How I understand it
Constructive alignment is a joined-up learning strategy that enables learners to identify what they will be learning, the Intended learning outcomes (ILO’s) how they will be learning it (what the teaching and learning activities are (TLA’s), and how the outcomes of which act as an indication of how well they have learned through the assessment task (AT)
For example (I’m explaining this to my husband who is pretending to be a child for the purposes of my homework)
“The ILO is to be able to create a digital image. The TLA’s are me showing you how to use a digital camera and then asking you take 10 images. To find out how well you are creating digital images, the AT will be you selecting and presenting the top 5 images you think best demonstrates your ability to create a digital image”
In relation to my teaching practise
In a nutshell, my students are learning how to apply their ideas for jewellery. Because the outcomes can be and are encouraged to be diverse (“Jewellery is a subject, not a material” Caroline Broadhead, 2012), another task they are learning to do is work out and fine-tune what jewellery is for them; there is no right or wrong answer so this they have to define for themselves through the teaching and learning activities we provide. They practice applying their ideas for jewellery through making tests, samples, self- reflection, tutorials, presentations and practical techniques to aid them to do this. finally, they are assessed on how well they have applied their ideas for jewellery by presenting a collection of work. We basically practise this together between staff and students so that they can get more and more proficient and advanced in their methods at applying their ideas for jewellery.
I teach 3rd years and in general I try to align a lot of what they have learned and experienced in years 1 and 2 with what we expect of them now to better enable them to apply their learning to their new found ideas to develop and create a final collection.
Constructive alignment in microcosm
A small thing I have begun to do recently is to try and make group tutorials (8 students) more helpful and stimulating for the students involved and to achieve a better level of group engagement as very often students tune-out whenever the attention is not directed specifically at them or they think what is being said to another student is not relevant to them. This will all sound very obvious and I thought so too until I started to consciously do it.
Before we even start talking about what each student has been doing, I say from the outset, “this is a group activity and i will, during the course of the session, open it out for the whole group to give constructive feedback, opinions and comments so that each of you can get as much feedback on your work as possible” As the session goes on, I do notice that the students are more likely to ask questions and offer advice because they know that’s what’s expected of them in the session and after a few more rounds, some get really into problem solving for each other and find it a stimulating activity. When they are really engaged and just before the end of the session, i ask each student to write on a postit note 3 things they can realistically do/achieve before the next session that will help their progress. Each person already had a minimum of 5 or 6 bits of feedback from the group so this was done with ease. I kept a photocopy of their 3 things and gave them back their postit. When I saw them again, I had the copy of their posit in my pocket and I didn’t need to produce it – about 80% tried to achieve what they set out to do and there was an overall 60% improvement in productivity and progress.
Upon reflection, constructive alignment really does work whether in microcosm or in the grand scheme of an entire course and I don’t think you can practice it enough. Even for the students that aren’t doing so well now or not as productive as they could be; knowing what they need to achieve , how they can go about achieving it and what impact the outcomes have in relation to their own learning is a huge step for them. It also helps strip away a quantitative approach in favour of a qualitative one and the ‘trying to work out what the teacher wants’ also begins to fade because their progress is defined almost wholly by what potential they can see in their work.
Brabrand & Andersen’s film: Teaching teaching & Understanding understanding (full details and links below, also in the Reading List on Blackboard) is a really clear and concise way to understand Constructive Alignment. Especially as it breaks it down to the three perspectives of what the teacher is doing, how the student is learning and how understanding occurs. It’s also a good reminder that what the student does matters more to determine what is learned than what the teacher does (Ralph W Tyler 1949) I think it’s complimented and deepened my understanding of Biggs & Tangs Chapter 4 on Constructive Alignment, particularly about the 3 levels of thinking about teaching (also by Biggs) and how activation is not enough, I didn’t quite get this the first time I read the Chapter.
Here are some of the key points I found interesting and thought were just great:
Deep learning – characterised by the spontaneous use of higher cognitive processes, generally teaches oneself and can’t stop learning.
Surface Learning – characterised by the use of higher cognitive processes only when absolutely necessary, generally cutting corners to achieve goals with minimum effort.
The 3 levels of thinking about teaching (John Biggs)
Activation itself in teaching is not enough.
Understanding understanding: we learn by associating new and unknown information with old and known information or we build new information on top of old.
Brabrand, C., and Andersen, J. (2006) Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding. Aarhus University Press, University of Aarhus, Denmark, 2006.
Part 1 (8 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ngc9ihb35g
Part 2 (6 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcybQlLAV2k&feature=related