Course Content Vs. Complexity


alignment-scenario-1-diagram  (May, 2015)

The above diagram depicts a scenario where the complexity of content for the intended course curriculum, the “what”, is well below what it should be for a particular course of it’s designation.  This diagram also shows that the complexity of content for both the implemented curriculum, the “how”, and the achieved curriculum, the “assessment”, are on par with what should be taught and assessed in this particular course.  In the above diagram it can clearly be seen that there is a significant margin of misalignment between the course design and the implementation and assessment of the curriculum.  This scenario represents a situation where curricular review and further development would be necessary in order to bring the intended curriculum up to a complexity level appropriate for that level of course.  If further curriculum development was not undertaken then there are a variety of issues that could occur; I will explore these further within this journal entry.


The reason that I chose to discuss this scenario is because I have personal teaching experience in a situation similar to this and found it to be extremely frustrating yet also a very valuable learning experience.  Previously I have taught a community and home support practicum to health care assistant students.  These students would complete their practicum days with multiple certified health care assistants, very rarely would the be partnered with the same person, and I was not present for any of these shifts.

Included in the practicum guide was all of the practicum site contact/location information, applicable dress code, expected behaviours of the students, feedback forms for the preceptors to sign and a very short explanation regarding the required work for this course.  In the required work explanation it stated that this course was pass or fail and that in order to pass the students were required to hand in 8 feedback forms and 8 journal entries, one for each day of practicum they attended.  The course objectives were not stated anywhere in the practicum handbook.

This was the first course that I had ever taught within a college setting, and had yet to take any of the PIDP courses, so when I was given the practicum handbook and told that all I needed to do was change the instructor contact information that is what I did.  I did not expand on the practicum guide, although I thought that it could use a bit of revision, because I naively thought that if it had successfully been used by other instructors in the past that it was fine.  Prior to the practicums starting I met with all of the students, provided them with their handbooks, and went over the expectations of the students (ie. show up on time, in proper dress code, find practicum locations prior to their shifts, etc.).

Due to the lack of clarity within the practicum guide, regarding what the students would be assessed on and what the course objectives were, I was inundated with lack luster journal entries from students who would describe everything from what they ate for breakfast, to what they wore on shift, whether they had a headache that day, and only the odd journal mentioned the tasks they actually performed.  Not one student mentioned anything about what they actually learned during their practicum shift.  After receiving all of the week one journals I thought it necessary to clarify my expectations as to what the students should be discussing in their journals and focussing on while on shift.

A variety of issues arose during the course of this practicum such as, last minute shift changes due to sick preceptors, a lack of communication between staffing and the students when these instances occurred, students calling me at 5am as they weren’t sure where their practicum site was located, etc.  As the practicum continued on and my frustration grew, over students that just weren’t getting it, I started counting down the days until I was done.

To finish up the semester all that needed to be done now was to have the students fill out course evaluations.  I nearly cried when I read some of the comments.  I had put so much work into encouraging the students to discuss all of their learning, providing them with evaluation comments, and it seemed all for nothing after reading some of the students comments. Upon further reflection I realised that all of the negative comments were not directed at the way in which the course was taught, but rather towards the design of the course and lack of clarity as to the learning outcomes and intended goals of the course.

When the Dean of the program asked me to come back and teach this course again the following year I agreed, on the condition that I be granted some curriculum development time due to some notable flaws in the initial course design.  After sitting down with the Dean and going over all of my ideas for course redesign I was actually looking forward to teaching this practicum again.


Due to the fact the the initial practicum guide lacked a lot of explanations and clarity it was difficult for the students to understand was exactly was expected of them, although I did cover some of my expectations during our initial face-to-face meeting.  The fact that these things were not also covered in the course material they were provided with meant that they had nothing tangible to reference back to.  This caused there to be a lot of confusion and misalignment with what the students thought was expected of them to what they were being taught and assessed upon.

Having alignment between the intended, implemented and achieved curriculum is important in ensuring the success of the students.   As shared by the District Administration (2004)

An analysis of international studies shows implementing and monitoring an aligned curriculum to result in a measurable impact (31 percentile points) in student achievement. Several studies show that alignment “cancels out” more traditional predictors of student achievement such as socioeconomic status, gender, race and teacher effect. (para. 4).

They go on to discuss the fact that not only is student achievement impacted but that curriculum alignment can also impact the communication and collaboration amongst colleagues. (District Administration, 2004, para. 5).  Through ensuring that our own course curriculum is aligned we are better preparing our students for success, not only in our own courses but in further courses that they take that may build on the course we have taught.

Misaligned curriculum can also have an impact on the content validity of the assessment tools used.  “The issue of content validity relates directly to the design and execution of instruction. We begin by first looking at what was intended to be learned as expressed by the course objectives.” (May, 2016, para. 1).  If the course objectives are never formally shared with a student, through their course/practicum guide, then how can you say the assessment tools are in alignment.


This experience has given me some great insight into the teaching and learning process.  It has allowed me to see how many things can go wrong and how difficult a course can be to teach if it does not have a solid foundation to work from.  It has shown me that regardless of how new I may be to something it is important for me to find my voice, share my opinions and make the necessary changes to other’s curriculum work, allowing me to meet the needs of both my students and myself.

Going forward it is important for me to ensure that all aspects of the curriculum I am teaching are in alignment and at the right complexity level for the course I’m teaching.  This will ensure that I have clear curriculum objectives, that what I have intended to teach is being taught, and that the students have learned the necessary material.  It is important to note that each time a course is taught I would need to continually assess the course progress to ensure that the curriculum is still in proper alignment and make any necessary changes.

To sum it up I think it would be fair to say that any teacher needs to be committed to being a life-long learner.  As technology and innovation will continue to grow and change so will the need for our students knowledge to do the same.  If we as instructors are not committed to continuing to grow and learn then the knowledge that we possess and are able to share will become obsolete.



District Administration. (2004).  The benefits of curriculum alignment: Essentials on education    data and analysis from research authority AEL.  Retrieved from   

May, J. (2015). The 8 Alignment Scenarios.  In PIDP 3230 online course material. Vancouver, B.C.:Vancouver Community College.  Retrieved from   

May, J. (2016). Content Validity.  In In PIDP 3230 online course material. Vancouver,        B.C.:Vancouver Community College.  Retrieved from