Category Archives: Musing

A Strong Backbone for your Course

Ever taught a course and wondered half way through where you’re going with it? Perhaps at the end you’ve been a little bemused as to where you came from? These thoughts might be particularly common with courses that you’ve adopted and didn’t design from the beginning. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on this at the moment and I’ve decided that course alignment might be part of the problem and solution. Course alignment is when learning objectives are planned at the beginning, lessons and course materials are then designed to support learning towards these objectives, and finally assessment is used throughout the course in order to assess student learning (among other things). Course alignment is the backbone and gives structures to learning and teaching.

Learning objectives are essential as learning, content, materials, pedagogy, and assessment will all be guided to varying degrees by the objectives. Notice that learning is mentioned first because learning should be the center of the class. Teaching without learning is just plain egotistical. Learning objectives are the foundations to the course and must be understood by the teacher for further instructional design and also by the students to fully understand the learning journey they should be on (as opposed to the one they think they’re on). Learning objectives are crucial to online learning contexts when learning can be more learning can be individual and learners can feel more independent and, at times, isolated.

Content materials shouldn’t be chosen and materials or resources shouldn’t be prepared just because of the course’s name. This misguided practice can aid a teacher to stray too far from the learning objectives. Call me old school but activities, materials or resources used in lessons and learning that don’t meet learning objectives really shouldn’t be used in a course. Here with online learning, teachers may just throw up links on a CMS or pose questions on a discussion board for students to reflect upon. Whilst there may be room for this to a certain extent, if these aren’t going to help the learning process towards the objectives, then the teacher must evaluate it before assigning it to students.

Assessment. The rose petals or the rose thorn? If the learning objectives are aligned with the content, materials, and resources, then chances are you’ll have an easier time designing assessment. I’ve been thinking about course alignment ever since I started designing, planning and teaching a new course recently and my view of assessment changed. I no longer felt the thorns but looked past them to the petals. After deciding on my objectives, I almost thought of content and assessment simultaneously and I believe that there was a synergy between the learning that took place and the way I assessed that learning. I integrated principles and practices of blended learning into my new class and found that it was easier because of the alignment running through the course. I was constantly aware and reflecting on this alignment to ensure quality learning and teaching would be the result.

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Portfolios to Assess Language Learning

Read by Daniel Y Go

Recently I’ve been reading about portfolios as an alternative form of assessment. Portfolios could be used to assess the experiences of learning instead of testing knowledge of learning. A portfolio should be an ongoing assessment of learning and not just handed in at the end. The teacher plays an important role here to guide the process and interact with the student and their portfolio. This enables the portfolio to reflect the process of learning more than just the product. This portfolio should reflect learning objectives of the course and could certainly act as formative feedback for the student constantly updating them on their progress. Reflection on this development is also crucial to separate a portfolio from activities.

Within language teaching, the portfolio can reflect students’ progression as a language learner. The portfolio won’t necessarily assess their language but will demonstrate their experiences and (hopefully) their improvements in their language learning journey. Each language student has different strengths and weaknesses and teachers can use portfolios to promote self-directed learning so that students target their weaknesses independently. Through work samples or activity/experience documentation, students demonstrate their active interaction with their weaknesses.

Taking the skill of reading as an example I want to share my preliminary thoughts on a portfolio design for assessment purposes. Often classes complete an IELTS activity with a long text and up to 15 questions only. Sometimes teachers incorporate pre- or post-reading activities but there is much language input in the text as all language learning opportunities may not be maximized. The ability to read the text is not being assessed; rather it is the process of learning language stemming from the reading.

Within a portfolio, students might include the reading and their answers to the questions as a start. However, students could engage with the text more and complete some critical reading within which the student discovers more about the text (purpose, inferences, analysis of sections etc…). If a portfolio stopped here, apart from resembling learning activities only, progress may be limited and opportunities to explore the language within the text may be lost.

Students could explicitly notice unknown language, vocabulary or grammar structures, and make an effort to learn and subsequently produce this language. Written or spoken texts could be produced with the student paying attention to the language learnt. The class could use an online forum to talk (written or spoken) about issues or topics from the text with the teacher facilitating (or stirring the conversation) debate or discussion. Students could even drive the interaction by creating new threads or posting their own questions or comments based on the text using the target language. Transcripts, summaries or reflections of these discussions could easily be included in portfolios.

e-Portfolios can be a personalized central collection point for all their digital documentation of learning. Websites or programs that offer e-Portfolio solutions all promote the organization of students’ documents in a range of formats and links to external websites where students’ work has been uploaded. These portfolios can even have a plagiarism checker included to ensure all students submit their own work for their own portfolios. Finally, most e-Portfolios offer a reflection platform to ensure students are working cyclically and not just completing one off activities.

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Layers of a PLN

Educators must be resourceful and self-manage their own professional development 2.0 if they are to keep updated , innovative and refreshed. The ability to now connect with other professionals around the world means you have access to a range of creative and reinvigorating ideas. I am rating Twitter more and more now after seeing the benefits of starting to use it as an integral tool in my PLN.


Short and to the point. Tweets offer a 140 character insight into the person’s thinking or webpage they are offering. Like-minded professionals are personally participating in a community of PD and sharing their wealth of knowledge. They are exploring dynamic, personal pedagogy and contributing the sum to the community’s conscious and knowledge.

This is how I personalize my PLN and make it meaningful for me. I seek out those who might offer valuable insights or a new way of thinking. I hear about their best practices and feel energized in my own teaching. Collaboration is ever present as you tweet at each other to share personal thoughts in an effort to solve a problem, share a question or just to provide a little bit of inspiration. #hashtags organize and in turn personalize tweets for a user driven experience. You can search


My version of piggybacking. What I’m referring to here is using the resources you deem valuable and seeing the resources that they deem valuable. It seems that just about all educators on Twitter must be following @edutopia, the twitter account for the website of the same name, and another popular one is @cybraryman1. I started to follow them and I then saw them re-tweeting others and I check out the original source of the retweets. If they have some interesting tweets, I follow them. I’ve just piggybacked my way and chose those that will engage my interests. The tweets will come in thick and fast so be selective.


So you see, PLNs to me can be visualized as a parfait. Thanks to Donkey for my inspiration here. I check Twitter and find an interesting tweet. I click and find an interesting article. I like to click once more if I can and follow the train of thought that got me there in the first place. So I’ve just done the two clicks (maybe more) and I’ll bookmark or follow on Twitter if something struck a chord with me. I go back to Twitter and start the process again, thus building up the layers of my PLN. Short and sweet but repetitive building layers upon layers.

Unfortunately, this is the era of cutbacks and shortages. Budgets are being slashed and there is nothing professional, nor anything developed, within a lot of workplaces. With Twitter, I am getting ahead; getting the most out of teaching; getting the most out of learning. And I’m making some awesome desserts at the same time…


Originally posted April 24, 2011

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