constructive alignment; you can’t eat it raw

As Vancouver bursts fully forth into a lovely spring, I glance periodically out the window towards all that is in bloom. And then I get back to work. Because the end of April is the run-up to a new term.

Of course, the good new is that we can have class outside every day…if you have a laptop, good battery, and can pick up a decent wi-fi signal. Gotta love online learning! What’s that? Can’t see the screen in the sunshine? Get a ‘brolly!

And don’t forget the sunscreen.

In most instances my job right now is to help other course authors and instructors get ready for next week. But largely I’m focussed on the course I’m co-writing and teaching. It’s in very good shape, but there’s always a fair bit of alignment work to be done.

In a nutshell, constructive alignment (popularized by John Biggs), means make sure it all fits. Or, make sure it’s not contradictory. In curricular terms, “it” refers to learning objectives, course materials, instructional activites, and assessment strategies. In political economic terminology this would be called transparency.

It’s a simple premise: explain why you’re teaching this, what materials you’re using, how you will facilitate learning, and how you will assess learning. However I think many university-level instructors ask their students questions on assignments/quizzes/exams because they’re really good questions, even though sometimes they can’t be linked to what the course is ostensibly about.

Constructive alignment sceptics think this dumbs down education; in my experience, it’s the opposite. Constructive alignment leaves little (well, none, hopefully) ambiguity. That makes the bar both exceedingly clear and inexcusable to miss.

The tradition course authorship model (give me a course title and I’ll teach “it”) is also a lot of work. But taking the added steps to inventory and align your course before you teach it (rather than tweaking it along the way) makes for a lot more work up front.

But it also makes for much less time with students. Because the first time you say “when I said you needed to write ‘a 500 word or less proposal that includes project title, rationale, literature review, and working hypothesis’ that meant your assignment needed to be a proposal up to 500 words long, with a title, rationale, lit review and working hypothesis.”

Oh. That’s what you meant.


About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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