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Motivated students with constructive alignment

Last updated on 29 June 2022
Students are goal-oriented, critical thinkers and doers. Would you like to have them participate with pleasure and motivation in active learning courses? Then it's important to make sure your teaching is both coherent and rewarding. This requires learning objectives, learning activities, and assessments to fit together seamlessly - this is also called constructive alignment.

In this didactic tip, you will learn how to check the extent to which learning objectives, learning activities and assessment align in your teaching methods, and what simple steps you can take to improve on this.

This is how constructive alignment increases your students' motivation

Suppose your learning objective is that students learn to write an argument. When they do various writing exercises in class and at home, and the assessment consists of a written argument, then the learning objectives, the teaching methods and the assessment are all in line: they reinforce each other. This way the students will appreciate active learning methods  because they deliver visible results.

Now suppose that the test would consist of naming the characteristics of an argument by answering multiple choice questions. In that case, a writing exercise does not produce any (directly measurable) result from the students' perspective. Students are then less motivated to participate in this exercise and may give the course a less positive evaluation. 

In general, students are very goal-oriented. If the learning objectives, the learning activities and the assessment are not in line with each other, students will adapt their learning behaviour to what is asked in the assessment.

Do you apply constructive alignment? 

The following simple exercise will help you to quickly recognise how the goals, the activities and the assessments can be (even) better aligned. Start by taking a good look at the design of your course while keeping the student's perspective in mind. To what extent do the learning objectives, the learning activities, and the assessment fit together? Follow these steps:

  1. Select one learning objective of which you know students appreciate the active learning activity. Which active verb (For instance: analyse or reason) is mentioned in the learning objective? Is this also reflected in the assessment - are the students assessed on that same verb? Which active teaching methods are used to achieve the learning objective? Is that same verb practised there?
  2. Now take a look at a subject for which you cannot activate students, or where they complain about the activating methods. Which active verb is mentioned in the learning objective? Is that active verb also assessed? And what methods are used?

This exercise will provide guidance on how to assess and, if necessary, improve the constructive alignment of your teaching. When you increase your consistency, the students will embrace your active teaching methods with even more enthusiasm!

This tip is provided by VU NT&L and LEARN! Academy.