it to his own parents and the sacrifices that they made for him and how he does not thank them enough. (Note to self, find this video and show it to my kids.)

Immordino-Yang points out that the student only made the connection between the story and his own life because he was given adequate time to reflect. She believes that allowing time for constructive internal reflection is key to helping students make connections between material they learn in class and their own lives. This reflection time allows them to engage in cognitive perspective taking, i.e. seeing something from another’s point of view. It is also during reflective moments that students develop social awareness and the capacity for moral reasoning. One of the most common ways to build reflection into a class is through reflective writing activities such as logs and journals either in-class or out-of-class.  

Let’s Exchange EDvice!

Given that learning is an emotional and social experience, how do you help students emotionally engage with material that you teach? 

Open Educational Resources: Good for Affordability; Better for Learning

Steven J. Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University

Despite a growing conversation in higher education about open educational resources (OER), the fact remains that many faculty know little about OER or encounter various barriers keeping them from integrating these learning materials into their courses. We know this thanks to a recently published survey, Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-2016, from the Babson Survey Research Group. According to the report’s introduction:

Survey results, using responses of over 3,000 U.S. faculty, show that OER is not a driving force in the selection of [learning] materials – with the most significant barrier being the effort required to find and evaluate such materials. Use of open resources is low overall, but somewhat higher for large enrollment introductory-level courses.

Higher education media reporting on this study focused on two findings:

·       faculty remain largely unaware of OER

·       cost is a primary factor for faculty in choosing learning materials.

Only 25% of faculty indicated awareness of OER, still a slight increase from 2014-2015. One way to increase faculty awareness of OER is to…well…write an EDvice Exchange post to discuss what OER are, promote the value of OER as affordable learning material and address concerns faculty share about OER.

What Makes it OER?
What exactly makes an educational resource open? It takes more than being freely available on the Internet. To qualify as OER learning material should pass the Five R’s Test. That is, can you determine if the content can be:

Retained – you have the right to retain the content by virtue of downloading, storing and managing it;
Reused – you have freedom to use the content as you wish for reuse on the web, a course site, etc.;
Revised – you can adapt, adjust or otherwise modify the content;
Remixed – you can merge the content with other material to create something new;
Redistributed – you can share copies of the original or revised/remixed content with others.

“Openness” happens when faculty create and share learning content they develop for their students, be it a quiz, a video tutorial, course notes, slides or even entire monographs. How can educators be intentional in giving their materials OER status? One way is to contribute the resource to a repository of open and sharable learning resources, such as MERLOT. Alternately, assign a Creative Commons License to the content. This signals the material is available for any of the Five R’s without needing the author’s explicit permission. It looks like this:

The symbols indicate this content requires anyone using it to provide attribution (BY), refrain from using it for any commercial application (NC) and must share it freely with others (SA). The Creative Commons website has a license generator that simplifies the process of assigning a license to content.
Why Do So Few Faculty Use OER?
The Babson Survey asked faculty to indicate important factors in choosing learning materials. 87% of faculty ranked “cost to the student” number one. If cost is a prominent decision factor why aren’t more faculty choosing OER to eliminate the cost to students? Another survey question offers some insight. When asked about the barriers to adopting OER faculty cited numerous concerns. The top five were:

·       insufficient resources in my subject

·       too difficult to find resources

·       no comprehensive catalog of resources

·       not used by other faculty I know

·       not high quality

These are certainly valid concerns, but far from insurmountable obstacles to introducing OER into many courses across the disciplines. The successful integration of OER into nearly 50 courses participating in Temple Libraries Alternate-Textbook Project demonstrates this. In exchange for receiving an award of $1,000, faculty agree to eliminate their traditional commercial textbook. Courses from the humanities, social sciences and physical sciences have all managed to identify and adopt OER as learning material.

While there is no single finding tool for all OER, subject specialist research librarians are well versed in locating OER and can assist faculty across the disciplines to identify OER. While only faculty can determine the quality of learning material, librarians can point to peer-reviewed open content.

Are You Getting the Results?
When it comes to learning materials, what matters most is whether students are achieving course learning goals. Even the highest quality learning materials are of limited benefit to students if they are unable to afford it. Seven out of ten students reported that they have not purchased a textbook at least once because of the expense. Faculty participants in our Alternate-Textbook Project, in their final project evaluations, typically report high satisfaction with student learning with OER and supplementary licensed-library content. When all students have equal access to learning materials they are better prepared for class. When faculty have greater control over learning content they find students are more engaged with the learning materials.

