Learning and teaching

Constructive alignment

Effective assessment design considers the links between three components:

  • the learning outcomes of the course (i.e. the intention of the teacher and expectation of what the students will be learning)
  • the teaching and learning activities the students are engaged in to facilitate learning
  • the assessment tasks that test the students' abilities linked to the learning outcomes

This relationship is referred to in the literature as constructive alignment.

Constructive alignment in practice

Below are some steps you might want to consider when designing assessments for your course.

Step 1: Start with learning outcomes.

Consider the question: What do I want students to know how to do when they leave this course? Use skills across Bloom taxonomy to write your aims.

Step 2: Choose assessment methods

Consider the question: (What kinds of tasks will reveal whether students have achieved the learning objectives I have identified? Think of assessment methods that allow students to demonstrate that the aim(s) of the course have been met. If your course outcome/ aim is for students to apply analytical skills, you have to make sure that your assessment measures those skills. A mismatch between aims, teaching and assessment leads to students' frustration and dissatisfaction with their course. When deciding on the method remember about the following (as recommended by the University of Reading):

  • assessment methods influence students' learning – the choice of the method has an impact on how your students approach learning and to what extent they engage with the material (on a deep or surface level)
  • different methods measure different skills – diversifying your assessment diet allows you to measure a wider variety of skills and leads to a more inclusive assessment 
  • different methods require different efforts – take into account how much time it will take a student to learn how to approach the method and to complete the task, consider this also from the point of view of the lecturer –how much work an assessment method requires from you (for example setting up MCQs will required a lot of preparation and effort from you, while setting up an essay question will be less time consuming)
  • different people are good at assessing different things – as a subject specialist you are good at assessing subject knowledge but other colleagues, or industry professionals might be more suited to assess other skills
  • Peer assessment is a good way of providing formative feedback

Step 3: Decide on teaching and learning activities

Consider the question: What kinds of activities in and out of class will reinforce my learning objectives and prepare students for assessments?