Critical Thinking in Medicine: Reflections of a Third Year Student

critical-creating thinking banner 2015

by Priya Parikh, Graduate Student, School of Medicine

“So, what is your assessment and plan for this patient?”

As a third year medical student, I am used to hearing this question during rounds when we present the patients we have been following to our residents and attending physician.  Early on in the year, this was a daunting question (okay it still usually is).  I’m just a student, how am I supposed to know what the patient has, and be able to support this with evidence and which labs/imaging/medications to give?

Well…that’s sort of the point. Third year is the first time as medical students we see and talk to patients every day in what we call “rotations.” We have six core rotations: psychiatry/neurology, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, surgery, and family medicine. On each service, we are assigned to patients to talk to, to follow their progress, to keep track of their lab results, scans, and medications they are on. Then, we present this information at rounds to all of our superiors. It’s a whole new world compared to our first two years of medical school, in which we attend classes and study from books.

Making the transition from classes and books to real patients and patient care has been exciting, but difficult. This transition has made me reflect especially on how I think. Medicine is a vast, overwhelming field. Success is not only based on knowing the diseases and treatments, but on the development of critical thinking. Early on, seeing some of my attendings come up with diagnoses after only one sentence of my presentation inspired me to master the science of making a diagnosis. What I am quickly realizing, though, is that I will never know everything there is to know, regardless of which field I am working in. Instead, being able to reason through symptoms to come up with a diagnosis, and being able to sort out treatment options best suited for the patient’s needs and preferences, is the kind of skill that will lead to becoming a great physician. In my mind, critical thinking in medicine equals mastery of material PLUS formulation of perspective in the goal of the best treatment for our patients.

Sounds easy enough, right? Let’s first start by gathering all the evidence (patient’s symptoms, past medical history, current medications, physical exam), then exploring all the different possible diagnoses, then coming up with what we believe the diagnosis is and how we move forward with confirming our thoughts, then figuring out what options we have for treatment and which of these options best meets the patient’s needs. But what I struggle with is that this process is vastly different depending on the field. In internal medicine, it is sorting between the hundreds of reasons behind a patient presenting with abdominal pain and coming up with appropriate testing. In psychiatry, this process hinges more on being able to talk to the patient and building a rapport to really find out what is going on. On stroke team, clinical reasoning needs to be done quick, quick, quick as “time is brain.” In obstetrics, I need to be thinking about both mom and baby at all times. Thus, critical thinking can and does vary based on the kind of medicine being practiced, and requires development of different kinds of skills and considerations for each.

So how do we teach this kind of necessary critical thinking to medical students? As I look forward to a career in academic medicine and medical education, I am starting to reflect on my own medical education so far and how to foster this kind of thinking for future success. First and foremost, I believe that no lecture or textbook compares to direct patient care. Implementing early patient exposure as SLU does, including practicing physical examination and history taking on standardized patients and preceptorships starting in our second year, has been essential in developing critical thinking skills. Encouraging first and second year students to volunteer at clinical and medical outreach events can aid in this development too. Medicine is a process, and as a student, practicing clinical reasoning at every opportunity helps us to develop these skills.

In the classroom, implementing problem based learning and cases are worthwhile.  At SLU, we often times have group work in small teams in which we discussed a patient case with a fourth year medical student or faculty member, and went through the process from diagnosis to treatment. Adding this kind of activity on a more regular basis throughout classes benefits students in the transition to third year rotations. Another useful technique is mentorship. I have learned so much from residents and attendings who enjoy teaching and will go through their clinical reasoning when discussing patients so that I can compare my own thought process. Finding a mentor whose style you would like to emulate can be another great way to learn critical thinking skills.

These are just a few things I have been reflecting on, and it all comes down to finding ways to flex these critical thinking muscles, so that they become stronger on the wards and lead to a foundation of skills necessary to become a proficient physician. I am excited to see where the rest of third year takes me, and how my clinical reasoning skills develop and progress. One day, I hope to be teaching these skills to the next generation of aspiring physicians with a better understanding of how to best cultivate critical thinking.

