Aligning for Learning: Strategies for Effective Teaching
Edited by Donald H. Wulff
Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.
This book contains a wealth of useful information for both experienced and new faculty members and faculty developers as well. One of the most helpful aspects is the inclusion of specific examples of possible dissonance between students’ perceptions, instructor’s perceptions and likely solutions.
Wulff and 5 associate editors, from the Center for Instructional Development and Research at the University of Washington, reveal a variety of facets to the “alignment model” developed by Wulff about 20 years ago. He provides evidence that this process is reliable, valid and valuable for improving teaching and learning in higher education, business and industry.
Sixteen chapters and 5 sections cover the use of the alignment perspective in course design, assessment, evaluation, for specific contexts, and for the scholarship of teaching and learning. Wulff’s framework “emerged” from his efforts to capture the complexity of teaching and learning. It uses the 4 key components of context, content, instructor and students. Effective instructors are those who align the 4 course components while remaining focused on student learning. This requires both continual assessment and reflective practice.
Inclusive instruction requires serious attention to developing rapport with students, structuring courses for student success, ensuring equitable class participation and planning in response any changes in the 4 key components during a semester. Chapter 2 includes descriptions of the many ways instructors may inadvertently exclude students from opportunities to learn. Learning goals are defined as “what students should be able to do by the end of the course” (p. 40). From the alignment perspective, effectiveness in teaching means constant monitoring of the effects of teaching and either adapting or continuing a course of action based on evidence of student learning.
The model can also be applied to assessment and evaluation. The former involves data gathering to lay claim to achievement of learning outcomes. The term evaluation is used to describe conclusions about broader goals such as a student’s final grade in a course or the achievement of tenure or promotion.
The authors also discuss the process of alignment in the very complex contexts of teaching large classes or in situations of team teaching. Alignment can also be used in the context of mentoring which is viewed as a special form of teaching and learning involving a partnership between mentor and mentee. In such relationships key points of alignment should be included in the initiation of the relationship, the plan for working together, in progress assessment, reformulation of goals, and in preparation for closure.
Specific alignment suggestions are included for courses in math, science, engineering, and foreign languages. “Socially transformative courses” involving the study of marginalized groups require special consideration because students are often both distrustful and discomforted. The advice is to “be an authority” but not “authoritarian.” In these kinds of courses instructors must be especially open to student feedback. The alignment perspective is also described for writing classes and online classes.
The alignment framework for the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) includes context, content, instructor, students and interactions among its components. The practice of alignment requires inquiry, examination of evidence, and reflective criticism which define “scholarship” plus the addition of making findings public. The authors demonstrate ways the alignment model provides common points for investigation across all courses, disciplines and backgrounds. The alignment process can also be used for faculty reward systems by conceptualizing teaching effectiveness in a multi-stage evaluation process.
Solutions are presented for special challenges produced by the alignment process with regard to course content, student perceptions, instructional strategies, interpretation of findings and time management. The book includes references and indexing.
Margaret K. Snooks
University of Houston-Clear Lake