Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing I – the philosophy

Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing I – the philosophy

This is the first in a series of 4 blogs, which are based on a 6-hour academic writing workshop I designed for early career and experienced researchers at AIPT.

In this part, I give a quick overview of the pedagogical and philosophical underpinnings of constructive alignment, and how to recast it to help us write better academic articles.

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Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing I – the philosophy by Srikanth Sugavanam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

So, you have read the theory, you have done the experiment, ran your data analysis and have some interesting results.

Now, you want to write that paper.

And then you come face-to-face with your nemesis – the blank white sheet.

This form of “blank canvas” anxiety is quite common.You want your work to be perfect from the first stroke of the brush. But let’s be honest – the first draft is almost always shiitake mushrooms (the one for this very blog was).

But it is important to get that first draft in. And it helps to have a framework of sorts to get you started.

Of late, I have seen some success using Biggs’ framework for constructive alignment. I have personally used it to make presentations, write EC project reports, a Nature Communications paper, and even prepare the materials for the workshop on which this blog is based on.

The constructive alignment framework is widely used for designing academic courses. If you ever attended a course which had a course description listing a handful of learning objectives, and had learning activities and assessments well-aligned with those objectives, it is most likely its design was based on the tenets of Biggs’ framework.

The following diagram attempts to capture the essence of Biggs’ framework for course design.

Biggs’ framework

Here the ‘constructive’ aspect refers to the idea that learners ‘construct meaning’ through relevant learning activities, and that that teaching and assessment methods are to be aligned with the intended learning outcomes. The feedback here refers to student generated feedback, which is used for tailoring course content for the next cohort (or within the same cohort, if possible).

Let’s recast this framework for academic writing –

Here, the ‘constructive’ aspect refers to the notion that our readers construct meaning from our presented results. Hence, the evidence presented for the results (i.e. figures, tables), and the way in which they are presented should be ‘aligned’ with the results we intend to present. Note how the peer-review process now influences the paper.

So, if we start thinking of writing a scientific paper as reaching out to an audience of learners, we can make use of the repository of knowledge that the tried and tested framework of constructive alignment offers. In addition, this opens up the possibility of using other allied approaches, e.g. viewing learning as a design science, as Prof. Diana Laurillard explains below.

Using constructive alignment for writing papers seems no more than a subtle nudge in perspective. But this nudge helps immensely – by accelerating the writing process, and delivers your result in a focused, punchy package.

Let’s move on to Part II, I talk about where and how to start.

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