To accompany our 2015-2016 theme of Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, fall contributors were asked to share their thoughts about two questions: 1) What does critical thinking look like in your field or discipline? And 2) How do you teach students to do it?

Mind Body Spirit: Teaching in the Jesuit tradition

by Stephen Belt, Assistant Professor, Aviation Science

I started riding my bicycle to work again. Finally. A week before classes began I made the (quiet) commitment to ride to work 80% of the time- 4 out of 5 days. Two weeks in and I’m at 75%. For you overachievers, I consider that a victory. I’ll make up the ½ day somewhere along the line. I’ll get an extra ride in this week if I’m lucky. Strike that, if I’m diligent. Two weeks in and I’m just beginning to feel…normal—as if the 35-minute ride to work isn’t a total chore: deep breath and back on the bike. Two weeks in and I’m beginning to remember how nice it is to feel the wind on my face. Two weeks in and I’m beginning to see the world around me at half the speed of car. Add the physical and mental health benefits, and this is indeed a victory for me. Two weeks in and my eating habits are changing. I’m starting to crave food in a different way, one that the nutritionists amongst us will nod and be able to say far more than I can. But I seem to be hungrier for the fuel that might better meet the needs of my body in its new regime. I don’t crave comfort food all of the time.

Two weeks in and I’m writing this blog. I hate to tell you how long it has been since I really sat down to write…anything. But, just as my body seemed to be stuck in couch potato mode, so did my mind. Netflix binge. Wow, who knew you could watch an entire season of S.H.I.E.L.D in a few days? Mind numbing. Two weeks in and I’m not watching so much TV. It was a good rest, a good escape, but life seems to have taken over and here I am, back at the practice of getting into my head so as to get out of my head and connect with you.

Two weeks in and I’m beginning to sit still with that first cup of coffee. With the dog walked and everything else on hold, I find myself settling into a place of contemplation, if only for a few minutes. Before, I used to take my coffee to the computer and try to get a head start on the day. Now, it seems to be okay to let the email and the reminders wait a few more minutes. It is here I find myself letting things just be. It is here I find myself bumping into the notion of Ignatian Pedagogy and the practice of reflection. It occurs to me that to truly engage the idea of education in the Jesuit tradition, I must consider how I might teach in the tradition. To be authentic, I must practice the art.

A friend of mine is considering embarking upon the Bridges Program, an eight-month version of the Spiritual Exercises for busy people. She is struggling with the daily time commitment. Will she have enough time? Can she even imagine so much still time? Well, no, of course not. Not yet. But you have to start some place. The point is this: reflection is an exercise, just as riding or writing. It is deliberate. It takes practice. And it takes patience.

Mind-body-spirit. Two weeks in. For me it started with the body. I got back on the bike, exercised through the malaise and established a routine. Now, I have time to ride to and from work. Now, the couch and Netflix don’t seem so appealing so much of the time. Now, it is okay to sit still for a few minutes and just reflect.

To teach in the Jesuit tradition begins with preparation in the Jesuit tradition. So, decide. Take a deep breath, exercise through the malaise, and establish a routine.

belt-335 Stephen Belt, Ph.D., joined the Aviation Science department at Parks College in 1998 and has served as Flight Training Director, senior check airman, pilot and instructor. His teaching and research interests include collegiate aviation education, administration and assessment; flight instructor development, and learner-centered pedagogy, including Ignatian pedagogy.

Photo and bio courtesy of

Communicating Engagement, Engaging Communication

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The term “engagement” continues to be fashionable in conversations about teaching, research, and the role of service in higher education. It often functions as a buzzword, referenced here and there to signify a thing we value and strive to achieve in our work. And yet, we are rarely asked to define our understanding of engagement or explain why we believe it is valuable, particularly in the context of teaching and learning.

