Clarification of the alignment project

Am at the University of Canberra for a second day today talking about the possibility of an ALTC grant application around alignment/curriculum mapping. The aim today is to try and clarify where the project would go and this post is an attempt to make concrete some of my thinking. The final ideas for the project may be radically different.

I’m going to use the “project clarification” section of the ALTC’s Steps in developing an evaluation plan for an ALTC grant project as the structure for this post. Mainly because of a belief that getting into the “ALTC mindset” will increase the likelihood of success.

This remains very much a work in progress. Comments and thoughts all welcome.

What is the focus of the project?

The fundamental issue the project is aiming to address is in increasing the visibility of curricula and instructional alignment in the practice of university teaching.

The observation is that consideration of alignment is not an important consideration in what most academics do around learning and teaching. Consideration of alignment is not something that students see regular reminders of in their learning. It is done and visible in places, but those times and places are not a regular, visible part of what they do.

Since it is not visible in regular practice, it is often not thought of. It doesn’t inform what they do. This is bad because there’s vast bodies of research that suggests alignment between outcomes/graduate attributes, assessment, learning activities and instructional resources is a good thing. There is evidence to suggest that many university courses do not have strong alignment. There is also evidence (McDonald, 2008) that when considerations of alignment become part of what academics regularly do as part of teaching, it encourages them to begin questioning existing practice.

The focus of the project is on how to make considerations and discussions about the level of alignment in university courses a regular and on-going part of what academics do as part of their normal teaching practices.

The aim is to make changes within the teaching context that enable and encourage these considerations and discussion of alignment to take part regularly.

What is the scope of the project?

While the project will (hopefully) be funded by the ALTC over two years, the intent is that the aim of the project is an attempt to embed these practices within the institutions. i.e. to be successful, it should be an on-going project.

Initially, the ALTC funded project will be limited to University of Canberra and CQUniversity. Participants are likely to fall into these categories:

  • Round 1 teaching staff;
    A smallish group of academic staff who will be involved in the first cycle of making alignment a regular part of their practice. The nature of this group will depend on each institution.
  • Round 2 teaching staff;
    Includes the round 1 teaching staff plus additional staff that will work with modified practices from round 1. The intent is that round 1 teaching staff will be using these practice for the second time, perhaps with the same course. The round 2 only staff will likely be chosen on the basis of having some differences (on a broad array of possible variables) with the round 1 staff.
  • learning and teaching support staff;
    These are staff tasked with helping academics improve their L&T. This might include instructional designers, staff developers etc. These staff will be working with the teaching staff during both stages to help develop appropriate approaches to integrate alignment considerations into everyday practice.
  • project leaders; and
    The staff named on the ALTC grant application will be involved in various tasks in ensuring the project is moving along and may also fulfill some of the previous roles.
  • reference group.
    A body of experts that will offer oversight and provide feedback on the projects aims, outcomes etc.

Over the 2 years of ALTC funding the project would probably aim to, at least at one of the institutions, integrated alignment into the practice of at least one program in order to test the impact at the program level. Perhaps a target of 30 or courses at each institution?

The particular approach being taken with this project is to use Moodle as the tool that enables and encourages an increased consideration of alignment.

What are the intended outcomes?

  • Indications of the impact of significant consideration of alignment on the thinking/practice of teaching staff and on the student experience.
  • Guidelines, identified challenges and suggested processes (with accompanying documentation and resources) for increasing the consideration of alignment into everyday practice.
  • Guidelines, tools and processes describing how the practice of quality assurance can change once alignment considerations are embedded into every day practice.
  • A collection of Moodle enhancements.
    These are important only in terms of the affordances they enable which can then be harnessed to improve considerations of alignment. The enhancements are likely to fall into two categories:
    1. Addition of “mapping” into Moodle.
      The ability for Moodle to enable mapping of all activities and resources against specified outcomes, attributes etc.
    2. Moodle features that use the mapping information.
      This is the really interesting part. What applications make embedding alignment into every day practice useful and interesting for the broadest array of stakeholders.

In the elevator pitch for this project I identified some of the following as propositions:

  • Curriculum maps that are generated, and continue to evolve, in the same time and space as everyday teaching and learning will have stronger validity in terms of capturing reality and consequently be of more value.
  • A learning environment that makes visible to all stakeholders the alignment (or not) of a course and then provides scaffolding necessary to improve that alignment will help improve teaching.
  • Well designed extensions to an LMS that encourage and enable improvement of course alignment will increase the quantity and quality of usage of the institutional LMS and subsequent student outcomes.
  • Building curriculum mapping around Moodle’s student “tracking” functionality will enable and encourage greater use of the student tracking functionality.
  • Properly implemented, this approach can make it easier for curriculum designers to embed assistance into the context within which teaching is taking place. If this works well, relationships will develop.

Each of these could be thought of as potential outcomes. Yes, they should be developed some more.

What are the operational processes developed to achieve the outcomes?

The process to be used in this project should lean heavily towards being adopter-focused (Surry & Farquhar, 1997). The following description is taken from Jones and Lynch (1999)

In contrast to the developer-based approach, the adopter-based approach focuses on the human, social, and interpersonal aspects of innovation diffusion (Surry & Farquhar, 1997). Developers are interested in the individual who will ultimately implement the innovation in a practical setting as the primary force for change. The adopter-based theories reject the assumption that superior products will automatically be attractive to potential adopters. They ’seek to understand the social context in which the innovation will be used and the social function the innovation will serve’ (Surry & Farquhar, 1997).

Stages in the process for this project might include:

  1. Adding mapping to Moodle.
    The focus here is on obtaining a version of Moodle that allows the mapping of every activity, resource and assignment within Moodle to a set of outcomes. i.e. the aim is to get the data stored. This is almost a purely technical process that requires little involvement from academics.
  2. Planning and first roundtable. ????
    The project groups at each of the two institutions formulate the plans/approaches they plan to use for the first round. This identifies: the participants, programs/courses, current state of mapping, approaches to be used to complete the mapping…..Have a roundtable where the reference group are shown these plans and offer advice and suggestions.
  3. Round 1
  4. Reflection/roundtable.
  5. Round 2
  6. What is the conceptual and theoretical framework underpinning the project?

    • Alignment.
    • Adopter-focused development … more buzz words.
    • Teacher conception and behaviour is a key component of quality of L&T.

    What is the context of the project?

    • 2 institutions that have adopted Moodle as enterprise LMS.
    • Higher ed sector where alignment is important in terms of graduate attributes etc. and also more broadly quality assurance and quality enhancement are increasingly more important.
    • Institutional change.

    What key values drive the project?

    • Adopter-focused.
    • Open source/open.


    Surry, D., & Farquhar, J. (1997). Diffusion Theory and Instructional Technology. e-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, 2(1), 269-278.

2 thoughts on “Clarification of the alignment project

  1. David,

    I was trawling around looking for curriculum mapping tools, did your proposal go anywhere? It seemed like an excellent approach and would be a phenonemal resource for Moodle.


    1. G’day Fergal,

      I’m sad to report that the proposal didn’t go anywhere. The main spark for my interest in the proposal was based around working at a University. Not long after I developed the proposal there was a restructure and I chose not to work there anymore. Hence the curriculum mapping proposal has entered limbo.


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