While there will always be courses for which a commercial textbook is the best choice of learning material, the increase in and improved discoverability of OER make it a more realistic option for faculty who wish to provide their students with affordable learning content. Your colleagues at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching  and Temple Libraries are available to assist you in exploring OER for your course. You may also learn more and explore OER resources with Temple Libraries’ Guide to OER.

Let’s Exchange EDvice!
Are you using OER resources in your course? Tell us more about how OER are working for you and your students! If you aren’t using OER, what do you see as the most convincing argument for implementing them? 

6 Tips for Creating Engaging Video Lectures That Students Will Actually Watch

Simuelle Myers, Instructional Designer, TLC

Image for Creating Engaging Video Lectures That Students Will Actually Watch

How do I get started creating video lectures? How do I engage students from a distance? How do I know if they understand the concepts in my lecture if I can’t see their faces? How do I know students are even paying attention? These are common questions asked by faculty when preparing to create a video lecture. As both online and flipped classroom formats grow in popularity, the number of faculty creating video lectures is increasing. However, many of these videos are recorded as straight lecture, limiting students only to the role of observer.  The six tips below will help you create videos that also engage students in active learning, while giving you information to assess their understanding of course concepts.  

1. Keep it Short!

Break lessons into segments of about 7-10 minutes. This allows students to digest every part of the lesson,  quickly revisit what they may not have understood and provides a meaningful place to pause if they need to return to the lesson later. This can also become invaluable if you need to update a video later. It is much easier to re-record 10 minutes than 50 minutes!

Tip for implementation: If you are used to longer lectures, review your lessons and identify where the natural breaks in the material might be.  Use these as a guides to decide where every recording should begin and end.

2. Use visuals, images and animations

While students greatly value being able to see and connect with their instructor, a lecture consisting only of a “talking head” can be hard to follow.  Visuals can enhance your presentation and make material more accessible. Screencasting software (e.g. Camtasia Relay) allows you to share your screen with students so they can see your presentation, graphs, figures, drawings  and your face all at the same time. These tools can also be used to create video demonstrations for students in your brick and mortar classes.

Tip for implementation: Text-heavy slides can make it difficult to pay attention to what a speaker is saying.  Mix it up and try slides using a single large image. This creates a need for students to listen more to what you are saying instead of just reading the words behind you. This also gives students a reason to take more detailed notes.

3. Create guided or embedded questions

Pause to ask students a question, provide a worksheet that they need to complete as they watch the lecture, or create a task for them to do in between videos. There are also several programs you can use to create questions that are embedded directly into a video that students must answer before they continue watching. Similar to an in-class activity, these allow students to work with the material in the midst of the lesson and add variety to help keep them engaged.

Tip for implementation: How do you make sure that students complete guided questions or worksheets? Have them submit their answers as an assignment. This can also help you assess your students’ understanding of the material.   

4. Test knowledge with quizzes and self-assessment

Frequent, low stakes quizzes encourage students to pay closer attention to video lectures and allow you to assess their knowledge. Self-assessments are typically ungraded, but provide students with diagnostic feedback that  encourages them to re-visit areas of the lesson based on  questions they may have missed. Both methods give students quick feedback so they can gauge early on which concepts or problems they may need help with.

Tip for implementation: Ask students what they are having trouble with. At the end of a unit, have students assess themselves by asking what their “muddiest point” is or what they would like to learn more about and have them submit their responses via the Learning Management System (LMS) as a private journal entry.

5. Use pre-existing videos

You do not always need to create original videos.  Many great videos exist that already do a good job of explaining specific topics. This also creates more variety in students’ learning experience and can be less time intensive for the instructor.

Tip for implementation: Explore what resources are available before you begin recording your own videos to gain an understanding of what currently exists and what you need to do yourself.

6. Be Yourself!

Lastly, remember that this is not a Hollywood production! One of the most important things to do in a video is to be yourself and act natural. It is okay to stumble over a word or quickly correct yourself when you make a mistake. This allows students to truly see your personality and connect with what makes you unique as an instructor.

Tips for implementation: Record a test video, then go back and watch it (bonus points if you have someone else watch it too!). Evaluate what you do well and what needs improvement. Feel free to experiment with environment and style until you feel that you are able to convey yourself in a way that is comfortable and genuine.

Let’s Exchange EDvice!

Are you already creating video lectures? What strategies do you use to keep students engaged?


Additional Resources:

Ho, Yvonne. “Seven Steps to Creating Screencast Videos for Online Learning.” Faculty Focus. Magna, 15 Mar. 2013. Web.

