Consider Course Context & Student Characteristics

Whether you are designing a new course or redesigning an existing one, take your environment and student population into consideration, and use that analysis to guide your design. L. Dee Fink (2013) provides a useful framework for analyzing the environment of a course.

Students’ Characteristics

Think about your students’ life situations, goals, prior experience and motivation. You may choose to adapt a background knowledge probe, surveying students early in the term and then sharing with them the range of knowledge, interests and experiences in the class subject matter.

Context of the Course

Review the basic details. How many students and sections? What level is the course? How is the classroom configured?

External Expectations for the Course

Describe for yourself what your subject contributes to students’ education and their life beyond school. Consider the goals your department and the university has for the course. Consider sharing these ideas in your syllabus.

 Nature of the Subject Being Taught

Fink encourages instructors to think about whether the subject privileges becoming able to produce correct answers (convergent subject matter) or developing diverse, equally valid explanations and interpretations (divergent subject matter). He also recommends reflection on how, if at all, the course involves manipulating  “physical elements” and whether the course subject matter is stable, changing quickly or defined by competing frameworks.

Instructor Characteristics

Position yourself in the course. What is your prior experience with the subject matter and the curriculum?


Fink, L.Dee. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013.