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Applying the Framework of Fink’s Taxonomy to the Design of a Holistic Culminating Assessment of Student Learning in Biomedical Engineering

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Supporting Biomedical Engineering Students in Holistic Development

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Emily Dosmar Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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B.S. Biomedical Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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B. Audrey Nguyen The University of Akron

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B.S. Biomedical Engineering, The Ohio State University
M.S. Biomedical Engineering, The Ohio State University
Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, The Ohio State University

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A cohort of junior biomedical engineering students concurrently enrolled in Biomechanics, Biomaterials, and an associated lab class (BME Labs) were assigned a comprehensive, fully immersive final project in lieu of final exams. In a typical quarter, Biomechanics and Biomaterials culminate in a traditional 2-4 hour final exam, while BME Labs terminates in a condensed 2-week design mini-project. This integrated final project was motivated by student feedback regarding their workload during the final weeks of the quarter, and aimed to focus their efforts towards a single deliverable while addressing student outcomes and learning objectives (SLOs) from all three courses.

In designing summative assessments of student learning, a traditional course often implements a final examination with questions built to evaluate SLOs that employ illustrative verbs from Bloom’s taxonomy. While useful, Bloom’s taxonomy provides an “incomplete framework for articulating measurable SLOs” and instructors must consider “the context of the SLOs... to describe expectations for self-directed learning, immersion in the primary literature, [and] engagement in professional practice” (Stanny, 2016). One such framework to address the insufficiencies in Bloom’s taxonomy is Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning. Instead of higher levels of learning described as a sequence built upon foundational knowledge, Fink’s taxonomy considers foundational knowledge to be as important a component of “significant learning” in conjunction with application, integration, the human dimension, caring, and metacognition - or “learning how to learn” (Fink 2003). Our goal was to design a holistic culminating project that would be used to evaluate SLOs from all 3 courses.

Students worked in groups to design and execute a set of experiments of their choosing. The project was intentionally open-ended to encourage selection of topics that were of interest to the students and address the “caring” element from Fink’s. They were expected to submit an extensive biomechanics and biomaterials literature review as well as a biomechanics model. The students worked in groups of 3-5 and were given several weeks and several days of class and lab time to dedicate towards making progress. Students were encouraged to match their empirical data to their mathematical models and draw conclusions about the shortcomings of each. The final deliverable consisted of: abstract, background and significance, biomechanical model, biomechanical and biomaterials analysis, design of experiment and data collection, results and analysis, discussion, future directions and recommendations. This deliverable evaluated students’ learning in all 6 elements of Fink’s taxonomy, particularly focusing on the elements of application, integration, and the human dimension.

Student course evaluations for biomaterials and BME Labs were tracked over four years and compared in terms of student identified “overall learning”, “overall course”, and “overall professor performance”. The student ratings for all three of these categories was highest in the 2019-2020 final project year for Biomaterials with scores of 4.23, 4.21, and 4.66 respectively as compared to second highest scores of 4.15, 4.16, and 4.41, respectively (1.9%, 1.9%, and 5.5% difference, respectively). For BME Labs, the 2019-2020 final project year ranked highest in the category of “overall professor performance” (4.6, 1.7% increase) and second highest in the categories of “overall learning” and “overall course” with scores 4.31 (4.5% decrease) and 4.08 (10% decrease), respectively. Qualitative feedback on the project was also collected on the student course evaluations. Themes discussed regarding the final project included needing more time, more detailed rubrics, and more specific instructions/feedback; however, the general sentiment regarding the projects was positive. Many of the projects were creative in a way we could not have imagined. Students got a taste of what research is like and got to see an intersection of research, modeling, and design. The variety and the complexity of projects was incredible, and ranged from synthesis of a hydrogel replacement for articular cartilage to implementation of a peristaltic pump in drug delivery systems to design of an improved bandage for post-knee surgery. In some cases, it was difficult to distinguish the quality of the student deliverable from that of an undergraduate or master’s research thesis. With this project students were able to focus their efforts in a single direction while still incorporating concepts from their three discrete courses, thus reducing the end-of-term workload. Student perceptions of their learning experience were as good and in some cases better than those from previous instances of these courses with traditional final assessments. Anecdotally, the outcomes far exceeded that of a traditional final exam.

Dosmar, E., & Nguyen, B. A. (2021, July), Applying the Framework of Fink’s Taxonomy to the Design of a Holistic Culminating Assessment of Student Learning in Biomedical Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36695

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