Mayer, Richard E. Multi-Media Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

Creating a Positive Climate for Learning

Stephanie Fiore, Senior Director, TLC

On the first day of Italian I class, I tell a story about my own experiences learning the language while studying abroad. During a conversation with my host family about the movie “Gone With The Wind”, I meant to say that whenever I saw that film, I cried and I cried (“piangevo e piangevo”); instead, I said that I rained and I rained (“piovevo e piovevo”). My hosts laughed wholeheartedly and responded “Do you snow in the winter too?” This little story never fails to get a laugh from students, but more importantly, it communicates what I want them to know – nobody has ever died of embarrassment because they made an error when trying to speak a foreign language. Errors are part of learning, so everybody just relax!

The willingness to take risks is an essential component of learning. And yet, students are often worried about making mistakes or believe they are just not good at learning languages, math, science (really anything). They may also lack confidence and are therefore anxious about the participation that may be necessary in a learning environment. I know that if I create an atmosphere that encourages risk-taking behavior in my class, these students will more likely thrive.  This fits with the literature on creating a positive climate for learning:

“Learning is not merely a cognitive process; it is substantially affected by emotional factors. Teaching can thrive only in an environment of trust that encourages students to attend, think and learn. Students need a supportive climate that provides generous room for trial and error, enables them to learn from mistakes, encourages them to take risks in overcoming difficulties in learning, and promotes their confidence in their ability to learn.” (Hativa, 255)

So how can we reduce student anxiety and increase their willingness to take risks?  

1.  Be intentional about your messages

  • Express confidence to students that they can do well in your course.
  • Encourage students to ask questions by explicitly telling them that questions are welcome and expected.
  • Take the time to compliment a student on something specific that he or she has done well. The key here is specificity. Praise, reinforcement, encouragement and acknowledgment have all been shown to increase motivation (Gage & Berliner, 1998).
  • When delivering criticism, be specific and state the critique in changeable terms – that is, make clear that improvement is possible.

2.  Clarify that learning is a process

  • Admit when something is difficult to master and then work with the student to develop specific strategies to improve performance and reach mastery.
  • Self-disclosure, that is, speaking from personal experience about your own learning trajectory, can remind students that expertise is developed over time.
  • Help students evaluate their progress by encouraging them to critique their own work, analyze their strengths, and work on their weaknesses. For example, consider asking students to submit self-evaluation forms with one or two assignments. (Cashin, 1979; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991).

3.  Provide opportunities for trial and error

  • Give students opportunities to talk about their thinking in low-stakes situations, such as asking students to brainstorm ideas in teams or making informal ungraded presentations in class.
  • Provide early opportunities for success (Forsyth and McMillan, 1991).
  • Allow students to write drafts of major assignments and provide targeted, clear feedback that will help them make substantive changes where necessary.

Faculty often feel the pressure to move forward quickly, as a semester is short and there is so much material to cover. But by spending a little time to create a positive climate of support, the truth is that we may find that students learn more efficiently and more effectively.


Cashin, W.E., “Motivating Students”, IDEA Paper no.1, Manhattan: Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development in HIgher Education, Kansas State University, 1976.

Forsyth, D.R., and McMillan J.H. “Practical Proposals for Motivating Students.” In R.J. Menges and M.D. Svinicki (eds.), College Teaching from Theory to Practice. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, no. 45. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.

Gage, N. L. & Berliner, D. C. (1988). Educational psychology (4th Ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Hativa, Nira. Teaching for effective learning in higher education. Springer Science & Business Media, 2001.

Let’s Exchange Edvice

What strategies have you used successfully to reduce student anxiety and encourage them to take risks in your classes?

Engaging Modern Learners? Game On!

Pete Watkins, Associate Director, TLC

Engaging Modern Learners? Game On! Image of students on IPads

As the parent of two pre-teens, I find myself constantly having to pull my children away from their video games. I watch commuters on the train engrossed in video games on their phones and tablets. From casual games such as Candy Crush, to complex games such as Civilization, these games seem to have a hold on people. So as a teacher, it got me thinking  “What is it about video games that make them so engaging, even addictive?” and “What can teachers learn from game designers about how to increase engagement among learners?”

Here are three characteristics of video games that have direct implications for teaching:

1. Video games are active.  

Most people play, not watch, video games. Occasionally, one of my children will watch another child play, and some people will even pay to watch highly skilled gamers compete. But overwhelmingly, people play video games. So the lesson for teachers is: Make your classes interactive. Have students do something! Of course, teachers will use some lectures and demonstration to impart foundational knowledge, but active learning will increase engagement and deepen learning.

