Book Reviews

Book by: L. Dee Fink
Review by: Brandi Ellis
Structural Engineering
University of California, San Diego

How can advisors change the mind of a cheater?  How can we help create balanced exchanges between the teacher and learner?  How can we help students gain knowledge that lasts longer than the next exam? L. Dee Fink, author of Creating Significant Learning Experiences, might suggest that we increase the value in significant classroom experiences. As an academic advisor I am perplexed by students who do the least amount of work possible; likewise I am perplexed by students who are so overwhelmed by academia, social activities, or work that they fail to engage in their studies. These students do not necessarily know how to make an investment in their education; at the same time those who teach do not always know how to encourage students to make that investment.

Fink draws on his twenty years of experience as a teacher and instructional consultant to pose several questions that will cause the reader to reevaluate the goals and tools of learning.  He identifies two widespread problems in college-level teaching. First, a majority of instructors do not teach "beyond an understand-and-remember type of learning" (p. xi)  where the instructor is the expert who dumps knowledge the students are expected to absorb for an exam or report. After the task is complete students dump this information to make room for the information needed for the next exam.  The second problem is that, outside standard lectures and discussions, most instructors do not know activities that engage students in the learning process. The solution Fink presents is to create a new vision of learning and teaching based on three major ideas: significant learning, integrated course design, and recommendations for better organizational support. The text is organized to follow the three major ideas. While this organization allows readers to go to specific chapters, it is a richer experience to start at the first chapter to understand the new taxonomy he applies throughout the book.

An academic advisor is in a position to receive direct and indirect feedback about the experiences students have in a class.  This book will serve as a solid resource for advisors seeking to actively pursue ways of introducing a new paradigm to teaching and learning.  Fink introduces the reader to a new taxonomy of significant learning, a model of integrated course design and organizational support. A highlight of the book is the companion Web site. The Web site is also a useful tool for those who have not read the book. Although it appears that the website has not been updated for several years, there is a feature that showcases specific course descriptions (sorted into three general groups - natural science, social science and humanities) promoting significant learning. Each description contains a summary of the course design and a brief analysis of the course.  This is an excellent place to begin to reinvigorate current classes.

Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. (2003) Book by: L. Dee Fink. Review by: Brandi Ellis. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass 320pp., $36.00, (hardback), ISBN # 0-7879-60551
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