Tag Archives: assessment

A Meta-Awareness of Instructional Design

arabic language


This week I have been participating in course redesign discussions.. It was extremely interesting because of the nature of the content: it is all in Arabic. It is an Islamic Studies course and when talking with the instructor, we have to talk using the meta-language of education and instructional design.


When I approach English course resources like the syllabus, curriculum, materials, I bring my assumptions about them. For instance, if I know anything about a subject that is based around concepts or themes, I might assume that x, y and z should be the order of content and big ideas, those core concepts of which all else are tied to. But on occasions, my assumption has been wrong. I ask the course instructor and in fact the order and the big ideas might be different. Talking with the Arabic instructor, I had to ask him explicitly and he had to direct his attention to these. I need to ask the right question and make sure of the details to ensure of my recommendations.

Direct and Focused Thinking

To follow on from this, not understanding the language of the content forces me to ask direct questions. If I want to know what the curriculum objectives, I need to ask. If I then want to know in what ways these are met in lessons or which materials support the teaching and learning of these, I’ll need to ask directly. This certainly helps focus the instructor and my thinking on the objectives and how they’re met.

Learning Design

When I read certain ideas of how the teaching and learning might be designed. I of course outline these but at times these need clarification by the instructor as I leave out certain details that I assume are given. When speaking with the Arabic instructor, I was able to approach the course resources with a very clear and open mind. I had to rely on the instructor’s commentary of resources before I could get any impression of them and how the curriculum and learning objectives can be met through them. We were certainly able to focus conversation on the resources and the best teaching and learning to met the objectives.


This was a crucial area of discussion as currently the course has students with laptops but in six months, they’ll have students with iPads coming through. The assessments would work quite well and it was only after talking about instructional design specifics, like the above, that I was able to understand more about the assessments and how the iPad would affect this. We focused on the reports assessment that was used to assess students’ research. Already they had reflection as a component to it but with certain apps, I suggested that the assessment could be formative throughout the term and not just summative at the end. Apps like Evernote tie in with this idea well as students document the learning experience throughout the research process. Not understanding the content because of a language barrier helped me focus my questions and created a meta-awareness of the educational and instructional design features that I needed to talk about.

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Looking into Creativity

Would I be right when I think that creativity is easier to see than to measure? In English as a second language classes, this becomes even more problematic because you can see creativity but teachers wonder how much the language influences this, negatively. What I mean is that when using English text, are students able to express themselves creatively as they would in their first language?

I’ve tried to think about this and improve the use of creativity within the tasks, activities and projects that students complete in my class. Not only this, but I have been focusing on assessing it too.

Creativity in Tasks

I’ve found that breaking projects and lessons down into smaller, more manageable tasks of larger workflows better to see creativity in students. To me, creativity includes the process of making something new or original rather than an imitation. I also look at this from an individual basis as I look at the capabilities of the student and to what extent they have been creative.

I often use brainstorming and try to increase a student’s creativity. I try to use English and the student’s first language to promote further thinking of new words they wouldn’t have thought of before. I try to use pair or group work as well as online resources; all to act as stimulus for further thought. This is a launch pad for other tasks so I include this as creative thinking. The iPad’s apps allow for easier communication and brainstorming both in and out of class.

Students are also encouraged to think from different perspectives. It is important for my students, who are a little one-track minded, to broaden their view to promote further knowledge growth and to develop acquisition of language that they may not necessarily come across.  I give students different characters or perspectives of a problem and they need to think as that person. For a unit on interior design, students took photos of rooms or some even did video walkthroughs from their houses and posted them on our learning management system. Stemming from this stimulus, students had to think about interior design aspects from the perspective of, say, their brother or father, their maid (a common person in the house in the Middle East), a teacher, an interior designer etc… Students are using the language we’ve learnt but applying it from a different person. If students are having trouble, I ask them to visit a teacher or a brother and interview them about this interior design photo or video. We owe the iPad as it affords us to bring the outside into the classroom and to document this and interviews all on one device.

Assessing Creativity

So if we look at a project and are trying to assess creativity, I would advocate for the teacher to look at each task of the project. For instance, how much new and original language has been generated within the brainstorm? Often I can see the key unit vocabulary being recycled in a brainstorm, which is obviously good to promote acquisition, but how much was new and created by the activity? When looking at different perspectives, students need to demonstrate using different language and incorporating different ideas from their own into the creation.

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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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