Using Biggs' Model of Constructive Alignment in Curriculum Design/Continued

Figure 4: Relating the Constructive Alignment Model to Learning Taxonomies.

Bloom’s Taxonomy
(As revised by Anderson et al 2001)
Biggs’ Proposed Levels of Attainment Biggs & Collis’ SOLO Taxonomy

Synthesis / Creation
design, organise, formulate, propose.

Evaluation
judge, appraise, evaluate, compare, assess.

A:
The very best understanding
Extended Abstract Thinking:

theorise
generalise
reflect
evaluate

Analysis
distinguish, analyse, calculate, test, inspect.

Application
apply, use, demonstrate, illustrate, practice.

B:
Highly Satisfactory
Relational Thinking:

explain
analyse
compare
apply

Comprehension
explain, describe, discuss, recognise.

C:
Quite Satisfactory
Multi-structural Thinking

classify
comment upon

Knowledge
define, list, name, recall, record

D:
Just a Pass
Uni-structural

state
describe

E:
Fail
Pre-structural

A better fit with what Biggs says elsewhere in his book, however, is that the assessment regime needs to be thought out before the teaching and learning activities. This is because for students, assessment defines what is important in the curriculum and they will learn what they think will be assessed.

As Biggs put it:

... students learn what they think they will be tested on. This is backwash, when the assessment determines what and how students learn more than the curriculum does. In a poorly aligned system, where the test does not reflect the objectives, this will result in inappropriate surface learning. (Biggs 2003: 140)

Biggs notes that if the assessment regime does not properly reflect curriculum objectives then the result will be inappropriate "surface" learning. He then goes on to propose that educators use the inevitability backwash to secure effective educational reform.

You can't beat backwash, so join it. Students will always second-guess the assessment task and then learn what they think will meet those requirements. But if those assessment requirements mirror the curriculum, there is no problem. Students will be learning what they are supposed to be learning. Ibid: 210.

This concept of backwash is a key element of, and justification for, the adoption of Bigg’s Model of Constructive Alignment because it is validated by a great deal of independent research (Atkins et al 1993, Ramsden 1992, Scouller 2000).

This does not, however, in anyway diminish the importance of the other two components of the curriculum. Any review or revision of any one of the three components of an aligned curriculum requires a matching review or revision of the other two. Where a curriculum is not aligned – i.e. where there is a discontinuity between any two of the components – it is likely that there will be a mismatch between intention and product.


At a more complex level, constructive alignment requires a balance and synergy between:

  • the professional goals of the teachers
  • the wants and needs of the students
  • the curriculum
  • the teaching methods used
  • the assessment procedures used and the method or report results
  • the psychological and social climate of the classroom (learning milieu)
  • the psychological and social climate of the institution.

Each of these components needs to work towards the common goals.

Imbalance in the system will lead to poor teaching and surface learning. Non alignment is signified by inconsistencies, unmet expectations, and practices that contradict what we preach (Biggs 2003: 26)


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