The Importance of Alignment


In education, there are cases where teaching is delivered at a lower level than what is required in the curricula and what appears on assessments. One example of how this misalignment could take place is when standardized exams that align with the curricula are used. Carr (2011) investigated a nursing program at a private university in the United States where students were given quality learning experiences, yet they were unprepared for their licensing exams upon graduation. Another example of how this misalignment may occur, is when a teacher has a strong knowledge in the subject matter but may not necessarily be able to transfer this knowledge to their students. A study by Borko, Eisenhart, Brown, Underhill, Jones, and Agard (1992) examines this scenario in the case of a mathematics teacher who unsuccessfully taught division of fractions to a grade six mathematics class.


When I think about this misalignment, I am reminded of one course that I taught in my early teaching days. I was asked to teach a computing science course that I had a strong theory background in, but little practical experience. To make matters worse, the campus infrastructure could not support me to obtain nor deliver this practical experience. This was reflected onto my students. The practical portion of the course was the most challenging and useful part and I was unable to deliver this experience to my students. I know how my students felt because I too had experienced courses like this. For instance, many computing science courses I took were not delivered in labs making it very difficult to comprehend the material since no applications of course content were involved. This made learning frustrating for me and I can see how my students were also frustrated with my teaching.


I share the mathematics teacher’s despair in the research by Borko et al. (1992). One reason proposed for the teacher’s ineffective lesson in fractions was that she wasn’t adequately evaluated on the topic during her university studies. At times I don’t feel I was evaluated effectively, having taking advanced graphics courses for example, yet being evaluated through multiple choice and short answer responses. Another reason proposed was that the teacher understood the theory behind her content and thought it would suffice to teach the theory without any application. I now see the trap I fell into when teaching my unsuccessful course, since I was teaching at a lower level than what was required in the curricula and the students weren’t prepared for the evaluations.


There are two approaches I believe would help me align my teaching with the curricula and evaluations I work with. One approach is to have exams designed at the department or program level. Exams created carefully and collaboratively could help me as an instructor deliver the right amount of content in the right way to my students. This has been proposed in my department before but it should be noted that “[m]ost faculty [are] reluctant to use an external exam, over which they had little control, to evaluate students’ ability and knowledge (Cowan, George, & Pinheiro-Torres, 2004). The second approach is to be more persistent and voice my concerns when I believe I need more support or if the institution is lacking the infrastructure to help me to deliver a superior learning experience for students. I need to remember that “…quality enhancement of the curriculum is now an institutional concern, if not a priority, in the face of governmental pressure and in a competitive environment. It is no longer a matter of individual endeavour” (Cowan, George, & Pinheiro-Torres, 2004, p. 439).


Borko, H., Eisenhart, M., Brown, C. A., Underhill, R. G., Jones, D., & Agard, P. C. (1992). Learning to teach hard mathematics: do novice teachers and their instructors give up too easily? Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 23(3), 194-222.

Carr, S. M. (2011). NCLEX-RN pass rate peril: one school’s journey through curriculum revision, standardized testing, and attitudinal change. Nursing Education Perspectives, 32(6), 384-388.

Cowan, J., George, J. W., & Pinheiro-Torres, A. (2004). Alignment of developments in higher education. Higher Education, 48(4), 239-259.


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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