AE1a : Making sense of Constructive Alignment.

I’ve taken an equation based route to trying to explain Constructive Alignment and relate it to my own teaching practice. (If you can’t see the JPEG download the attached PDF here). My propsed pedagogical interventions based on what I have learned come later towards the end of the journal entry in the main text. I hope you find it readable and I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you might have.

Further analysis related to my own teaching practice.

Reflecting on my university education I am interested to find my course in Mixed Media Fine Arts was the epitomy of Constructive Alignment. We were encouraged to set our own goals based on our practice, undertake achieving them with support, review and reflection from our peers and tutors in an open workshop environment with tools, resources and space made available to us and ultimately we were judged on how well we had realised our aims. The tutors were ‘brokers’ between myself and the learning environment.

I found it enourmously enabling and it still defines my practice today.

I was aware that the course I teach on (Access to Fashion Media and Communication) was Constructively Aligned … Holly Shaw who I share the ‘Manipulating Images’ and ‘Desktop Publishing’ Units with undertook the PGCert 2 years ago (I am teaching from lesson plans based on her lessons) and the Course Director Vija Vilcin’s coordinates all the different modules and reviews with the tutors how we are to meet the intended learning outcomes through learning / teaching activities and assessment – a process I was part of last year (in preparation for this term). (Again see attached AFMC : CMI handbook).

With that said I was very much ‘learning on the job’ (or at least making sense of it as I went along) and so this exersise has been very useful in relating the theory to the fact of what I am doing in my classes.

Thanks to input from Holly and other more experienced teaching staff I work with in Computer Open Access I feel my Workshops already have the essential elements of Constructive Alignment embedded in them. The format is to set an aim in terms of achievement, plan a workflow that will introduce and test the elements involved in achieving this and then reflect on the results with the students by way of informal assessment. (Peer and tutor assessment).

It seems to me very practical in terms of software training to have the students achieve the intended learning outcomes through practicing the software with support from the tutor and other learning aids and that we assess them on their ability to deliver.

Although there is an inevitable aspect of ‘delivery’ in the demonstration / copy elment of the classes, class work is then undertaken where the techniques are practiced in the students own projects.  It is much more engaging for them to learn in this ‘in the drivers seat’ / hands on way and through engagement they stand much more of a chance of really ‘learning to solve problems’ with the software rather than just copying a sequence of actions demonstrated by a tutor relating to one task.

It is of further interest to me that so many people ‘self teach’ themselves software in this way, setting out to learn an aspect of a program, practicing tools and techniques and ultimately judging their own success through reflection and the critique of others in their output.

In terms of how how I intend to take what I have learned and apply it to my own teaching practice to make improvements (PPD), I will :

  • I want my lessons to be as cohesive and coherant for the students as possible, for aims to be reflected in learning activities and tested in assessment.
  • I will plan my AFMC : CMI lessons and Computer Open Access Workshops with the Constructive Alignment equation in mind throughout the term.
  • I will continue in the practice of introducing the lessons and workshops to students in these terms. (What we aim to achieve, how we will achieve it and how we will review our success).
  • I will take my ILO = TLA = AT equation and consider it’s appropriateness to the lesson and apply it to each of my AFMC :  CMI classes and Computer Open Access Workshops when I review and write them up in my blog (See blog).
  • Building on what I see as a comparative ‘success’ with setting homework for the AFMC : CMI students in terms of engaging them in their ‘own’ learning relationship with the software and reflecting on the learning experience I had with the software, I want to contemplate and experiment to some degree with further ways to engage the students with this active learning style that follows on from the Intended Learning Outcomes and builds towards the Assessment submission.
  • Completing this exersise reminded me of an unfinished task from last terms administration meetings for the AFMC course. As was outlined in the Biggs and Tang chapter, some administrative issues make Constructive Alignment impossible. If the Assessment Tasks do not equal the Teaching and Learning activities and the Intended Learning Outcomes then Alignment is not possible. On AFMC : CMI it was discussed certain elements of the marking criteria were redundant or not properly covered in the lessons. Here my action will take 2 forms :
  1. To review the lessons against the criteria and make sure all criteria are catered for in the Learning Activities.
  2. It was discussed Holly and I could rewrite certain criteria to bring them into line with modern practice and convention. We could then apply for a handbook criteria ammendment. I will pursue this with Holly and submit an application for next years course handbook.
  • I will judge the effectiveness of these interventions by my own observations and feedback from my students relating to whether they found the Alignment helpful
Further reading.
In terms of the source material I feel I gleamed a good understanding of the subject from the Biggs and Tang chapter. I found the concept of Constructivism particularly interesting and so I also read Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning ( ) from the reading list on Blackboard. I found this deepened my understanding of the concept and reinforced the definition used in the prescribed text.
I also benefitted from reading Geoff from learner group Blue’s blog post on this subject



