Book by L. Dee Fink & Arletta Knight Fink
Review by Stephen Price
Physical Education and Recreation Studies
Mount Royal University

Advisors who teach a course, or use an advising syllabus, will find Designing courses for significant learning to be essential. Fink’s 2003 book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences introduced ‘integrated course design’ (ICD). Six years later this system has been widely adopted and this volume shares ten stories from educators who have used and found success with Fink’s method.

The preface provides an overview of ICD. “The basic premise of …[ICD] is that any student who takes a course has an experience. Sometimes that experience is powerful; at other times it is trite. Every teacher who cares about his or her students’ learning wants that experience to be on the powerful and significant end of that spectrum.” (p. 1) As a course is designed the teacher will follow 12 steps – summarized into five components: identifying situational factors, creating learning goals, designing learning activities, creating feedback and assessment activities, and then integrating the course (p.3-4).

The volume includes ten chapters that give a narrative of how ICD was used by each chapter’s author(s) to design a new course (Ch. 6 & 8), re-design an existing course (Ch. 1-5, 7, 9) or re-design an entire four-year curriculum (Ch. 10). These narratives are entertaining and provide insights into the experience when using ICD. Disciplines represented include accounting, musical forms, psychology, and biology. Each narrative provides a unique ‘voice’ to the experience, providing a step-by-step walkthrough of using ICD and the challenges and successes faced.

A good example is the experience of Joan Nicoll-Senft who re-designed a special education course. She describes the process she used to demolish and remodel her course (p. 82). Nicoll-Senft has a clear voice and provides the reader with a detailed account of her renovation. She also provides a quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of her redesigned course completed as part of a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project at her university (p.85). Results indicated a statistically significant improvement in four of Fink’s dimensions and slight improvement in the other two (p.85).

Chapter 10 describes reforming an entire four year curriculum that would be of special interest to those advisors who currently use, or are looking at adopting, an advising syllabus. One purpose of an advising syllabus is to outline the relationship between an advisor and advisee and describe the expected outcomes of the advising relationship (Trabant, 2006). The University of Oklahoma reformed their entire engineering curriculum using ICD (ch.10). Their work integrated real-world design problems across the curriculum (p.91). The process they followed could be adapted to aid in the creation of an advising syllabus that guides a student’s post-secondary experience.

Teaching and advising for significant learning – helping students to have powerful experiences – is a wonderful goal. Fink’s ICD provides a useful system for designing a course or advising syllabus to reach towards that goal. This volume provides an entertaining and instructive view of ICD from the viewpoint of practitioners in the field. Their stories are insightful and well told. I recommend this book for advisors interested in improving the significant learning in a course they are teaching, or through the use of an advising syllabus.


Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Trabant, T.D. (2006). Advising Syllabus 101. Retrieved –January 12, 2010 - from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/syllabus101.htm.

Designing courses for significant learning: Voices of experience (New directions for teaching and learning #119) (2009) Book by L. Dee Fink & Arletta Knight Fink (Eds.), Review by Stephen Price. Jossey-Bass. 119 pp, $29.00, ISBN # 978-0-470-55480-7
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