Organizational communication scholar Stan Deetz describes engagement as a “potentially inventive conversation between communities with differences” (2008, p. 290). Like any (potentially) good conversation, there is an element of risk involved because it asks us to open ourselves up to others without knowing where the conversation will lead. For Deetz (2008), “engagement is not something we choose to do, it is called out of us out of respect for that which is other and different” (p. 295). He believes being at risk in this way is the only way mutual learning, growth, and change occurs across and within communities of difference.

Deetz (2008) suggests engagement has three interactive moments: understanding, reflection, and invention. By practicing moments of understanding, the focus is on others and the worlds in which they live. The goal is to deeply appreciate the perspectives of others without judgment. He describes the process of reflection as investigating the political nature of thoughts, feelings, and actions to revitalize a sense of community where moments of invention become possible. Invention, then, is an improvisational, poetic act of trying out new ideas (e.g., “Almost this, not quite that, until, yeah, that’s what it is!”), wherein concept formation becomes more important than theoretical application. Taken together, these moments of engagement generate new ways of thinking and talking. As Deetz explains, “Talking about rather than from our knowledge is conversationally different” (p. 297). Thus, engagement is much more than active learning or applied, practical theory in action. It also makes us equals.

Good conversation is necessary for engaged teaching and learning to occur. Deetz’s dialogic, reflexive approach helps raise to a conscious level the role of communication in teaching and learning. How do you communicate with students? How do they communicate with each other? How might you engage different identities and experiences in ways that create a stronger sense of community and shared commitment to understanding, reflection, and invention? These are important questions to consider when designing and developing any course, but particularly those we describe and situate under the umbrella term of engagement.

If you would like to schedule a consultation (i.e., “good conversation”) about communicating engagement and engaging communication in your teaching, please contact the Reinert Center at Please also consider sharing your perspectives on communication and engagement, or reflections on ideas introduced in this blog post, in the comment section below.


Deetz, S. (2008). Engagement as co-generative theorizing. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 36, 289-297.

Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively: Considerations of a Theme

critical-creating thinking banner 2015by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As we welcome new faculty and students to campus, the Reinert Center is gearing up for its focus this year on Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively. This theme will inform some of our regular programs, including workshops in our Certificate Program, our annual Winter Institute, and our Teaching with Technology series.  Each semester also will feature two new offerings: a faculty panel and a blog series; both will focus on thinking critically this fall and on thinking creatively next spring.

For some, these concepts represent “habits of mind” or “essential skills” or “academic mindsets”.  Some focus on the noun versions (critical thinking, creative thinking); some call them by other names altogether: entrepreneurial thinking, clinical reasoning, connective thinking, to name a few.

Public discourse periodically sees a spike in the number of commentators and researchers and employers who bemoan college graduates’ inability to think critically and/or creatively.  Such seeming intellectual failures often are viewed as key indicators of the decline of universities. Indeed, in articles from the Wall Street Journal and The Harvard Business Review and in how-to guides for Teaching Applied Creative Thinking and Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions,  many both in and out of the academy are preoccupied with questions about what it means to think critically and/or creatively, about how and when people learn to do it, and about who teaches them to do it.

Numerous universities have named these (and other) core academic mindsets as ideal outcomes for all their students.  Most faculty on most campuses would likely rate critical thinking at or near the top of the list of skills they want students to excel at – but many also struggle to name what the features of thinking critically are, in concrete terms.  When we add creative thinking to the mix, new challenges arise, since many faculty may believe “creativity,” in whatever form, cannot be taught (or at least not taught by them).

