If you’ve ever taken a course with Quality Matters (QM)—the leading quality assurance program for online courses—you’ll know how much “alignment” is stressed when designing and delivering an online course. For QM, alignment establishes the foundation upon which the rest of an online or hybrid course is based. General Standard 2, which is split into five different specific review standards, deals directly with alignment in online courses. All five of these specific review standards are worth three quality matters points. If an online course is reviewed and does not meet all of these standards, it is unable to pass a QM course review. Needless to say, alignment is stressed heavily for quality assurance in online courses.
A few months ago, Wichita State required that all course syllabi list specific, measurable course objectives to be accomplished in every course (online and face-to-face). If you’re feeling a little lost about what course objectives are, it’s helpful to think about them in terms of alignment. Alignment is “the connection between learning objectives, learning activities, and assessment. An aligned course means that your learning objectives, activities, and assessments match up so students learn what you intend and you accurately assess what students are learning” (taken from CU’s Assessment & Instructional Alignment Tutorial).
So what are the differences between objectives, activities and assessments?
- Objectives: The expectations for student performance. They specify what you want students to be able to do when they finish your course. Objectives need to be measurable (for more information on creating measurable objectives, visit the Bloom’s Taxonomy Cheat Sheet).
- Activities: The experiences that students engage in to prepare them to achieve the intended learning objectives.
- Assessments: A system for collecting evidence about student learning that you can use to improve and make judgments about learning. These will help prove that students are able to accomplish the course learning objectives.
Alignment is all about creating the connection between these three pieces of a course. The alignment of objectives, activities, and assessments creates a clear path of success for your students. If you are planning a course from scratch, you’ll need to recognize early on that alignment can be fluid and is easily changed. If you are aligning a course that has already been taught many times, you’ll most likely find that only a few small tweaks will ensure that your course is aligned. For instructors, alignment has already motivated your selection of readings, group activities, quizzes, exams, presentations, etc. that you require your students to complete. Alignment only requires you to identify these connections.
So how about an example…
Currently, I am teaching an online ENGL 230: Exploring Literature course at Wichita State. In this course, I have seven course objectives that I want students to be able to accomplish by the end of the semester. Course objective #6 states: “Write a well-organized paragraph in answer to a question about a literary text.” Here is how I align this objective:
- Objective: “Write a well-organized paragraph in answer to a question about a literary text.”
- Activities: Weekly Readings, Weekly Journal Entry (informal writing), Weekly Discussion Board Post (formal writing), Weekly Reading Comprehension Quizzes w/ two Short Answer sections (formal writing)
- Assessment: Character Analysis Assignment, Close Reading Assignment, Mid-term & Final Exam with Essay portion
In order for my students to prepare to complete the learning objective, I have them complete weekly activities that make them practice their formal and informal writing skills regarding literary analysis. These activities or opportunities to practice then prepare them for their formal assessments which include two submitted writing assignments and essay portions of their Midterm and Final Exams. Those assessments allow me to collect data about whether or not my students are able to accomplish course objective #6 at the end of the semester.
Depending on your course objectives, alignment can be accomplished through various activities and assessments. As you develop course objectives and consider alignment, you might find that your students are accomplishing things through y our course work that you had never considered before!
If you’d like some help identifying and developing alignment in your online courses, feel free to stop by your Instructional Design and Technology office. We’d love to help!