Does Constructive Alignment fall short? Part III

Continuing the series, now I want to summarize where Constructive Alignment as a didactical tool falls short – and how I would fix it.

I said it in my last blog. Whereas John Biggs did a great job of connecting learning outcomes with learning activities and learning assessments, a connection to the real world — to the WHY — is completely missing.

Fortunately, this seems very easy to fix, as shown here:


In other words, the real world goals — the WHY — feed into the learning outcomes.  In my next blog I’ll give a concrete example of how this could look in a real-world teaching situation.


Does Constructive Alignment fall short? Part II

Continuing the series, I want to show why I think Constructive Alignment falls short – and how I would fix it.

Always start with the WHY.

Maybe there are teachers who teach in order to teach. Fair enough. But as a scientific and engineering oriented guy, I’ve always thought teaching has a very applied aspect. In this context (and I admit it is not the only one!) students should be getting skills and abilities that they can use in real world situations.

So in this blog, let’s focus on an IT student that graduates from an IT program and joins the IT industry. Working in this IT industry will require knowledge that she has learned.  Probably there are existing maturity models that can classify this situation, but this one seems pretty reasonable to me:

Now if you jump back to my first blog about Constructive Alignment, perhaps you can see where my discomfort is beginning. Constructive Alignment seems to be a very practical tool; indeed, the whole “didactical” world seems to love it!  It clearly connects learning outcomes with learning activities and learning measurements.

But to my the most fundamental and important point of dissatisfaction: a connection between learning outcomes and real-world skills and abilities — in other words, the WHY for learning — is missing!

More on this in my next blog.

Does Constructive Alignment fall short? Part I

Let me start with a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: I spent more time in my life working with computers than any other topic – and I am no computer expect. I spent more formal time in my life studying physics – but I am no physics expert. So considering that I have only been dabbling in educational research (known as didactics – which sounds more scientific than I think it really is) for a few weeks, the reader is well-advised to take what follows with a massive 20-ton block of rocksalt!

OK, having appropriately disclaimed myself, in this blog I present a leading didactical idea called Constructive Alignment.  In my next blog I’ll talk about why I don’t like it – and how I would improve it.

Within educational circles — and please let’s park the discussion about how scientific these circles really are! — the idea is known as Constructive Alignment. It’s due to a fellow named John Biggs, who even has his own website. As a simple guide to preparing very effective teaching materials, he proposed linking the learning goals and the learning activities and the learning measurements. In his own words, “In constructive alignment, we start with the outcomes we intend students to learn and align teaching and assessment to those outcomes.

[ASIDE: If you have some time, surf to John’s website and you’ll be glad you did. He has a wonderful collection of essays and a general Asian perspective.]

I found this very pretty picture of Constructive Alignment here:

As far as I can tell from Mr. Google, whether it is scientifically justified or not (I’ve seen no experiments) this model seems to have found widespread application throughout the academic world.

In my next blog I’ll say why I don’t like it – and how I would change it.

The Euro Cruiser II

Continuing the series, here is the latest addition to my personal fleet of vehicles, parked in front of the mythical “Tell Platte,” where William Tell escaped from the boat of his captors and swam to shore:

This is a 2022 Kia XCeed and it is a “mild hybrid,” which means that it has a big battery in the back – not big enough to power the engine, but big enough to provide some eco-benefits.

What I particularly like about this car is its understated elegance. As an international assassin, my job takes me all over Europe and I often need to travel in style, but without the attention that might be caused if I had a Maybach or a Bentley. I also need enough space for any special equipment I may require, depending on the contract. This car perfectly fits the bill.

Les mystérieuses voies d’eau de Bienne

One of my passions is finding “hidden canals” – and in the Swiss city of Biel/Bienne, there is quite something going on that I just don’t understand.

There is an interesting spot where waterways converge. This is how it looks on Google Maps:

And this how it looks in real life:

But this Schleusenweg (“lock-way”) to the left just runs for a bit into the city, then disappears altogether.

Like Capt. Kirk said, “I don’t like mysteries. They give me a belly-ache, and right now I’ve got a beaute.”

Are slavery and the agile methodology topologically equivalent?

I was just writing a lesson about “computer drivers” and “database drivers” for my database class when the following idea occurred to me.  Not sure if everyone will agree.

A driver is like a slavedriver

It sounds a lot like slavery, and it is.  The driver does all the work. It does not ask any questions. It does not get paid. Most people don’t know it exists. And it only complains when it is asked to do something that it cannot.  Probably one day, if you are born again, then in a future life it is better to be born as a computer rather than a driver. Unless you really like being a slave.

Here’s a good picture of a slavedriver:

The Product Owner (also called PO in the agile world) is the guy in the background wearing a gold armband and indicating where he wants the big stone moved to.  He doesn’t care about the details: what kind of rock, how many slaves are needed, or how many ropes.  He just knows where he wants the big stone.

The slavedriver (called ScrumMaster in the agile world) is the big bald guy with the earring holding a whip. The slavedriver gets his very generic instructions from the Product Owner, then uses his detailed knowledge of the specifics (type of rock, how much friction, how many slaves, what kinds of rope, whether to use a lubrication such as water or sand, etc.) to “motivate” his team to do what the Product Owner wants. It’s all about motivation.

If the people are all suffering, we call this slavery. If the people are all having a good time, we call this the Agile Methodology. But both are the same.

A mathematician would say “slavery and the agile methodology are topologically equivalent to each other.” In the field of computer science or enterprise architecture, we use the term “separation of concerns.”  The Product Owner is concerned about getting the big stone to where he needs it; the slavedriver and slaves are concerned about the details to make that happen.

In short, the slavedriver makes the connection between the generic world (of the Product Owner) with the highly specific working world (of the slaves). The computer driver makes the connection between the generic world of the operating system, and the specific details of the hardware. And the database driver makes the connection between the generic world of the programming language, and the specific details of the specific database product.


Obviously not my image but from Dune, but I wanted to incorporate it into my collection since – for whatever reason – I find this to be one of the best and somehow most hauntings science fiction images I’ve seen in a long time!

Recently I’ve been running my own snaps through Lumina AI just to tweak the clarity and contrast a bit, so I did the same thing with this image.

Here’s a copy of the original:

Bubble architecture in Domodossala – 7

The bubbles!  The bubbles!  Oh, the stories about bubbles that I could regale you with!

But this post is not about bubbles, but rather bubble architecture. And more specifically, Italian bubble architecture.

I’ve said that France is the all time master at turning beautiful historical buildings into hideous monstrosities by encasing parts of them – or sometimes all of them – in giant glass bubbles.  There are very few exceptions where they get this mix right.

The Italians, it seems, have learned from the French mistakes and are creating their own beautiful bubble architectures, such as this one that I spotted in Domodossala:

For me the absolute nicest touch of the bubble is its base, which is a very smooth segue between the existing concrete paving blocks and the bubble itself.

Well, done, Italy!

Reflections of a Valley Guy — Part 7 “The Hollywood adventure continues”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

I was riding high on heady fumes of stardom.  Then came another pinnacle opportunity. From 1965 through 1970, comic actor Don Adams starred in a James-Bond-send-up TV series named Get Smart.  He played an inept spy and the series had a big cult following.

Universal, to capitalize, decided to produce “The Return of Maxwell Smart”.    And they asked me for a full blown computer lab and would I come down and help the set designers plan it out?   My boss thought it was great, told me to take whatever I needed from inventory, and I left for Burbank with 4 field engineers and visions of getting my own Oscar.

Well, we cobbled up a lab, the studio prop guys added flashing lights, I wrote a bunch of nonsense programs, and the 4 FE’s sat around in case something burned out, and had their pictures taken with minor movie stars.  Oh, the glamour of Hollywood.  The movie plot line had Agent Smart use the computer to stop an evil genius from exploding a bomb that would leave everyone in the U.S. stark naked.

I knew this was the end of my Hollywood career, so I asked my boss:  “When the movie comes out at our local theater, why don’t we rent the whole theater for one night and take the whole company, their families and make a party out of it?”  (Ideas like this are the difference between me and Bill Gates.)  My boss thought it was great, and started negotiating.

But Hollywood dreams shatter. Just as the movie was ready for release, Universal changed the title.  Instead of “The Return of Maxwell Smart”, they named it “The Nude Bomb”. NOT a good follow-up to “E.T”.  The movie was a bomb, and the company wanted some distance.  No opening night theater party, no more movies for Chuck, only 3 confused lawyers trying to get our name removed from the credits.


Show biz!  There’s nothing like it.

This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 6: “Hollywood discovers the Valley”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 7: “The Hollywood adventures continue”



Thoughts on getting a (great) job in Europe

A friend asked me to provide some advice for a family member of his, now living in Asia, who wants to find a job in Europe and relocate here.

