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.