Integrating alignment into Moodle and academic practice: A proposal and a RFI

I’m off to the 2001 Australian MoodleMoot next week. The conference program includes a collection of 3 minute show and tell sessions on the Tuesday afternoon. The following is a summary of what I think I’m going to talk about and a call for suggestions.

I’m starting to add all the associated resources with the presentation to this post.

More information

Other resources/information around this idea include:

  • A blog post introducing how curriculum mapping might work in Moodle.
  • A detailed, draft grant proposal for a broader project around embedding mapping/alignment into a university.
    This proposal includes a fairly long reference list which points to some of the literature that informed this idea.

Video

The following video is a slightly extended version of the talk, using the same slides, recorded after the Moodlemoot.

Slides

The purpose

The title of this post is probably going to be the title of the talk. From that you can assume that this is not a show and tell of something that is working, but instead a proposal of an idea. The aim is to find out if there are other people interested in this project or already working on something similar. The aim is to start a conversation. The talk is also request for interest (an RFI). I’m keen to hear from folk interested in working on this idea, especially in terms of a potential ALTC grant for next year.

The proposal is based on previous ideas posted here. At the core is the idea of how curriculum mapping might work in Moodle. However, the intent is to do much more than simply modify Moodle. The broader aim is to modify the environment and processes within which teaching academics work in order that consideration of alignment (be it constructive, instructional, curriculum or graduate attributes) is part of every day practice.

A more detailed description of this idea is available here. The rest of this is a written summary of what I think the 3 minute show and tell will cover next week at the Moot.

The problem

Within Australian Universities, the alignment of what happens within a course (sometimes known as a unit) against some outcomes or graduate attributes is becoming widespread, even standard practice. For example, there’s a presentation at the Moot with the title “Translating Learning Outcomes in Moodle”. This presentation draws on Bigg’s (1996) idea of constructive alignment, which is probably the most common, currently used concept of alignment. The push toward graduate attributes for everything is perhaps the other common application of alignment within Australian higher ed.

The Moot presentation identifies as a problem the difficulty of translating learning outcomes into an effective course design within an LMS. The problem which I’m interested is connected to this, but is also a little different. The problem I’m interested in is that the every day, regularly experience of an academic doesn’t require them to think about alignment. More broadly, the everyday experience of teaching academics doesn’t encourage nor enable them to think about learning and teaching from an educational perspective. Instead the focus on low level tasks like uploading documents because of the low-level of abstraction in most LMS.

Experience is important

What people experience is important. There’s a growing body of literature from neuroscience (e.g. Zull, 2002) and psychology (e.g Bartunek and Moch, 1987) that suggests your experiences shape who you are, what you think and how you see the world. Which in turn is related to insights like Kolb’s learning cycle.

Kolb's Learning Cycle

If alignment is not something academics experience regularly, and experience within a context that encourages and enables them to reflect and experiment with alignment, then how are they expected really to learn and adopt alignment?

The proposal

The proposal aims to modify the environment in which academics operate such that they are encouraged and enabled to consider alignment as a regular component of their everyday teaching experience. To provide an environment in which they can move through all of the stages of Kolb’s learning cycle. The proposal is based on the following assumptions and propositions:

  • The most common teaching experience for university academics is teaching and slightly tweaking a course that has been taught before.
  • It is fairly simple to modify Moodle to enable the mapping of alignment relationships between Moodle activities and resources and outcomes or graduate attributes.
  • Once this alignment information is being maintained, an ecosystem of services can be added to Moodle that enable reflection, abstraction, and active testing of ideas around alignment in a collaborative and open way.
  • If such an ecosystem enabled and encouraged effective, on-going use, then the quality of learning and teaching would improve.
  • On-going use of such an ecosystem would raise interesting questions about the design and operation of Moodle.

Disclaimer: I have some reservations about alignment, however, it’s almost become a requirement within Australian higher education and I do believe that consideration of alignment could provide a useful McGuffin for learning and teaching.

The 3 minute show and tell will focus on showing some proposed screen shots of how curriculum mapping might work within Moodle and some initial ideas of how the resulting alignment information could be used to create an ecosystem of services.

