Constructing constructive alignment, the benefits of a hands-on approach

Petra Srnišová, who works as a teaching assistant on a mandatory accounting module for economics students, considers in her chapter the key question of how to foster better student outcomes through aligned engagement. This is especially pertinent when teaching material important to their overall studies but not necessarily of significant immediate interest to students. Specifically, Srnišová decided to test a hypothesis that student disengagement on this module resulted, at least in part, from less than optimal alignment of two assignments that acted as a gateway to the final exam and an overall teaching design aimed at passive and rote learning.

To tackle this, Srnišová started by devising active learning innovations based around a variety of group work interventions in the sessions she led. She linked these carefully with the skills and areas of subject mastery build into the two assessments. Srnišová displays a thorough understanding of the theory of constructive alignment.  She uses this to provide better scaffolding to her students’ learning by moving to much more active environments in her seminars.  In these, small group spaces were created to foster students’ interest in the material whilst connecting their efforts clearly to the assessments. Critically, she did not do away with all existing structures, such as the use of workbooks connected to the content of individual lectures. Rather, by focusing on specific engagements where deep learning could be encouraged, she created an environment where active and peer learning could take place. The design of specific cases studies by Srnišová aided this process and helped students better understand and apply the key theories that were going to be assessed.

Interestingly, the results observed by Srnišová were not what was predicated by the literature. Based on her research, student interest and engagement should have increased.  Her observations, taken using questionnaires and the input of a peer observer, do not show any increase in these areas, however. That being said, the overall pass rate for the two assessments did increase – from 67 per cent achieving the required mark to progress prior to her changes to 87 per cent after her intervention. So, whilst interest and engagement may not have improved through using the metrics deployed, student results have. This has led Srnišová to conclude, with some justification, that more constructively aligned seminars have helped students achieve better results, at least in this experiment.

Srnišová is too careful to ascribe these outputs solely to her work alone; there are simply too many variables and the sample size is too small. But what can certainly be taken from what she has done is that constructive alignment is not simply a top-down exercise limited to module designers and curriculum managers. She demonstrates that, with attention to the immovable elements (in this case the type and overall weight of the assessments), there is considerable opportunity to (re-)align the elements that can be changed, and making this effort does benefit students. Srnišová was fortunate to have the latitude to make changes to how her seminars were designed. Although this freedom is not available to everyone working like Srnišová as a seminar leader the lessons she draws are widely applicable to anyone wishing to make specific and measurable changes to their design.

William Rupp, Academic Development Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry

Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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