The Caring Category in Fink’s Taxonomy: How Do We Support and Assess Caring?

Dee Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning has led thousands of college instructors to reimagine their courses and articulate what they truly hope for their students. This taxonomy goes beyond the well-known Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, and empowers instructors to include meaningful and desired goals — goals such as wanting their students to value community work, to feel appreciation for art or literature, or to recognize the role of mathematics in policy decisions.

Many faculty are pretty comfortable supporting outcomes that closely align with Bloom’s Taxonomy and Cognitive goals (Foundational Knowledge, Integration, and Application). But it is the Human Dimension, Caring, and Learning How to Learn categories in Fink’s work that can feel unfamiliar. 

The Caring category especially may feel perplexing in this world of specific, measurable learning objectives. How do we assess “caring?” Isn’t caring a subjective goal that shows up in different ways for different people? Can we really make someone care? 

In the Caring category, we are focused on how students feel towards a topic or profession, or their attitudes or values. Caring includes whether or not they come to value something (or value it more) as a result of being in your course.

Including a caring goal means that you build in the likelihood that students will develop these characteristics. For example, in your course, do they have an identifiable opportunity to develop some sense of responsibility toward others or society or the world or a particular challenge? Do you hope they begin to value or appreciate something differently? Are there specific interests they could develop further in your profession or discipline?

Caring Learning Outcomes

It may be easy for us to talk about our desire for students to care about something. But we may struggle when trying to articulate these goals as measurable objectives. When writing learning outcomes in this category, some helpful verbs include: express, discover, commit, get excited about, renew interest in, challenge, defend, propose, support, and value. 

For example, you may want students to develop the ability to: 

  • Defend a solution you would propose for an important social issue.
  • Demonstrate that they personally value continuing professional development.
  • Develop deeper values in relation to environmental policies, critical thinking, religious tolerance, correct English usage, etc.
  • Become excited about, or desire to learn more about ancient history, astronomy, insects, etc.
  • Show interest in public speaking or in analyzing the sources of media they consume.

You may want to start by simply stating in plain language what you hope for students. Then, this as you think about your assessments and activities, continually revise this statement until you have reached a manageable learning outcome. Or, you may even integrate this idea within another type of outcome. 

Assessing Caring

There is certainly debate about how much we need to objectively measure caring goals and scholars have different views on this. Often it depends on your own resources, time and level of importance (we can measure any of this if we really want to, but how much can we realistically do in a course?).

However, if caring goals are things we want to instill in our students, it’s useful to try and find some indicators of whether or not we are seeing any change. We may need to be creative about how to assess learning. We may also need to relax our view about what level of rigor is needed in our assessments (let’s be honest, how many of us conduct reliability and validity tests on our exams?).

However, methods do exist!

Reflection prompts provide common and valuable methods for assessing caring. Some instructors use ongoing journals to gauge changes in student perspectives and attitudes or assign a Learning Portfolio as a collection of artifacts and evidence. In some courses students are given established inventories to assess cultural competence or their views on ethical issues. Or, creative means can be used such as asking students to take photos throughout the course to see how they notice a space (in sociology) or culture (in study abroad) differently over a period of time.

Often Caring is an integral part of the other categories and does not have to end up with its own assessment or activity, but can be folded into Rich Learning Experiences and larger course assessments. For example: 

  • Add a reflection question to a project or assignment asking students to share their attitudes towards an issue.
  • Take time within a class discussion to specifically ask students to share their own experiences or their future dreams/desires related to an abstract concept.
  • Ask students to record a short video clip describing their thoughts and feelings about a course activity or project.

Activities that support Caring

While we hope that many great outcomes come about for our students, the beauty of intentional course design is that we do everything we can to help learning actually happen. We often want students to end up caring about something, but it is through integrated course design that we actually give students an identifiable opportunity to work on this goal. 

In the Caring category, our assessments and activities can often be the same thing. However we might also need to build in new activities to support these goals.

Here’s one example from a Community College Biology course where scholars wanted to change the stereotypical views many students hold about who is a scientist.

In their article, Scientist Spotlight Homework Assignments Shift Students’ Stereotypes of Scientists and Enhance Science Identity in a Diverse Introductory Science Class,” Jeffrey Schinske, Heather Perkins, Amanda Snyder, and Mary Wyer created a “scientist spotlight” weekly homework assignment to introduce counter stereotypical examples of scientists and provide a diverse representation of contributions to science. Each week, students reviewed a resource regarding these scientists’ research and personal history in lieu of other textbook readings. Through their analysis, the scholars were able to study and detect shifts in both scientist stereotypes and the students’ ability to see their possible selves in science.

Although this level of data collection and analysis is usually not possible in our everyday courses, it’s a great example of not only how we could measure a change in students values, but also how the addition of a fairly simple activity can create dramatic results. 

Assessing and measuring Caring goals can certainly feel abstract and subjective, and these goals are truly long-term and may be truly realized years after our courses are over. Yet, these goals tend to represent what faculty love most about teaching – the ability to truly make an impact in someone’s life. If we care about caring, it’s worth it to build in the intentional structure to help students move towards these meaningful goals. 

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