Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at the importance in of aligning teaching methods and assessment tasks in constructivist learning. It is from: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION, by Barry Dart and Gillian Boulton-Lewis. First published 1998, by: The American Council for Educational Research Ltd. 19 Prospect Hill Road, Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, 3124. Copyright ? 1998 Barry and Gillian Boulton-Lewis. All rights reserved, reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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COLLABORATIVE LEARNING AND CONSTRUCTIVE ALIGNMENT
Learning has been considered as an active process in which students actively construct their own knowledge and understanding, while teaching is to provide the context in which learning can take place in order to achieve desirable learning outcomes. This constructivist theory forms an important basis for decision making at all stages of the teaching process: designing the curriculum objectives, deciding the teaching methods to use, and selecting appropriate assessment methods. Effective teaching in a constructivist framework requires that the relevant and appropriate high cognitive level activities that students should display are addressed both by the teaching methods and by the assessment tasks (which in any case become the curriculum to the students). This is 'constructively aligned' teaching (Biggs, 1996b).
This model of teaching is particularly appropriate in professional courses, where both teaching and assessment should be criterion-referenced; students are expected to demonstrate certain qualities of learning which are considered important for the professional practice, and the teaching is supposed to help them do so. In the present case, the assignment is considered to be an appropriate method of assessment, in alignment with the course objectives. To provide a criterion-referenced assessment in relation to the objectives, apart from assessing content-related competencies, it is more important to assess the overall structural quality and coherence of the assignment. In the present study, the SOLO taxonomy seemed to provide a more useful measurement of these qualities than the content-related measure prescribed in the course document.
According to constructive alignment and systems theory generally, the course objectives, the teaching context, and the assessment tasks should all address the same student learning-related cognitive activities (Biggs, 1995, 1996b). Biggs (1996b) suggests that alignment can be facilitated by looking at the learning-related verbs that each component in the system addresses. Here the curriculum verbs referred to integrating, synthesizing, applying etc. Initially, the assessment task was essay questions, and the verbs elicited there did not align with what was expected (Tang, 1991). Accordingly, the assignment was adopted, and the students did perceive that this task required the sort of verbs needed to fulfill the task satisfaction (see table 5.1 below).
To be aligned with the assessment, the teaching context should have provided support for students in developing the necessary procedural knowledge to deal with the assignment. The university staff assumed this had been done in the schools, but it had not. When faced with a novel learning task, not only did the students lack the appropriate experience in writing assignments, the procedural knowledge for doing so was not provided by the teaching context. Apart from giving out the questions, the students were entirely on their own, and they solved the problem on their own. Hence, the teaching component failed to align with the assessment, and there was a gap to be filled. The students themselves filled this gap by developing collaborative learning as a coping strategy.
Ideally, as part of the normal teaching, it may now be seen that the objectives of assessment by assignment should be clearly defined, along with the assessment criteria used, and the procedural knowledge necessary in preparing for the assignment. All this is part of the system, extending from objectives through to teaching and assessment. Generalizing from this, it might be said that teaching, to be successful, needs to make sure that what the objectives specify, and what the assessment tasks demand, is provided for in the activities required of students. Although there was a gap in the teaching, it was fortunate that in this case the students were able, in most cases, to bridge the gap themselves. However, it is a good question to ask if it is better to allow students the freedom to solve the teaching-learning problems themselves, or to provide the structure for them. Whatever the answer, it is one that teachers should at least be aware of.
Table 5.1 Study strategies used by students in preparing assignment.
Strategies Collaborating students (%) Self-studying students (%)
Analyze question requirements
Copy from reference materials
Focus on basic concepts
Supplemental each others ideas
Criticize each others ideas
Share and exchange ideas
Biggs, J.B. (1995). Assessing for learning: Some dimensions underlying new approaches to educational assessment. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 41, 1-8.
Biggs, J.B. (1996b). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment, Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364.
Tang, K.C.C. (1991). Effects of different assessment procedures on tertiary students' approaches to studying. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Hong Kong.