Situational Factors

Before you begin designing your course you should consider its context and constraints.

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Why focus on situational factors?

While you may already have some ideas about what your course will look like, it can be helpful to clarify how the context of your course will offer opportunities and constraints.

Thinking about opportunities and constraints from the beginning will help you plan content and activities that fit well within the context and avoid creating activities that are later nullified because they won’t be possible given the constraints.

Situational factors to consider

Fink (2013) groups the following situational factors by type.

Context of Teaching and Learning Situation

  • Number of students?
  • Student level: lower division, upper division, graduate?
  • Timing and length of class?
  • Delivery: live, online, combination?

Expectations of External Groups

  • Societal expectations of students and subject?
  • State/professional societies accreditation requirements?
  • Institution/departmental curricular goals?

Nature of the Subject

  • Convergent (working towards a single right answer) or divergent (multiple interpretations) subject matter?
  • Primarily “cognitive” or “physical skill-based” subject matter?
  • Stability of field of study: Stable, period of rapid change, many competing paradigms?

Characteristics of the Learners

  • Student life situations: Mainly full- or part-time? Work, family, life responsibilities?
  • Life/professional goals of students in relation to your course?
  • Reasons for enrolling?
  • Prior student experience, knowledge, skills, attitudes about subject?

Characteristics of the Teacher

  • Prior experience, knowledge, skills, attitudes for subject?
  • First-time or veteran teacher of course?
  • Future plans to teach this course?
  • Confidence/ perceived competence for teaching course?
  • Prior experience, knowledge, skills, attitudes for effective teaching?

Special Pedagogical Challenge

  • What about this course might be a special challenge to meaningful learning for students and the teacher?

Template for recording situational factors

Sample entries in situational factors template.

Literature

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses (Revised and updated edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.