Constructive Alignment 

Constructive alignment informs how we teach graduate attributes, as well as our chosen disciplines, by providing a framework and way of thinking about our teaching which helps us develop curriculum areas now and in the future (Biggs & Tang, 2007).

Constructive alignment outlines four stages in design:

  1. Describe the intended learning outcome in the form of a verb (learning activity), it’s object (the content) and specify the context and a standard the students are to attain. Intended learning outcomes are statements that predict what learners will have gained as a result of learning. From the students’ perspective, the outcomes approach communicates what they are expected to be able to do and the criteria that will be used to assess them.
  2. Create a learning environment using teaching/learning activities that address that verb and therefore are likely to bring about the intended outcome
  3. Use assessment tasks that also contain that verb, thus enabling you to judge with the help of rubrics if and how well students’ performances meet the criteria
  4. Transform these judgements into standard grading criteria:

An overview of constructive alignment with links to assessment and approaches to learning examples:

A version of constructive alignment with examples.

What is a learning outcome?

A learning outcome or learning goal is a specific statement of what students should know and be able to do at the end of a course, lecture, tutorial or lesson.

Why write learning outcomes?

Writing learning outcomes are key to successful curriculum design. Instead of writing a course from a content perspective (from the textbook), learning outcomes use an outcomes-based approach, which starts by asking what students should know and be able to do. From there lessons are spent addressing this learning, with a more consciously scheduled structured fashion. It is usually possible to remove between 10% and 20% of the content without compromising intended learning outcomes. In addition, having clearly defined learning outcomes makes it easier for someone else to teach into the course, as it is clear up front what students are meant to know and be able to do. Taking this time to plan an outcomes-based curriculum saves considerable teaching preparation time down the track, and delivers a better student experience without compromising academic standards.

Writing learning outcomes and examples

At UC, the most commonly used tool for developing learning outcomes is the original version of Bloom's Taxonomy.

Additional resources for creating learning outcomes and examples can be found at the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia.

Most common problems with writing learning outcomes

  • Non-specific (e.g. "Students will understand...": understand to what level?)
  • Difficult to measure on an assessment (e.g. "Students will appreciate...")
  • Not assessed
  • Assessed but not taught (e.g. Communication skills in a presentation)
  • Too many or too few learning outcomes (rule of thumb is around 5 per course, and 3-6 per lecture)

Well-written learning outcomes can make assessment writing a lot easier.

What is authentic assessment?

Intellectually meaningful tasks that mimic the tasks students will face after graduation, allowing them to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and competencies. Here are some examples;

  • case studies (see resources from UNSW);
  • reflective activities: brainstorming, journals, e-portfolios, critical reviews, post-analysis of group-work or project work or placements, video diaries, portfolio of evidence;
  • write a proposal for a grant or to solve a community problem;
  • role play or debates;
  • advice/consultancy;
  • plan a field trip/visit;
  • presentations, including public and off-campus, peer assessed/reviewed oral presentations or within a workshop;
  • student mentoring;
  • Create a product or business or some datasets.

 

Why is authentic assessment relevant?

Think about the typical types of employment your students will undertake when they graduate. What forms of assessment will reflect a meaningful real world application of the essential knowledge and skills they have gained?

  • Better prepare students for life after university
  • Can map onto the graduate attributes
  • Typically higher levels of student engagement and performance
  • Can be seminal learning experiences
  • Tasks can be both the learning tool and the assessment
  • Can range from a tweak in an existing assessment to a full re-design - can be done low-cost, but still have major impact
  • More open-ended than traditional assignments - Not always a right answer - Not always a clear procedure to follow
  • More about process than product - eg justification of choices, weighing of evidence
  • Examples of authentic assessment in practice
  • Authentic Assessment in action at UC

Properties of authentic assessment

  •  Tasks can be both the learning tool and the assessment
  • Can range from a tweak in an existing assessment to a full re-design - can be done low-cost, but still have major impact
  • More open-ended than traditional assignments - Not always a right answer - Not always a clear procedure to follow
  • More about process than product - eg justification of choices, weighing of evidence
  • Examples of authentic assessment in practice
  • Authentic Assessment in action at UC

 

Some useful international sites for developing authentic assessments include:

Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching

UNSW Sydney

J.Mueller's Authentic Assessment Toolbox

 

 

Authentic Tasks

Authentic tasks replicate the real world and requre the student to create their own solutions and responses.

Here are some examples

Authentic assessment toolbox 

Marking Rubrics

Your marking rubric is the tool you used to interpret and grade students work. When you have clear learning outcomes, authentic tasks and assessments you can express them as verbs into your marking rubric. 

Examples

Rubric preparation