Designing a Unit Assessment Using Constructive Alignment

Designing a Unit Assessment Using Constructive Alignment

Japhet E. Lawrence (Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJTEPD.2019010103


Constructive alignment is an outcomes-based approach for teaching, in which the learning outcomes that students are intended to achieve are defined before teaching takes place. Teaching and assessment methods are then designed to best achieve those outcomes and to assess the standard at which they have achieved. It provides a framework for adjusting teaching and assessment to address the attainment of those outcomes and standards. Constructive alignment is effective in designing teaching and assessment that enable students to learn, rather than to leave them guessing as to what is involved in the course of study or on what they will be assessed. The paper highlights the importance of using constructive alignment to enhance the quality of teaching, learning, and assessment. It reports on a study that applied the principles of constructive alignment to promote good teaching and deep student learning. It discusses the application of constructive alignment to design assessment criteria and rubric for a curriculum unit.
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Teaching and learning take place in a whole-system, which embraces classroom, departmental and institutional levels. A poor system is one in which the components (curriculum, teaching and assessment tasks) are not integrated, and are not tuned to support high-level learning. In such a system, only the 'academic' students use higher-order learning processes. In a good system, all aspects of teaching and assessment are tuned to support high-level learning, so that all students are encouraged to use higher-order learning processes. Biggs (1999) states that the focus of good teaching must be on what students are doing with the knowledge, skills and competencies they are acquiring, because learning doesn’t occur through just listening, action is also required (Felder, 1997). Learning takes place in a complex environment and there are many factors interacting within this system such as students` characteristics, teaching methods, curriculum, the learning objectives, and the institutional setting (Shuell, 1986). According to Shuell, if teachers want students to focus on understanding meaning, on developing high-level cognitive skills like analysis and synthesis, then the learning activities that teachers design and assessment tasks must be consistent with those objectives.

The traditional way of curriculum design defines the content to be taught, describe the ways in which the content should be delivered and the methods of assessing the content. The approach is teacher-centred and focuses on the teacher's input and it lays emphasis on content and coverage (Tam, 2014). However, in recent years there has been a paradigm shift taking place, moving the emphasis from teaching to learning and a more student-centred curriculum. This change has impacted on the curriculum design process with a greater emphasis on the learning in terms of knowledge, skills and competencies within courses and modules. The focus is on how learners learn and the design of effective learning environments. The assessment of learning is in terms of how well the students absorb the materials taught, most teachers assess students’ needs and strengths by giving their students exams at specific times during the academic year, which generally occurs in one sitting. For example, multiple choice tests, true-false, fill in the blanks are traditionally used in assessing students and these types of assessment require either memorization or rote substitution. This type of exam has traditionally been the predominant instrument used for student assessment. For the most part, students are not allowed to participate in assessing their own progress or accomplishments. However, teachers have realised that ‘academic exams’ are a limited type of assessment, they do not thoroughly or accurately give a view of the students’ academic development, performance and capabilities. These academic exams do not consider students’ various learning styles, their personal backgrounds, their interests and their needs. Because of these limitations in traditional assessment, teachers have begun to use other types of assessment that are more responsive to student diversity. Diversity in higher education increases as students migrate all over the world and as more students from different social and economic backgrounds access education. Educational goals have moved beyond simple knowledge acquisition to promoting student engagement and higher order cognitive functions such as problem solving and critical thinking which are the characteristics of deep learning. Teachers, now more than ever before, need to learn more about their students and their students’ needs. Assessments that will help in this process and support students in overcoming barriers to learning are a means of helping both teachers and students.

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