Constructive alignment (CA) is an approach to teaching where desired student learning outcomes are defined before teaching takes place. Teaching and assessment methods are then designed to best support those outcomes and to assess the standard at which they have been achieved. (John Biggs, 2014, pp. 5-6).

Biggs argues that students construct meaning by undertaking learning activities, including assessment tasks, rather than being passive recipients of knowledge and skills.

Constructive alignment is therefore not about “What do I want to teach?”, but rather “What do I want students to learn?”

How to align your curriculum

A constructively aligned curriculum is achieved by coordinating three elements:

  1. Learning Outcomes (at the unit, major/specialisation and course levels).
  2. Assessment Tasks.
  3. Teaching and Learning Activities.

The links between these elements is shown below:

Constructive alignment of curriculum elements

Constructive alignment is when the elements of the curriculum are purposefully designed to be mutually reinforcing. The teaching effort is focused on learning activities and resources that are designed to help students achieve the learning outcomes.

Assessment provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate achievement of the intended outcomes. Judgements about performance therefore references defined criteria and standards required to meet the learning outcomes.

Why align your curriculum?

Students are frequently driven by what is required in summative assessment with a tendency to ignore nonassessed activity (Ramsden, 1992). As such it is important to clearly articulate to students the links between learning outcomes, activities/resources and assessment tasks. It is vital for student engagement that the curriculum is seen by students to be coherent and purposefully aligned.

A good practice example of constructive alignment

The table below shows alignment of a CLO and ULO with matching assessment tasks and learning activities.

Course Learning Outcome (CLO)Critically assess the roles of HE practitioners with institution-wide responsibilities.
Unit Learning Outcome (ULO)Use critical consideration of, and problem solving in relation to the roles, responsibilities, strategies and practices of higher education leaders and managers.
Assessment tasksCritical review of journal article, reflecting on the connection between theory and
practice [critical consideration];

Major assessment task in two parts:

Part A. Identify, discuss and analyse the impact of a contextual factor that affects your chosen area of activity at the meso (institutional) and micro (organisational unit) levels [critical consideration];

Part B. Integrate your analysis across the two levels to provide an Executive briefing
paper outlining the strategic activities that will enable the institution to meet the
challenges posed by the contextual factor, in your area of activity [problem-solving].
Learning activities* Reading [materials = reading list]
* Online discussion on topics related to higher education organisation, governance and management. [materials = readings, policies, strategy docs, iLearn forum]

Going beyond formal learning outcomes

Constructive alignment does not exclude learning and practising skills in addition to the formal learning outcomes. For example, an activity where students collaborate to reflect on reasons for taking a unit might not prepare for a specific assessment task, but it might engage students, create a sense of belonging and motivate learning.

Explore this topic further

D’Addiego-Kettle, M. (2021) Constructive Alignment. MQ Curriculum Manual Wiki, https://wiki.mq.edu.au/x/AYF_Fg
Rytmeister, C. (2019) Writing Learning Outcomes, MQ Curriculum Manual Wiki, https://wiki.mq.edu.au/x/sICqEg

References

Biggs, J. (2014) Constructive alignment in university teaching, HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22 http://taw.fi/HRHE1-5-22
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.


Acknowledgement: Maria D’Addiego-Kettle, MQ Curriculum Manual Wiki.
Prepared by Dr Mathew Hillier

Images:
Banner image: Walnut photo created by Racool_studio – www.freepik.com

Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is an honorary academic University of Queensland, Monash University and an adjunct academic at University of Tasmania.

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