As nouns, the concepts of critical thinking and creative thinking can be challenging to define, but many have tried. Perhaps one of the best-known efforts for those of us in U.S. higher education comes from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).   As part of its commitment to enhancing assessment, the AAC&U has overseen the development of VALUE rubrics on critical thinking and on creative thinking.  These rubrics are the product of input and samples provided by faculty members from across the country.  They define critical thinking and creative thinking as follows:

Critical thinking: “a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion”

Creative thinking: “both the capacity to combine or synthesize existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways and the experience of thinking, reacting, and working in an imaginative way characterized by a high degree of innovation, divergent thinking, and risk taking”

As the AAC&U rubric suggests, critical thinking hinges on actions like suspending judgment, questioning evidence and considering complexities of context; ultimately, its purpose is to stake out a claim or perspective of one’s own.  Although it builds on similar mental activities, creative thinking, on the other hand, involves intellectual risk-taking, imaginative thinking, creative exploration of new solutions to old problems, “embracing contradictions.”

For me, thinking critically and thinking creatively are two sides of the same intellectual coin. When I suspend judgment, actively seek and question new information, and cultivate my own stance on an issue, I am thinking creatively – imagining myself living someone else’s experience, embracing contradictions to arrive at some innovative way of resolving a tension.  Obviously, there also are differences, but thinking critically is an inherently creative act.

In formulating a theme for this year, then, the Reinert Center has chosen to emphasize different approaches to thinking, rather than trying to define two discrete nouns.  This year, we invite all SLU faculty and graduate instructors to articulate what “thinking critically” and “thinking creatively” really look like in their disciplines and in their courses.  Once they name the features of these kinds of thinking, we hope they will also share strategies for teaching these skills.  Whether you are full-time faculty, part-time faculty, or graduate students at SLU, whether you are on the St. Louis or the Madrid campus, we invite you to add your voice to the conversation.  If you want to contribute to the blog series, let us know by completing this short form (LINK).

Ultimately, thinking critically and thinking creatively are essential for the kind of transformative learning we aim for at SLU.  The more entrenched we become in our own ways of thinking about the world, the more we need others to nudge us out of our comfort zones and entice us to explore old ideas in new ways.

As you head into the new academic year, we encourage you to find creative ways to dislodge your students – and maybe even yourself – from the usual ways of looking at a topic.  In doing so, you will promote learning that leads to change, and you might even find a renewed sense of energy and purpose in the classroom.

The Reinert Center Welcomes New Staff

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning enthusiastically announces the newest members of our staff.

Instructional Developer: James Fortney

James has been teaching undergraduate courses on communication, identity, and difference for nearly a decade. Prior to joining the Center, he was faculty in the Department of Communication Studies at Western Washington University. He also taught communication courses as a graduate instructor at University of Colorado Boulder and University of Utah. His research embraces a focus on concrete, mundane communication practices as constitutive of larger social structural systems. Through this perspective, he is committed to helping faculty and graduate students develop courses that challenge students to participate in society in more effective, inclusive, and dignifying ways. He is particularly interested in designing courses that nurture classroom dialogue on matters of equity and social justice.

Instructional Developers in the Center consult with faculty, graduate students, and teaching staff on instructional elements, course design, and learning technologies. They also research new pedagogical approaches to instruction; help facilitate intentional transitions to online teaching; and work with faculty teaching in the Reinert Center’s Learning Studio.


Graduate Assistants: Mitchell Lorenz and Ludwig Weber

Mitch is a graduate student in SLU’s Experimental Psychology Doctoral Program (social concentration). He earned his MS in Experimental Psychology from Western Illinois University in 2011 where he studied dehumanization and interpersonal rejection. Mitch joined SLU in 2012 and currently studies intergroup helping, stereotyping, and prejudice. Additionally, Mitch has been involved in research considering students’ perceptions of psychology as a science. In addition to his research experiences, Mitch has taught sections of General Psychology and Methods and Statistics.