Request for interest

Effectively implementing something like this is not easy. It would be improved by having a good combination of skills and perspectives. I’m keen to work with people who are interested in trying to further develop and eventually implement this idea.

I’m especially interested in hearing about projects that are related to, or already implementing something like this.

References

Bartunek, J., & Moch, M. (1987). First-order, second-order and third-order change and organization development interventions: A cognitive approach. The Journal of Applied Behavoral Science, 23(4), 483-500.

Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364.

Zull, J. (2002). The art of changing the brain. Stirling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.

6 thoughts on “Integrating alignment into Moodle and academic practice: A proposal and a RFI

  1. dveness

    Hi David

    I won’t be at the Moot, but you might notice several of my colleagues lurking about the place.

    I like your thinking, but I think that trying to encapsulate this in a Moodle process might just be a bit too difficult. It might be possible, I think, to build a Moodle process that documents and makes public the final picture of alignment, but I think all the work would have to happen before the information is keyed in … and that takes you right back to the beginning of the problem … that most academic staff don’t (want to) think about issues of alignment, even when their institutions and governing bodies want them to.

    However, if you do get there, I will be keen to see the results.

    BTW have you noticed that Bb has just bought both Wimba and Elluminate?

    Deborah

    1. G’day Deborah,

      Sorry you won’t be at the moot. The presentation I linked to was from some ANU colleagues of yours.

      In terms of the “keying in”, I agree that is perhaps the hardest part. Though there are many parts that would be hard.

      The proposed solution to this, at least in the initial broader conception, was that the initial mapping of a course would have to have a lot of support in the form of instructional/curriculum designers working effectively and collaboratively with the teaching academics. This would not be a simple process, but it’s one that a lot of people are starting to do.

      The difference here, is that once the initial mapping is in place, it is entered into the Moodle course site. Now, how completely this mapping can be done within a Moodle course site is another problem to deal with, but let’s assume it can be done.

      This is where the first assumption kicks in. Most academics simply tweak a course that has already been offered. With a good Moodle course (or any LMS) this would mean modifying the course site. If alignment were part of the course site, they could be encouraged to maintain the mapping as they make the changes. This is where the ecosystem and a range of other practices kick in.

      But, hopefully, the aim is that maintaining the alignment mapping is a small thing that can be built into everyday practice. I also hope/believe that being asked these questions might, in an appropriate support environment, start changing the types of questions academics ask themselves when setting up a course. Hopefully, the ecosystem around the alignment mapping can also enable the development of some new discussions and practices.

      That’s the “hope”, reality is a long way off. Thanks for commenting, it’s helped me frame a few things I need to say in the presentation.

      David.

  2. dveness

    … and then the next thing would be to link the stuff in the Moodle site with all the other databases in which universities store course information – the online handbooks, the course outline repositories that are turning up around the place (I think you might hear a bit at the Moot about how UC is using Equella for this purpose), and so on.

    The mapping element needs to persist through these other systems, so the institution can track how changes at a course level are impacting the programs. In my current area, we are very efficient about how we use certain courses, particularly at undergraduate level … microeconomics, for instance, is a core course in more than half of the undergraduate programs. Once you become aware of that, it becomes very clear that you have to monitor the impact of changes very carefully.

    Deborah

    1. G’day Deborah,

      Agree. This information does need to be available and be used. I’ve talked a bit with the UC folk.

      My problem with the way much of this is being done (at my institution and elsewhere) is that the process starts from the administrative systems. That’s where they put the information first. I see this as the tail wagging the dog, of course it’s also solving the simple problem.

      To be really useful and integrated, I think it has to start with what the academics do. Get it right there, get it integrated into what they do and draw the information from their for the administrative purposes.

      A thought, anyway.

      David.

  3. dveness

    Yes, this is the only way – and it has to flow through seamlessly and easily, so if there are peer review and moderation processes (as there should be), they are all part and parcel … ahh, we can only dream!

  4. Pingback: Trip report – Moodlemoot’AU 2010 « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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