2. Video games adjust to the skill level of the player, getting progressively more
    difficult as the player gets better.  

This is key to helping the learner sustain engagement. Sherman and Csikszentmihalyi (2008) state: “Optimally engaging activities were therefore neither trivially simple nor impossibly hard; rather, the appropriate match between challenge and skill led to higher quality learning experiences in terms of perceived engagement, intrinsic motivation, mood, and self-esteem.” Both gamers and students will disengage if the task before them is too easy or too hard. So adjust your lessons to the level of your learners and stay in what Vygotsky called the ‘zone of proximal development‘. This may mean having bonus or challenge questions, or readings for students who are more advanced as well as extra support or scaffolding for beginning learners.  

3. Video games give the player frequent, immediate feedback which helps them

Anyone who plays video games knows that games give you frequent feedback about your performance through losing lives, unlocking levels etc. Similarly, as teachers, we can use frequent, low stakes formative assessments to gauge students’ progress, give them corrective feedback and keep students motivated and engaged.  

For more ideas about how to engage modern learners, the Teaching and Learning Center invites you to attend the 14th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence to be held at Temple University on January 22, 2016. This event will feature plenary speaker Dr. Christy Price, the 2012 Carnegie US Professor of the Year, delivering an address titled “Why don’t my students think I’m groovy? Engaging the modern learner”.

Helping Students see the Big Picture with Integrative Learning Strategies

Johanna Inman, Assistant Director, TLC

This semester the TLC and the General Education Program are co-sponsoring a faculty Teaching Circle on the topic of Integrative Learning. This teaching circle is an opportunity for faculty who teach General Education courses to come together and discuss the significance of GenEd, how to motivate students in these courses, and how to help students connect learning in these courses to courses in their majors, their careers, and their personal lives. Johanna Inman is an Assistant Director at the TLC and co-facilitates the Integrative Learning Teaching Circle.– – – – –

Anyone who has taught a general education course at Temple University, or at any university, is familiar with the “just get through it” attitude students often arrive with on the first day of class. Many students do not value these courses and as a result, see them as a fairly low priority.

Yet, GenEd equips students with the information literacy, communication and critical thinking skills they will need for university-level work. Most of us teaching these courses also recognize the long-term impact that liberal education can have on our students’ professional and personal lives. In a recent survey conducted on behalf of AAC&U, an overwhelming majority of employers surveyed said they seek to hire graduates with the abilities to innovate, think critically, communicate clearly, solve complex problems, and draw on a broad range of knowledge—all learning goals commonly found in general education courses.

AAC&U and higher education leaders across the nation are working hard to change students’ perception of general education, while improving curriculum to make certain it actually helps students improve skills they need to be successful. Curricula nationally are undergoing re-evaluation in order to intentionally build in integrative projects, assignments, and learning experiences. This approach to learning helps students “connect, reflect, and apply learning so that the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.”

While higher education leaders work towards improving integrative learning across the curriculum, faculty play an instrumental role in helping students value learning in all courses, make meaningful connections between them, and develop a holistic view of their learning experience throughout their entire academic career.

Strategies you can use to help students value and make meaningful connections across all learning experiences.

1. Teach transparently.

As Linda Nilson points out in her book Creating Self-Regulated Learners, students see value in assignments when “they believe it will help them receive a good grade in the course, obtain a job, achieve success in a career, or learn about something important to them.” On the contrary, they will not work hard on tasks they believe to be meaningless busywork.

What does your course promise to students? What will they learn? How will it help them be better learners, professionals, and citizens? First, make sure you know the answers to these questions, and then tell them to your students!

For every assignment, help students clearly understand the task, purpose and criteria. Students are more motivated when they know what is expected of them and there is a clear pathway to improvement. However, they cannot know these things unless we explicitly tell them.

2. Model integrative learning.

Modeling—thinking, demonstrating, or problem solving out loud in front of students—is one of the most simple, yet effective, teaching techniques. It has been proven to improve students’ metacognition and critical thinking skills and it can be an effective strategy to help students make connections among general education courses, courses within their major, and their personal experience.

Heard something in the news that relates to a course discussion? Is there a link between a lecture topic and your current research? Did you have an interesting conversation about a course reading with a colleague in another department? Tell your students! Explain the connections. When students hear faculty making these connections, they are more likely to do so themselves.