Ludwig is a doctoral student in the Department of English. In 2007, he earned a Master of Arts in English from Murray State University. He has been at SLU since 2011, where his field of inquiry is modern and contemporary American literature, as well as theoretical examinations of spatial and mythological concepts. He has previously served as assistant director of The Walter J. Ong, S.J., Center for Language, Culture, and Media Studies, as well as a writing consultant in SLU’s Writing Services program, in addition to teaching undergraduate courses in literature, composition, and professional writing in the Department of English.

Graduate Assistants in the Center assist in the administration of the Certificate in University Teaching Skills (CUTS) program, conduct research on teaching and learning topics, consult with graduate students about teaching, conduct teaching observations, and assist Center staff with the implementation and assessment of programs.

We look forward to the contributions that James, Mitch, and Ludwig bring to all those the Reinert Center serves.

Embracing Challenging Students

14734962322_45d7fff3e9_zby Mitch Lorenz, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Following thoughtful class design, lecture preparation, online class portal updating, and first day of class clothing selection comes the time when we, as teachers, must step into the classroom and actually interact with students. Regardless of the degree of preparation, unexpected problems may arise as students begin to interact with you and the class materials. Some students may not agree with your approach, and they may tell you as much. In fact, some students might go so far as to question your thoughtful wardrobe choices as well!

Patterns of behavior from a few students in every class are so consistently similar that many teaching resources feature an entire section devoted to these “problem students.” Here are some of the types of students, as identified by McKeachie and Svinicki (2013), who may prove challenging and strategies to use when you have one of these types of students in a class.

Aggressive Students:  These students fall primarily into two categories: those challenging class materials and those directly challenging instructor authority. When a student challenges class material, whether due to interest in the topic or exposure to prior knowledge, it provides an opportunity to generate a dialogue with the class as a whole. These types of challenges often reflect a desire for further exploration of the topic, and one student speaking up (i.e., appearing aggressive) can help highlight similar feelings among the quieter students.

When a student appears angry with you as an instructor, whether due to your teaching style or a perceived lack of fairness, it can be extremely challenging to deal with. Above all else, avoid responding with hostility, as this will only aggravate the situation. If possible, seize the opportunity to better get to know the student, making a serious attempt to listen to their point of view. Even if you disagree with their perspective, it would be unfair to fail to acknowledge their feelings. Be as objective as possible in presenting your point of view without relying on your power as the instructor. Try to avoid being overly defensive and acknowledge if a mistake has been made. Finally, don’t be discouraged when some students are not satisfied, regardless of your approach.

Discouraged Students: After a few weeks of class, when the nature of the class (and the workload) has become clear to students, you may notice some students appearing discouraged. This may be especially true for freshman and transfer students who are dealing with a change of scenery and shift in their support structure. These students may miss class, appear ambivalent in their writing, or express self-doubt. One way to encourage these students is to bring students from previous semesters back to share their experiences. Hearing how a peer dealt with feelings of frustration or self-doubt, and how they overcame them, may encourage students while providing them with some strategies they can use when they feel discouraged.

There is one “truth” vs. “everything is relative:” Many students consider instructors to be dispensers of fact. Others believe everything is relative. Students who prefer to be presented with facts may struggle with scenarios in which multiple competing theories exist, or when there may be no clear “right answer.” Following a discussion of multiple proposed answers to one question, this type of student is likely to wonder which answer is the “right one.” Other students may recognize that there are often multiple, equally valid, perspectives, and they may use this belief to challenge anything presented as fact. When students fall into the extreme of either camp it can be particularly challenging. For these types of students, the best approach may be to serve as a role model by designing your class in a way that does not emphasize one “true” answer while openly embracing the uncertainty associated with not always knowing which approach is best.

If you’ve taught, you have likely encountered students who fall into each of these categories. You probably also realize that there are plenty of other types of challenging students you may encounter. In addition to challenging you as an instructor, these students may also challenge your ability to manage the classroom. For ways to address classroom management-specific concerns related to various types of students, I recommend checking out a recent post by Dipti Subramanium. Finally, teaching is an interaction and any problems that arise are a result of the interaction between you, the class you’ve designed, and the students. Keep this in mind and ask yourself what you may be doing to influence the behavior of your students. You may be able to proactively avoid issues through changes to your own behavior!



