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Best Practices | Getting Started with Aligning Objectives and Assessments

Assessment strategies are designed to evaluate student progress by reference to stated learning objectives; to measure the effectiveness of student learning; and to be integral to the learning process. Assessment is implemented in a manner that not only allows the instructor a broad perspective on the students' mastery of the content, but also allows students to measure their own learning throughout the course. –Quality Matters, 2012


So what exactly does “aligning assessments with learning outcomes” mean? In its essence, it means that the activities and assignments in your course directly mirror what is stated in your learning outcomes. The connection between outcomes and assessments is something that students should easily be able to see.


Due to the fact that in higher education instructors are dealing with adult learners, aligning assessments with learning outcomes and course materials is especially important. In the online environment, the meaning and importance of readings and activities must be made clear in order to help motivate students throughout the course, because higher motivation leads to more effective learning. In Effective Online Teaching Stavredes (2011), discusses how adult learners have a need to know. If the assessments and learning outcomes are not aligned, learners may have difficulty determining the significance of the tasks they face in the course (Stavredes, 2011). Completing assignments and activities in an online course with no objective(s) makes student work appear less meaningful. It can be difficult for a student to muster the enthusiasm to complete an assignment to the best of her/his ability when the purpose for the assignment is unclear or not present. It’s similar to going on a trip with someone to a specific destination, but forgetting your map (and your GPS or smart phone) at home. You get lost, you lose focus, and you complain or bicker with the driver (the instructor). Providing students with clear objectives and aligned assessments is like handing them a GPS with the destination already entered. Students know where they are going—and why—and are ready to ride along with you.


Now that you know a little more about the meaning and significance of alignment, let’s discuss how you can do this in your online course. I favor a linear method of creating measurable learning outcomes. To achieve this, we can start by building a table. Think about the skills you want your students to master and make a list; we’ll call these your goals. Next to that list, write what they must do (or know) in order to achieve the goals; this list will become your materials. List examples of assignments you would want the students to successfully complete in order to show their attainment of the skills in your goals column; these will be your assessments. You may even want to make a fourth column explaining how the materials, assessments, and skills align, also known as an explanation.


At this point, you will want to create a fifth column in which you turn your list of goals into sentences using action verbs found in Bloom's Taxonomy; these are your learning objectives. A simple Google search on Bloom's Taxonomy action verbs will provide examples of both Bloom's action verbs and effective learning objectives. You can also contact CIRT for a copy of our Writing Learning Objectives table. Use the verb list to help you develop your learning objectives, always thinking of your sentence starter as: "Students will be able to…" Here's an example of thinking through the above process:


I want my students to master the following skills: writing effective learning objectives, and aligning online assessments to the learning objectives. To help them with this, they need to be familiar with Bloom's taxonomy action verbs, writing objectives, and they need to see examples of measurable learning objectives. I like the idea of having a quiz in which students must correctly identify which learning objective appropriately aligns with example assignments to show that they understand how the objectives align. Explanation feedback would be provided for each question to strengthen their understanding. Having students submit an assignment in which they write (or rewrite) learning objectives for a course they will teach (or have taught) would be another example of an assignment. I could also have the students participate in a discussion in which they discuss selected online assessments and their alignment with learning objectives so that students can receive feedback from their classmates. Finally, I could have students submit a plan that includes at least three assessments with aligned learning materials and objectives and an explanation as to how they align, similar to the table presented in this article.


From all of the above, I can state my goals, create several learning objectives, choose aligned course materials/media for my assessment ideas, and then choose the appropriate action verbs to ensure that the learning objectives are measurable.


Alignment Table
Goals Materials Assessments Explanation Learning Objectives
Writing effective learning objectives Textbook reading on the importance of writing measurable learning objectives
Video of other instructors discussing the benefits of measurable learning objectives
Bloom’s Taxonomy action verb table Instructor-written examples and non-examples of the correct use of Bloom’s Taxonomy
Formative: Journal on the importance of writing measurable learning objectives Formative:
Summative: Write learning objectives for a course you are teaching or will teach in the future.
The textbook reading and video will help them realize the importance of writing measurable learning objectives and give students some perspective. A journal entry on their understanding of this importance will verify that they have completed and understand the reading.
Reviewing the Bloom’s action verb and seeing examples and non-examples of its use will prepare students to take the quiz on identifying their appropriate use.
Students will demonstrate their ability to write appropriate learning objectives by submitting their objectives to the instructor and receive instructor feedback on their quality.
Students will be able to:
Reflect on the importance of creating measurable learning objectives
Identify appropriate use of Bloom’s taxonomy action verbs
Develop measurable learning objectives
Aligning online assessments to learning objectives Image of alignment wheel that shows Bloom’s taxonomy action verbs that best align with examples of online assignments
PowerPoint lecture on summative and formative assessments
Textbook reading on creating assessments
Formative: Discussion on aligning learning objectives, materials, and assessments
Summative: Assessments, Materials, and Objectives Alignment Plan
The Alignment Wheel, PowerPoint lecture, and textbook reading will assist students with choosing appropriate online assessments for the learning objectives they’ve chosen. They will participate in the discussion on aligning learning objectives, materials, and assessments by presenting one formative and one summative assessment with aligned learning objectives and course materials and receive feedback from their classmates which they will incorporate in their final summative assessment: the Assessments, Materials, and Objectives Alignment Plan Students will be able to:
Discuss appropriate use of aligning learning objectives, course materials, and assessments.
Develop an alignment plan for at least five assessments they plan to use in their online course.

I won’t necessarily use all of the assignments I created for this one assessment. For example, the writing learning objectives assignments and the discussion assignment can assess one objective, so I might choose not to use the first assignment, choosing the discussion instead to incorporate learner-to-learner interaction in this lesson. It will also depend on the amount of time I have to teach the course, student course load, and several other factors, but now I have a list of materials to pull from that are aligned.


For more information or assistance with aligning your course objectives with your assessments, please contact CIRT and ask to speak with an instructional designer.

References

Stravredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass.