This week Susie and I will be facilitating a faculty development workshop on the topic of alignment. Alignment in instructional design terms is the connection between the course assessments, activities, materials, and outcomes. Designing a well-aligned course helps ensure that what we expect students to do/accomplish is actually what we are asking them to do/accomplish.
The Quality Matters rubrics have a large alignment component present. There are six specific standards that evaluate the alignment within an online/blended course. Each of these standards are considered Essential (3 point) standards which means if they are not met, then the course cannot meet Quality Matters expectations. Standard 6 in the Quality Matters rubric focuses on the course technology and includes an alignment standard (6.1).
Quality Matters Standard 6.1 states “The tools used in the course support the learning objectives or competencies” and basically evaluates whether the technology tools within the course help students to meet the course and module outcomes appropriately. For example, the use of a discussion board to simply address an outcome that focuses on a student ‘Identifying’ information is probably not the best alignment. Discussion boards are best used to help students “discuss,” “evaluate,” “debate,” or “argue” topics. An instructor who uses a discussion board simply as a way for students to identify information is not utilizing the technology to its benefit and frankly these “discussion” are probably pretty boring!
The opposite can also be true. If an instructor is using a self-scoring quiz to evaluate students on highly complex cognitive skills such as “creating,” “prioritizing,” or even “analyzing” is likely not using the best technology. The task in choosing a technology tool is to choose the best tool for the job. Sure you could use a hammer to install a screw, but it’s not the best tool for the job.
In addition to finding the best tools to accomplish the outcomes of the course, Standard 6.1 also states that students should be informed in some way why the technology is being used. Making clear to students why the instructional choice of a discussion board can help students to understand why student-to-student interaction is the best way to address a particular course outcome. Explaining why you are asking students to utilize a social media site will help students best use that tool for their learning.
Any technology that is used in the course should be used in an attempt to vary the learning activities and assist the learner to engage in active learning. Online courses cannot simply be a text-only repository of information for the student to passively absorb. Technology allows for active engagement with information and with others to help facilitate learning. QM Standards 6.2 and 6.3 focus on evidence for this type of active learning and variety in technology tool use. This is not to say that you should use a dozen different technologies, but rather enough variety so that students have a number of different ways that they can interact with the material.
Finally QM standard 6.4 focuses on student privacy and the use of technology. There are a number of ways that programs can mine and use personal information. To meet QM standard 6.4 the students must be provided with a list of the privacy policies of the technologies used in the course. There also needs to be evidence for the protection of student privacy and data within the course as well. For example, if using social media, the utilization of a closed group helps to protect student privacy. Allowing students to use a pseudonym on a public tool outside of the LMS is also a measure that you can allow to help student privacy. And though it is not a part of a QM evaluation, any time that you plan to use an external tool that requires students to create an account and provide even basic information, you should evaluate 1) the companies policy on the use of user data and 2) whether there is some reason to be suspicious of how the program might use user information.
The gist of Standard 6 is to evaluate the course designers/instructor’s use of technology tools for the purpose of achieving the course outcomes. Technology tools should not be used for their own sake and when a technology decision is made for the course, it is helpful to let students know why that choice will help them to achieve the course goals. It can be very easy to go overboard and try a number of different tools (I know I’ve been guilty of this). It can also be easy to simply use the tools that are common. Finding the right balance will help students to be exposed to the course content in different ways and use the right tools for the right job.