To conclude I will leave you with 2 thoughts :

  • A quote from the Biggs & Tang text, an excerpt from the diary of one of the students on the Nature of Teaching and Learning course Biggs drew his inspiration from – “All [the teacher] said was ‘show me the evidence of your learning that has taken place’ and we have to ponder, reflect and project the theories we have learnt in our own teaching… briliant! If it had only been an exam or an essay, we would probably have just repeated his ideas to him and continued to teach the same way as we always do!” I think this is a really excellent summary of what is so exciting about  the idea of Constructive Alignment.
  • Don’t Biggs & Tang sound like they ought to be a Rap group! I can’t stop my self thinking about how it would go… ‘To all my L&TAD students who came to memorize our rhyme, you better get to know that Biggz and Tang CONSTRUCTIVELY ALIGN!’


4 thoughts on “AE1a : Making sense of Constructive Alignment.

  1. Wow, you seem to have got alot more out of the reading than I did. I am still struggling getting to grips with how to use the blog and workflow pages, and you have written an essay on your complex understanding of how your work relates to the theory and practice. I am very impressed with your commitment. I struggled with the reading and edited my answer down in to as few words as possible to make it succinct and to the point. I think yours is much richer and will add some more to mine once I have found the constructive alignment topic folder? do you know where it is? blackboard? work flow ? or on the blog somewhere ??


    1. Hey Heather, thank you for the comment.

      The topic folder is in the reading lists on Blackboard.

      I’m pleased you thought my response was ‘rich’ but I am concerned the ‘succinctness’ (which was implied in the brief) may have suffered as a result of this. I tried to begin very simply with the equation approach but I felt later I got a bit bogged down in relating it to my practice and personal professional development (PPD). I’ve tried to keep it readable and in plain English but I could feel it getting a bit heavy going at points.

      It is also frustrating to me that I haven’t really mastered the blog and workflow in terms of font sizing and bullet points and things like that – I had a lot of trouble getting things to appear on the page in a way that didn’t seem like an overwhelming wall of text (and I’m afraid that looking at the blog on a small screen will make this even worse).

      Next month I will definitely try and take this into account and produce something a bit less protracted.

      I’m looking forward to reading your response and thanks again 🙂


  2. I found it really helpful to look at CA like an equation, after some reflection and a few goes having to explain it to other people, teachers and non teachers it felt quite simple – its great now that i am planning lessons and thinking in these terms it really helps with clarity and is giving me confidence in covering all bases when planning.

    I am running a workshop tomorrow and have used CA to double check the consistency of my intentions.




    1. Thanks for the feedback Ed, glad you found this added to your understanding.

      I guess the exersise was supposed to lead us to the idea that really Constructive Alignment is pretty straight forwards. Alignment of aims, activities and assessment encourages deeper understanding as opposed to surface learning and better coherence throughout the lesson / course.

      I found explaining / trying to explain / discussing this with people very helpful too. Everyone I spoke with ended up contextualising it to their own experience which I found particularly interesting, so my wife for example, thought of training methods she uses to prepare restaurant staff for their work, essentially by getting them to actually do the work…

      Another thing, in terms of the ‘simplicity’ of the concept, one of the conclusions I have drawn Biggs and Tang have done understanding a bit of a disservice in their presentation of the subject matter as everyone seems to have found the text heavy going and difficult to comprehend / review in that respect. Still I guess this is the benefit of all of us approaching the topic and sharing our responses by blog…


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