3. Provide opportunities for reflection.

Too often students graduate from college having learned a great deal—but not necessarily realizing what they’ve learned or knowing its value. Students need time and space to consider what they’ve learned, how they’ve learned it, and how they’ve grown as a result.

Provide students the opportunity to reflect on their learning by assigning learning journalsreflective essays, or a learning portfolio. Worried about the extra grading? Create opportunities for students to reflect on their learning in class with ungraded one-minute papers or ask students to submit assignments with reflective annotations or a reflective memo.

4. Reward integrative learning.

If making connections between courses or between course content and students’ personal experience is something you value, it should be included in your grading criteria. When a student mentions a link between your course content and something they learned previously—celebrate it. When students make meaningful connections, point them out and make a big deal about it. Ultimately, the goal of integrative learning is to help students realize that learning happens over time, inside of the classroom and out—to understand learning as holistic, constant, and lifelong.

Let’s Exchange Edvice

What strategies have you used to help students make meaningful connections across courses? What strategies have you used to help students make meaningful connections between learning in your course and their personal experience?

Practice and Assessment, Grading and Feedback

This post highlights key takeaways from Chapter 5 of How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. This book has become an essential resource for TLC programs and initiatives, so much that we have invited Drs. DiPietro and Lovett to keynote at our annual conference on January 17, 2014! See below for details.– – – – –

Clear expectations. Hours of grading. Ample feedback. No improvement.

The fifth chapter of How Learning Works, on practice and feedback, starts with testimonials on student performance that most instructors will find all too familiar. The first example tells of a professor who spent hours grading assignments and offering substantial comments for improvement. Yet his students’ subsequent efforts on different assignments were just as disappointing. What went wrong?

Drawing on our summary of best practices in course design, this situation suggests a misalignment between learning activities, assessments, and course goals. Here, students were not given the opportunity to incorporate the professor’s feedback into further practice activities. Perhaps they would have applied new understandings, but they weren’t given the chance to try again with the specific task. Furthermore, the sequence of assignments was an issue; the professor was assessing different skills with each assignment, instead of giving students additional opportunities to demonstrate and master the targeted skills.

In a well-designed course, each learning goal is matched with the appropriate quality and quantity of activities and assessments. Scenarios like the one above are all too common. This begs the question: How can we better approach these processes of practice, assessment, grading, and feedback to improve student learning?

Key Considerations from the Book

The authors of How Learning Works proclaim that students will miss crucial learning opportunities if the professor’s practice and feedback activities do not “work smarter.” It is “smart” to offer multiple opportunities for practice and to give feedback that is clear and specific. Students need sufficient practice in advance of assessments, wherein their knowledge and abilities are measured.

The more opportunities students have to practice, the more chances the instructor has to observe their performance, evaluate their progress, and provide targeted feedback, which students can then incorporate to improve their subsequent performances. This mix of practice and feedback will guide students toward eventual achievement of the course learning goals.

The Cycle of Practice and Feedback

Similarly to Fink’s work on course design, the authors suggest that all practice and feedback elements center around designated learning goals. This is explained as a cycle (pictured below) wherein “practice produces observed performance that, in turn, allows for targeted feedback, and then the feedback guides further practice. This cycle is embedded within the context of learning goals that ideally influence each aspect of the cycle” (How Learning Works pp. 126-127).

Practical Implications

The authors provide some guiding principles for directing this cycle effectively: 1) Focus students’ efforts “on a specific goal or criterion.” 2) Set standards at a “reasonable and productive level of challenge.” 3) Provide multiple opportunities for practice, both in and out of class. The research reiterates that “time on task” is essential. Both quality and quantity matter.

The authors’ recommendations for “strategies that address the need for goal-directed practice” include:

  • “Conduct a prior knowledge assessment to target an appropriate challenge level” (p. 145)
  • “Be more explicit about your goals in your course materials” (p. 145)
  • “Use a rubric to specify and communicate performance criteria” (p. 146)
  • “Give examples or models of target performance” (p. 147)

Professors should also maintain open and specific communication about students’ progress and improvement throughout the course. It is not helpful to comment on every error in an assessment; prioritize your feedback to focus on where specific learning goals are (or are not) met. It is best to give feedback quickly and frequently, the authors note. They recommend a number of ways to achieve effective feedback, such as:

  • “Look for patterns of errors in student work” (p. 148)
  • “Balance [student] strengths and weaknesses in your feedback” (p. 149)
  • “Provide feedback at the group level” to communicate common errors (p. 150)
  • “Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work” (p. 151-152)

The authors note that as students internalize the lessons learned from regular practice opportunities and from targeted feedback, they can become independent, self-regulated learners. According to the authors, the ideal goal of these approaches is for students to actively engage in and direct their own learning. Ultimately, these goal-driven practice and feedback opportunities are examples of how students and teachers can work “smarter,” not harder.

