Course alignment to ensure fair assessment

This tool explains the importance of course alignment that is composed of three separate elements. These three elements are course objectives, learning activities and assessment. In order to guarantee fair assessment, all three elements need to match up, so that students are assessed on learning activities that are based on the set course objectives. This tool also suggests some alternative ways for completing assignments based on the set course objectives.

What is course alignment?

  • Course alignment means that the set course objectives, learning activities and assessment are aligned and as such it is the connection between these three elements.
  • In practice this means that the students learn what they are supposed to learn on the course and they are also assessed on correct learning outcomes.
  • Learning objectives define what the student will be able to know or do at the end of the course.
  • Activities again are experiences that have students engaged in a way that guarantees they will learn the set learning objectives.
  • Assessment is a system for collecting evidence about student learning. It can used to make judgments about student learning and to have students improve.

Outcomes of improper alignment

When learning activities are properly aligned with learning objectives and correct assessment is in place, suitable learning outcomes can be ensured.

If the three elements are not aligned:

  • the course may be fragmented and ineffective
  • students receive mixed messages about what they should learn
  • students spend time on learning activities that do not lead to intended goals
  • you may overestimate or underestimate the effectiveness of instruction.

Design inclusive assessment

1. Make sure your objectives align with your assessment.

2. Offer various types of assessment. You can do this in two ways:

  • First, vary the types of assignments used in the course (instead of having students write four essays, offer an array of assignments, such as an essay, exams, quizzes, project work or other assignments).
  • Second, allow students to customize or choose their assessment where appropriate.
  • For instance, if there is typically an oral presentation at the end of the course but giving oral presentations is not one of your learning objectives, consider giving the option for students to demonstrate their learning in another format. The learning outcome could be demonstrated in writing, as a video or as an infographic.
  • If the course has a final exam, would it be possible for students to demonstrate their learning by giving an oral presentation or by designing a poster or a podcast.

3. Give students opportunities to practice the skills they need for formal or high-stakes assessment. This is called scaffolding. Provide students with in-class activities and low-stakes, i.e. informal assessments, to progress their understanding and to identify areas in need of improvement.

  • E.g. if your course entails assessment on oral presentations, make sure students have a chance to practice oral presentation skills throughout the course to help them overcome the fear of presenting in public, ensuring they are comfortable.
  • Make sure you give students regular feedback so that they an accurate sense of their progress towards the learning objectives.

4. Communicate your assessment expectations to the students in the first class and keep going back to them when necessary.