McKeachie, W. & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie’s teaching tips. Cengage Learning

Image courtesy of Texas A&M University, via Flickr

New Resource Guide: Making Student Work Public Online

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center has a series of brief resource guides designed to provide quick information on topics related to teaching.   Our latest resource guide, Making Student Work Public Online, addresses some of the major considerations needed when using online platforms for student assignments.

As more assignments go online, it is important for faculty to know some of the ethical and legal issues related to using student work in the context of online social media platforms.

Although the resource guide is far from comprehensive, we hope that it offers a starting point for instructors who wish to make student work available online.

To discuss this topic or other teaching-related topics, please feel free to set an appointment with one of our instructional developers by contacting the Reinert Center at or at (314) 977-3944.

Effective Classroom Demonstrations

shoe-tyingby Kelly McEnerney, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

As pedagogical tools for engaging students, demonstrations serve a useful role in the classroom, particularly when used to introduce concepts that are difficult to convey in words. To extend this point, imagine a classic example of a child learning to tie shoes. Take a few seconds to formulate verbal instructions that you might offer to support the child’s learning. If you discovered this task to be difficult, you are not alone. Certain concepts easily evade traditional explanations. In such cases, the most effective teaching method could be to demonstrate, or illustrate, the concept.

Of course, there are many ways to carry out a demonstration. In terms of the shoe-tying example, you could start by having the child observe and then replicate your shoe tying process. Alternatively, you could have the child first engage in a trial and error period, developing just enough familiarity with the shoelaces to perceive the relevance of your demonstration for his or her own learning.

For teachers in higher education, learning goals and objectives may be more elaborate than having students simply replicate a procedure, such as tying shoes. You may want students to develop a scientific approach to thinking about events (i.e., having them form and test hypotheses), the ability to see relationships between seemingly disparate ideas, and a penchant for novel solutions. You may want your students to experiment and, perhaps, experience the learning equivalent of “double tying” shoes or discarding laces for the more efficient Velcro approach.

According to Schmaefsky (2004), effective classroom demonstrations should include the following steps:

  • Introduce a demonstration with a brief explanation of its relation to the content being covered;
  • Offer an introductory description of the process without revealing results;
  • Have students form hypotheses based on prior course knowledge and experiences;
  • Conduct the demonstration;
  • Have students report what they observed;
  • Assess student learning through reflection or guided questions;
  • Ask the class to reflect on other applications of the demonstration or ways to enact it.

Researchers have argued that the essential feature of effective classroom demonstrations involves students’ active engagement with the material (Crouch, Fagen, Callan, & Mazur, 2004; Zimrot & Ashkenazi, 2007). For instance, for students in an introductory physics course, passively observing a demonstration was not associated with gains in understanding over and above the absence of a demonstration. However, when students approached the demonstration actively, they later described concepts at a respectively higher level of understanding (Crouch, Fagen, Callan, & Mazur, 2004).

Ultimately, I would argue that the first step to developing effective demonstrations is to reflect on what aspects of your course are not easily explainable in the traditional sense. You can then begin to implement the above techniques, as far as they align with your specific learning goals and objectives.


Child’s hands tying shoe [Online image]. 2011. Retrieved August 4, 2015 from

Crouch, C., Fagen, A. P., Callan, J. P., & Mazur, E. (2004). Classroom demonstrations: Learning tools or entertainment?. American journal of physics,72(6), 835-838.

Shmaefsky, B. (2004). Tips for Using Demonstrations Effectively. Journal of College Science Teaching33(7), 60-62.

Zimrot, R., & Ashkenazi, G. (2007). Interactive lecture demonstrations: a tool for exploring and enhancing conceptual change. Chemistry Education Research and Practice8(2), 197-211.

Designing and Facilitating Group Work

Collab Learning Techniquesby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

I recently taught an undergraduate course on small group processes, with an emphasis on the role of communication in the development of the ‘work’ done by group members. It was an exciting opportunity for me to consider interdisciplinary perspectives on small groups (i.e., the content of selected readings and thematic discussions) and how they might inform the choices I made about course design (i.e., the practice of group work through collaborative activities and assignments). Several resources were useful in helping me think through ways to implement collaborative learning into my course, but one book really stood out as exemplary in this vein.

Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty includes ideas for orienting students to group work, critical questions to ask when forming groups, and strategies for evaluating collaboratively-produced assignments. The authors provide illustrative examples of integrating group work in a variety of learning environments (e.g., large lecture, flipped, and online courses). Beyond offering how to do it techniques, the authors reinforce why group work is important for student learning. The first part of the book establishes the context for collaborative learning, providing a pedagogical rationale for incorporating group work into your course design. Moreover, it gives instructors a language to better communicate course goals and objectives to students. Being able to better articulate to my students how knowledge is developed through interactions with others minimized their resistance to collaborative learning and allowed for deeper commitments to their group and its work.

Now in its second edition, the book includes a new appendix with useful tools for implementing collaborative learning in online courses. The authors identify roughly 20 collaborative tools (e.g., blogs, photo sharing, videos, and chat mediums) with brief descriptions of their purposes in use. The new edition also includes an entire chapter on the use of games in online learning. Games are a natural choice because they underscore the value of collaborative learning while also facilitating peer interaction and the development of collaborative skills (Barkley et al., 2014). This discussion was the most interesting to me because it offered a new approach to achieving learning outcomes that are important for all of my courses. Clear diagrams and easy-to-follow instructions help make gaming an innovative possibility for a course.

If you want to learn more about designing and implementing group work into your courses, I recommend reading this book. Please contact us at if you would like to discuss group work and collaborative learning techniques.



Barkley, E. F., Major, C. H., & Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A

handbook for college faculty (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Image courtesy of

Creating Significant Learning Experiences: Takeaways from the Annual National Workshop

dee fink bookby Sandy Gambill, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Now in it’s 2nd edition, L. Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences has impacted many instructors’ decisions around course design. I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual workshop offered by Fink and Associates on applying the course design model they have developed.  Here are two elements of the workshop that might be useful as you think about your own courses.

Special Pedagogical Challenges In the Reinert Center, we speak of teaching as a situated act, depending greatly upon context. (See our online seminar on course design for more information:
Among the situational factors Fink identifies is one he calls The Special Pedagogical Challenge. Fink asks, “What is the special situation in this course that challenges the students and the teacher in the desire to make this a meaningful and important learning experience?” (Fink, p. 77)

When you really think about it, it does seem most courses have a special pedagogical challenge. A challenge might be that students don’t see the relevance of the course. They might feel underprepared or completely unable to grasp your topic. For example, how many times have you heard someone say they just can’t do math? Sometimes students feel that they know everything about your course and there is nothing new you can teach them. Identifying the special pedagogical challenge in your course and setting up a learning experience to deal with it within the first week of class can make a significant difference in the way students relate to your course.

One idea for addressing the “special pedagogical challenge” of students not seeing relevance: Would an activity the first day of class that involved students searching for examples in the news that related to your general course topic help establish how the course will be relevant to them in the future?

Course Descriptions as Key Questions Take a look at the course description on your syllabus. Try to imagine a student’s level of interest the first time they read it. Now, re-imagine your course description as a series of questions. For example, “In this course we will look at the aging process” becomes “Why do we age?” If you include a course schedule on your syllabus with a list of topics to be covered at each class meeting, could you also frame those topics as questions? These small changes can go a long ways towards sparking student curiosity and developing a community of inquiry.


Creating Significant Learning Experiences
Designing Significant Learning Experiences Website:

Photo courtesy of