Vicki Hill

  • Constructive alignment: the student perspective

    Vicki Hill, University of Teesside

    Research paper

    Themes: assessment methods, supporting learners

    Tuesday 8 September 2009, 09.00 - 10.00 in room 120

    The paper reports on student experiences of the relationship between the learning outcomes of a module and its assessment tasks. The process of constructive alignment (Edstrom, 2008; Biggs, 2003) underpinning this relationship is a key strategy for enhancing student experiences of assessment. It links to the, popular, notion of assessment for learning where assessment is used not simply as a tool for accreditation but to facilitate learning (McDowell et al, 2006; Gibbs and Simpson, 2003; Boud, 2000). The student view on this particular aspect of assessment for learning is something less emphasised in previous studies into assessment practices and as such the paper also makes an original addition to this field.

    The findings reported here comprise one aspect of a larger research project into the impact of assessment practices at the University of Teesside (UoT) for the 2007-2008 academic year. Assessment is a priority area for the UoT and the institution has been particularly committed to understanding the assessment process from the student perspective. The findings from the research will be taken forward by the University’s Assessment Working Group (AWG) with the aim of enhancing assessment practices at the institution. This links to Ramsden’s (2008) vision for a 21st Century higher education that places the student and the student voice at the centre of its developments. 

    The research has employed a multi-method approach using six (year-long) case study modules from across the institution – one from each school - in order to engage in depth with the particular context of a module and the experiences of its students over the academic year. Students (n=263) were given an original self-completion questionnaire covering five areas of assessment and learning with a response rate of 65 percent. Focus groups with students (n=42) from all modules were held to engage with student views and experiences, and interviews were held with all module staff (n=10) about their assessment strategies.

    The paper will present findings indicating that a majority of students on the modules felt the assessments had helped them to achieve the learning outcomes – which is a clear aim for constructive alignment. The paper will also report where this relationship held less certainty for some students, linking this to the context of the module. Students in this study questioned the ability of some assessment methods – particularly multiple choice exams – to help them achieve learning outcomes and further details will provided on this. However, focus groups also suggested that learning outcomes held a particular value for students. This value will be reported on, particularly: making learning ‘meaningful’; facilitating a sense of achievement, and helping students to recognise the relevancy of an assessment task, thus enhancing engagement.

    This paper will discuss the implications for practice in relation to the conference themes of assessment methods and supporting learners in the 21st century. It will also discuss the recommendations from the research and how the UoT has taken these forward to date.


    • Biggs, J. 2003. Aligning teaching and assessing to course objectives. Paper presented at Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: New Trends and Innovations. University of Averio, 13-17th April, 2003.
    • Boud, D. 2000. Sustainable assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education 22, (2): 151-67.
    • Edstrom, K. 2008. Doing course evaluation as if learning matters most. Higher Education Research and Development 27, (2): 95-106.
    • Gibbs, G., C. Simpson. 2004. Conditions under which assessment supports student learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. 1: 3-31.
    • McDowell, L., K. Sambell, V. Bazin, R. Penlington, D. Wakelin, H. Wickes, and J. Smailes. 2006. Assessment for learning: Current practice exemplars from the centre for excellence in teaching and learning in assessment for learning. Northumbria: Centre for Excellence Assessment for Learning, Northumbria University, CETL AfL Occasional Papers 3.
    • Ramsden, P. 2008. The future of higher education teaching and the student experience. UK: Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.