Unit of Study alignment
|ADMINISTRATION||LEARNING & TEACHING||SUPPORT|
|Pre-requisites & co-requisites||Alignment of UoS components||Resources|
|UoS mapping systems||Alignment with broader curriculum||Student support issues|
What is alignment?
We can think of alignment in learning and teaching in terms of programs, units, assessments, learning activities and outcomes and graduate attributes. The Business School’s Learning and Teaching site has an excellent discussion of all of these issues, and most of which has relevance across disciplines.
Here we focus briefly on alignment of components within a unit of study (UoS), and aligning a UoS to the broader curriculum.
One of the key principles of good unit of study design is to ensure close alignment between:
- the learning outcomes – what you want your students to know, understand or be able to do by the end of the unit
- the learning activities – what your students do in order to learn throughout the unit
- the assessment – how you give students feedback on their progress and performance in relation to the learning objectives and ensure that they have achieved an adequate standard.
This principle sounds quite straightforward but, in fact, requires very careful planning and thought when designing and reviewing a unit. In particular, we need to make sure that we don’t think about unit design in terms of a body of knowledge or set of materials that we need to ‘get through’ or ‘cover’ and then test. Rather, we need to focus clearly on what we want students to learn and what activities they need to engage in, in order to do so.
In the two resources below, John Biggs introduces the principle of ‘alignment’ within a unit of study, so that the various elements of learning and assessment (from aims and outcomes to marking criteria) cohere, thus creating conditions in which student learning can occur:
Biggs, J. 2003. Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does. Philadelphia, Pa: Society for Research into Higher Education: Open University Press. (Specifically Chapter 2 - Constructing learning by aligning teaching: constructive alignment.)
Biggs, J. 1996. ‘Enhancing Teaching Through Constructive Alignment’, Higher Education v32, 1996, pp. 347-364.
In order to ensure the student’s experience is coherent, coordinators have to be aware of any other units required for the majors or degree programs in which your unit is a foundational subject.
- Liaise and collaborate with key stakeholders in the program, including academic colleagues, heads of department and faculty committees to ensure your UoS aligns with others in the curriculum, and that learning outcomes are being addressed across the program.
- Consider UoS learning outcomes in the context of the overall program outcomes, so as to foster coherent learning.
1. Liaise with coordinators of the courses for which your course is a pre-requisite, so that you can:
- Ensure there is no gap in learning, nor major repetition of content and learning activities.
- Maintain enough challenge and interest without pushing students too far. Be aware of the way in which any diluted, or absent, learning opportunities in foundational courses may impact on the student’s ability to handle expectations later in their program, or achieve the degree requirements and the University generic graduate attributes.
- Develop students’ understanding of how UoS are linked and how performance in one affects other UoS options.
2. Consider any co-requisite units of study that your students will be taking.
In many situations these first year co-requisite courses may occur outside your department or faculty. If possible, make contact with the coordinators of co-requisite courses to ensure:
- that assessment deadlines don’t all occur on the same day or the same week as this may impinge on first year students’ ability to focus on learning, instead putting their energy simply to meeting the demands of the workload.
- that co-requisite courses, if necessary, address the needs of students over multiple disciplines.
The Course and Unit of Study Portal (CUSP) provides details of courses and units offered across several faculties.
The information is accessible to both current and prospective students. It enables students to:
- have an overview of information about all the units of study within their course, even if these are taught across several faculties.
- see a breakdown of the details of a specific Unit of Study outline, such as learning outcomes or assessment task and schedules.
- download a UoS outline.
On the teaching and curriculum development side, the system provides:
- overview reports on assessment
- learning outcomes
- graduate attributes
- unit of study workloads
- update status of units and courses.
The system allows for detailed input for curriculum review, while at the same time addressing issues in the coordination and consistency of course information provided to students.
CUSP was a developed jointly by the Faculties of Engineering and Information Technologies, Health Sciences and Architecture, Design and Planning with support from a University TIES grant. Contact for further details.
The unit of study coordinator needs to develop first year students’ understanding of how units are, at the same time, independent from one another but also linked and how a student’s performance in one UoS can affects other UoS options. For example:
- Requirements across departments and faculties may not be the same. First year students whose degree program crosses over into other disciplines may become confused as to what is required of them. Clarify your UoS requirements, such as department policy on assessment extensions, since these may vary across departments or faculties.
- Students must understand the consequences of failing your UoS, as a pre-requisite to further study, in terms of the extra time, and thus the further cost that it will add to attaining their degree.