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

What practice opportunities do you give your students in order to prepare them to complete an assignment or exam? What EDvice do you have for colleagues who want students to learn from and use their feedback?

– – –

This post was co-written by our communications extern, Alexa Mantell, and Assistant Director Carl S. Moore.

This blog will only allow those with a Temple University account to comment directly on the blog. If you do not have a Temple University account, we would still like to hear from you.  

Composing a Course for Significant Learning

Course design is to teaching and learning what sheet music is to performing a symphony. Both require careful composition, indeed, but to deliver the best outcome, the most satisfying result, all parts must work together harmoniously. A well integrated course provides structure and is characterized by a reciprocal alignment among the essential course components: goals, assessments, and teaching and learning activities.

At the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), Dr. Dee Fink’s work (concisely represented in A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning) provides the foundation for many of our programs and initiatives. We always design our own programs with his model of integrated course design in mind, and we encourage colleagues to do the same. Lessons on integrated course design are a key component in our most robust faculty development programs, such as the annual summer Provost’s Teaching Academy and the Teaching in Higher Education Certificate program.

The Model

Fink’s model (pictured below) challenges educators to not only articulate intended course goals but to ensure that assignments, activities, and assessments all lead to the achievement of those goals. He also highlights the presence of situational factors, which are contextual issues in any given course environment that could affect the learning. These could include but are not limited to: the age of students, their prior knowledge of the subject matter, and the size of the room.

As illustrated in the diagram, Fink stresses that all components of a course are interdependent and impacted by situational factors. A course designed with Fink’s framework in mind results in a more student-centered and intentional pedagogy.

Fundamental Features

The core course components discussed in Fink’s work are: goals, activities, and assessments, defined below:

  • Goals are the final learning results of a semester-long experience. Teachers should ask themselves: “What will students learn or be able to do once they complete my course?” A Primer on Writing Effective Learning-Centered Course Goals offers excellent guidance for articulating clear, measurable goals.
  • Activities are the teaching strategies and learning experiences that comprise the day-to-day of the course. In the best courses, each element is used to prepare students to successfully complete the assessments. What do the students need to read, hear, see, practice, do if they are to meet the goals measured by the assessments? Fink recommends that activities directly link to the overarching course goal(s) and stimulate active learning. Examples of classroom activities that Fink provides include debates, simulations, guided discussion, small group problem solving, and case studies.
  • Assessments give students the opportunity to demonstrate where they are in relation to achieving the course learning goals, and you an opportunity to evaluate the students’ performance and give feedback.

The goals must be determined first; once they have been articulated an educator can begin the work of thoughtfully integrating each component with the others. So, as an example, if a professor’s course goal is for students to be able to evaluate the quality of an argument, an aligned teaching activity might be for students to read a successfully argued article, then hear a brief lecture where the teacher identifies the components of the good argument such as a clear thesis and evidence. A professor might then ask students to read a sample article and engage in a think-pair-share learning activity, using a rubric to evaluate those same components together. An aligned learning activity might look very similar to the assessment; after all, it is not fair to ask students to demonstrate mastery without having had some practice first. In this scenario, students might be asked to put their evaluations of a sample article’s argument into writing.

Payoff Potential

Integrated course design requires that instructors are intentional about how each individual component is significant to the final outcome. This method fosters a more coordinated experience, Fink writes, so that at any given moment in the semester, students can understand the importance of assignments and activities as well as which goal(s) they are working toward.

If intentional about design, educators can maximize the potential for a course that is stable in its structure, steady in its pacing, purposeful in its direction, and meaningful in its instruction. Integrated course design, Fink posits, enables students to better retain knowledge and extend their involvement in the material beyond a single course. Fink encourages each teacher to “increase [his or her] power and effectiveness as someone responsible for the quality of other peoples’ learning experience” (original emphasis).

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

As you reflect on courses you have taught or taken, can you share an instance where the key components were not fully aligned? or were? How do you plan to better align the goals, activities, and assessments in your course?

– – –

This post was co-written by our communications extern, Alexa Mantell, and Assistant Director Carl S. Moore, and edited by Alexa and Pamela Barnett, Associate Vice Provost and Director.