assessment education learning PhD

Constructive alignment workshop

Constructive alignment workshop – Dr. James Garraway

I attended a workshop this morning looking at constructive alignment, with the view to relating it to the work I’ll be doing on my PhD next year. The second of my objectives is to do an analysis of our undergraduate curriculum and then do a Delphi study evaluating certain components of it. After our planning meeting a few weeks ago, we’ve decided to begin working on our curriculum now, in preparation for our HPCSA audit next year.The process is going to be really valuable for us, as we move towards implementing our teaching and learning policy within the department, as well as for me as I try to get a better understanding of how we actually go about graduating physiotherapists.

Here are my notes from the morning.

Intended outcomes ↔ content / learning activity↔ assessment (make sure that they all “look the same”)

Constructive alignment and submission of new programmes on the HEQF:

  • Develop higher level cognitive skills from graduates
  • Explain how competences developed in the programme are aligned with the NQF levels (looking at systematic, coherent and critical understanding of the discipline
  • Map new knowledge onto the discipline
  • Explain the teaching methods, mode of delivery and materials development for the achievement of the stated outcomes of the qualification
  • How does the T&L strategy promote the achievement of the expected learning outcomes?
  • How does the assessment strategy promote the achievement of the learning outcomes?


What do you understand by “constructive”? Builds on the term “scaffolding”, i.e. knowledge is “built” by establishing a foundation of basic understanding and then gradually introducing new concepts / ideas → ZPD

What do you understand by “alignment”? All the components of a curriculum are aligned with each i.e. beginning (outcomes) looks like the middle (learning activity), looks like the end (assessment)

What do you understand by “constructive alignment”?

Main steps in the alignment process:

  1. Define the intended outcomes (should be described using verbs that emphasise the higher learning activities → avoid “list”, etc.
  2. Choose teaching/learning activities that assist/encourage students to achieve the objectives
  3. Engage students in learning activities through the teaching process
  4. Assess students’ learning outcomes using methods that enable students to demonstrate the intended learning and evaluating how well they match what was intended
  5. Arrive at a grade (summative) or give feedback (formative)

What happens when new outcomes are derived from a “loose” approach to teaching and learning i.e. discussion, etc. The lecturer can’t foresee the outcomes before the course starts, and what impact will that have on assessment?

People learn within a set of rules / environment that is often determined by the discipline, so it can be difficult to transfer “learning / knowledge / ways of knowing” between disciplines and subjects

Constructivism isn’t necessarily about questioning established knowledge, but to engage with it (“play with it”)

Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy

  1. Prestructural (unconnected knowledge)
  2. Unistructural (simple, obvious connections, one relevant aspects)
  3. Multistructural (many connections are made, considered independently)
  4. Relational level (part and the whole are understood, links and integrates several parts into a coherent whole)
  5. Extended / abstract (going beyond – generalises beyond the information given)

Level 1 teachers: make assumptions about what students are i.e. blames the student

Level 2 teachers: make assumptions about what teachers do i.e. blames the teacher

Both of the above perspectives lead to passive students

Level 3 teachers are concerned with what a student does to achieve the outcomes of the course

What is understanding?

Humans are not good at memorising random information (only 7 +/- 2 pieces of random information). But we’re very good at building new information on top of old information i.e. associating new knowledge with old knowledge → ZPD. Knowledge is “constructed”, not transmitted

Learning is a result of what the student does/thinks, not what the teacher does

How do we get students to learn what we want them to?

Teachers intention → student’s activity → exam (it’s the assessment that drives the learning activity, not the teachers intention)

Good teaching gets more students to use higher cognitive processes, that “better” students use spontaneously

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.