In preparation for my first online course, I attended the Applying the Quality Matters (QM) Rubric workshop and met with our local technology gurus to discussion how to work within our local Learning Management System (LMS). Each of these components added to my understanding of the online classroom and online course delivery. What struck me as wonderfully exciting was that nearly everything that I learned in preparation for my online course I could apply to my face-to-face classes as well. While QM is not designed to evaluate face-to-face courses, I believe that the approach QM takes in online courses can apply to much of the course design of face-to-face classes. Let me explain.
While I have always considered my student learning outcomes (SLOs) in course design, the focus of the QM Rubric on alignment really hit home for me. Often, I forget to consciously think about how each piece of my course fits together. In fact, I realized that I had a favorite assignment that did not connect back to any of the student learning outcomes. I also had some SLOs that got much more attention than others. Considering alignment in the design of my online course made me review each of my courses and ponder the alignment between student learning outcomes, assessments, learning activities, engagement, and (when appropriate) technology.
To think about alignment more carefully, I drew an “alignment map” for each of my courses – both online and face-to-face. Okay, I actually used Post-Its on my kitchen table – what can I say, I am a visual learner. I first outlined the learning outcomes I had for the class (I put each on a single color of Post-It). Then (using another color), I identified my learning activities (for example, lectures, videos, discussions). I moved these individual activities to be close to the appropriate learning outcomes (some fit in multiple SLOs, of course). I started to see where some SLOs had more activities than others, and one SLOs did not have any activities. I immediately saw the mis-alignment for this course. As I made corrections, these pieces fit together better, and they came into alignment. Then, I did the same process for assessments (for example exams, papers, presentations) and resources (for example, readings, websites, practice worksheets) and for any appropriate technology. It looked a little something like this:
Seeing this physical alignment between each of the components of the course allowed me to rethink some activities and assessments for my course.
Now, as I prepare to create a new course for the spring, I am able to think about alignment from the initial conception. I am able to start developing this new course by first thinking about the SLOs and activities and assessments that I know I want to include, and build my course by filling in gaps and making adjustments to this “alignment map”. This mapping also allows me to see how activities, assessments, and SLOs connect together. Some activities build on one another, while others require students to apply the skills from a previous activity. I found that by the time the mapping was done, I had a nearly complete reading schedule, lecture outline, and assessment calendar. For me, this has become an organized way to develop (or revise) any course, online, hybrid, or face-to-face.
The QM Rubric drives home the focus on alignment between learning activities, assessments, and student learning outcomes. This alignment makes for a better overall course and curriculum. This simple practice of aligning the pieces of the course makes course design and execution more effective for student learning.