What is course alignment
When a course is being designed, it is important to ensure that ensure that these three components of your course are aligned. In order to align various components of the course module, we must clearly define alignment itself. Alignment is when there is consistency across the program with precise connections between evaluations, course goals and learning tasks. It is important to align learning objectives with instructional strategies and assessments to ensure that everyone involved is aware of the expectations. Both instructors and students should have a consistent understanding of what is going to be taught and how it will be evaluated.
Alignment in teaching stems from the idea of ‘backwards planning,’ or beginning with the end goal and working backwards from there. First, instructors outline learning goals for the program and then create assessments based on the learning objectives. Skills and knowledge are demonstrated at the end with criteria that was established at the beginning. Both students and teachers will experience greater success in the program if they know where they are headed.
Evaluations are used in a course to measure whether students have achieved the learning objectives. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that students have thorough understanding of the material taught, which can be gauged by those evaluations. The success criteria and teaching strategies need to be aligned with those assessments in order for the teacher to accurately evaluate the knowledge of the students.
There are three questions that can be used in an effort to ensure that all components of your course align:
- What are the learning goals? What objectives do I want students to be able to reach by the end of this course?
- What kind of assessments will there be? How will I ensure that my students can demonstrate the learning goals that I have outlined?
- What strategies can I implement to support student understanding? What activities can the students perform to prepare them for evaluations?
What if the elements of a module do not align?
Consistent expectations and clear outlines are imperative in order to build trust and motivate your students. Inconsistency between criteria and assessments leads to frustration and lack of engagement. For example:
- One learning goal for a course is to be able to apply analytical skills. Students practice this skill but, on the evaluation, only factual recall is measured. Students are not happy.
- An evaluation asks students to compare two viewpoints but the teacher has only ever taught the students to summarize different ones. Both the instructor and the students are not happy: the teacher is frustrated that the students do not possess the skills and the students have never had the opportunity to practice a comparison.
If learning strategies are consistent with skills demonstrated on a test, students will more easily reach the learning goals. Tasks and activities serve as opportunities to practice skills taught in preparation to demonstrate it on an evaluation. Clear objectives and criteria help students focus on the important skills and not get distracted from the overarching objective. Without alignment, it is also challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching strategies themselves.
Practicing skills for an evaluation is an important factor in program success. Students who are required to provide supporting evidence for an idea should not be practicing using a multiple-choice quiz online. Alignment between activities and assessments helps minimize wasted time as students are able to focus on skills geared towards the learning objectives.
Instructors can ensure that the course objectives are clearly defined at the beginning of the program by providing a table for the module. Connections between learning goals, tasks, and assessments should be clearly outlined.
See also: Flipped Classroom
The benefits of course alignment
There are many benefits of aligning learning goals and assessment. They include:
- Students are able to focus on the learning objective and demonstrate the specific skill required during evaluations.
- Feedback given to students is directly related to the success criteria associated with the specific learning goal, which propels them in the right direction to succeed.
- You can plan tasks and activities based specifically on the learning objectives and weigh them according to their relevancy.
- The alignment framework can be used not only to develop success criteria for the learning objectives, but also to engage a discussion on the effectiveness of the program as a whole.
- The consistent evaluation of courses at a program level allows continual growth, benefitting larger groups of students, employers and professional bodies.
A sample course alignment map
Module 1 (chapter, week or month):
- Course Objective: Summarize the relationship that exist between intelligence and learning.
- Module Objectives: (1) identify and define different intelligence types (2) Recognize examples of how different how each intelligence type affects learning.
- Resources: Read chapter 4, listen to podcast, watch the module video.
- Assessment / Assignments: Create a table that lists major intelligence types, define and describe each area, lists 3 specific ways this area affects learning.
See also: Concept Maps and How To Use Them