How to evaluate alignment within your course

Assessments, instructional materials, course activities, course tools and learning objectives must all align

We all care about the quality of our courses. One of many helpful services that UAF CTL offers in conjunction with our ongoing institutional relationship with the Quality Matters (QM) organization supporting continuous improvement of fully online and hybrid courses.
Within the QM framework, Alignment is a prominent and powerful concept for thinking about and improving course design. The concept is deceptively simple. The basic idea is that certain key structural components within your course should work together in order to best support intended learning outcomes. Considering alignment helps us to focus on what it is we design for our students to understand, and spend time looking at how the various elements of our course support those goals.
The foundation of solid course alignment is measurable learner-centered learning objectives. From there, our learning activities, instructional materials and appropriately selected tools support our intentionally crafted assessments which in turn, measure student attainment of our learning objectives. Simple right? Yet many instructors find the process of evaluating alignment surprisingly helpful and illuminating.
Working through the process of evaluating alignment inevitably reveals objectives which are unsupported by activities or are unmeasured by assessments, or activities or assessments which support implicit rather than explicit objectives. The process is really about taking an inventory of the purpose for each item in your course. 

How can I do this?

One way that works well is to take over a large table. Print out and then lay out all the elements of your course. Every learning objective, activity, assessment – everything. Get a big magic marker and just start asking yourself hard questions about your course. Is this piece doing what I intend? Does this measure what I want to measure? Is this the best piece of content for my purposes? Am I clear about my objectives? One can easily change, add or prune where necessary and the result is always a more intentionally designed learning experience.
Several instructors at UAF have already attained QM certification for their courses. With many more on the way, we offer QM certified courses within the following academic areas:

  • College of Liberal Arts
  • School of Education
  • School of Management
  • Department of Biology and Wildlife
  • Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Would you like help reviewing your course for alignment and or pursue QM certification for your course? As a UAF faculty member, you already have free access to the full library of QM research and support materials. Also, consider talking to an instructional designer or doing a Quality Matters self-guided review!

Other things:

  1. Blumberg, P. (2009).  Maximizing learning through course alignment and experience with different types of knowledge. Innovative Higher Education (34)2, p. 93-103.
  2. Postins, M. (2013). Alignment: A Proven Method to Help Students Achieve Learning Goals. Faculty eCommons [web page]. April 18, 2013.
  3. CTL. [n.d.]. Alignment.
  4. Lott, C. (2016, February 6.)  Teaching Tip: CTL facilitating Quality Matters at UAF. [web page].
  5. Guthrie, O. (2017). Quality Matters: Alignment.
  6. Guthrie, O. (2017). Quality Matters Overview.  
Dan Lasota

Dan LaSota

Instructional Designer
Certified QM Peer Reviewer
Certified QM Training Facilitator

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