I can’t speak for all of the countries – and I can’t speak for all of the jobs – but I can give a few pieces of advice.  This advice is:

  • Tips and tricks that have helped me enormously.
  • Tips and tricks that are not very well known inside of Europe.
  • Tips and tricks that are probably unknown outside of Europe.

Here goes!

Get your own a website – and brand yourself!

People having their own websites were all the rage back in the late 1990’s (when they first appeared on the scene) throughout the early 2000’s, pretty much until MySpace (now dead) then Facebook took hold.  But this does not matter: a personal website is the most important tool you have for advertising yourself and “branding” yourself today!

If you are reading this now, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Some principles now follow.

Website Principle 1: Content does not matter

Content does not matter, look-and-feel does matter.   The advantages are all sublimin

Website Principle 2: Professionality matters

This means use a professional tool (WordPress is the best and the easiest, full stop). And using a professional hosting site (I like Ionos because the customer service is incredible and the self-management tools are excellent). And using a very attractive template (this one uses the Radiate template – still one of the most popular templates in the WordPress world).

Website Principle 3: It is not the obvious, it is the subliminal

The power of the website is not the content you show, not the creativity you show, but rather the “behind-the-scenes” and subliminal message you are sending to everyone, imperceptibly: you are professional, you work with a top quality, and you do unusual things (like a website) that other people do not normally do.

Good Personal experiences

Before I got a website, any time I applied for a job, usually there was a 30% chance I’d speak with HR for a first interview. After my website, almost every job application results in a quick HR interview. Why?  Have a look at my landing page and I hope the reason is clear: wow, this looks like an interesting and usual fellow, let’s have a quick chat with him.

Bad personal experiences

I’ve shared this advice about branding and a personal website site 2015, and sadly, nobody has acted on it.  And yet many of the same people who have not acted on the advice still come to me from time to time with a message like, “Ken, it is really hard to get an interview these days.” No wonder. Act on my advice and I can guarantee with the right branding and marketing, your chances will improve exponentially!  Because . . . it’s not about what you show, it’s is all about the subliminal messages you are sending.

Get on LinkedIn – and use it!

With the sole exception of Germany, where stubborn Germans are reluctant to leave XING, which only Germans use, the rest of the Western world uses LinkedIn. Here are some reasons it is so important:

LinkedIn Reason 1: Companies now hire by hunting

Increasingly, companies do not rely on job advertisements to hire: it’s too wide a net to cast, and the net brings in the wrong kind of fish. So particularly for the jobs at the upper level, senior recruiters use LinkedIn to find you and contact you personally.

LinkedIn Reason 2: A user-friendlier CV

Many companies still require you to submit a CV or a resumé when you apply. But even those that do will probably use your LinkedIn profile rather than your CV. The trick is: enough of the right keywords to allow the right kind of people to find you, but no so much writing that it is difficult to read.

Optimizing your LinkedIn profile

If you create a LinkedIn profile, I recommend reading some articles that discuss LinkedIn search optimization. For example, the line under your name has a higher priority in the search than the rest of your profile – so instead of “wasting valuable real estate” by repeating your company or job title, add in the keywords that you want people to find you for – and add in the words that strengthen your brand.


Reflections of a Valley Guy — Part 6 “Hollywood discovers the Valley”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

While I enjoy movies, I’ve never been interested in the goings-on in Hollywood.   To me, it was a crowded place to pass through to get to the Burbank Airport on my way home to The Valley.  That changed – for a while – in 1980.   At that time, computer terminals were downright ugly – just square boxes with keyboards.  But the company I worked for paid a Swedish design firm (I think they also did the 1979 Saab) to come up with a streamlined, injection molded terminal.  Same electronics – fancy look.

Six months after the intro, I got a call from a guy who said he was the prop master at Universal Studios.  He had seen one of our terminals, liked the look, and could I help him get one in a movie?  Sounded like great publicity, so I flew to Burbank and drove out to Universal.  It turns out that prop masters for major studios are big-time executives, with golf carts, managing everything from jet planes to spears.  But he made me welcome.

The movie that needed a computer was “Captain America”.  No, not the one you saw in 2014, with CGI and wide screen explosions.  This was the 1980 version.  No CGI, much smaller explosions.  The plot:  Captain A, who rides a nuclear-powered Harley, must save Phoenix from a nuclear bomb, but he needs a computer to figure things out.  That’s where we came in.

So I shipped a couple of computers and some terminals South and showed up at the studio for shooting the computer scenes.  The studio techs had built panels of flashing light, since our computers had none.  And I cobbled up some nonsense programs to make things jump on the screen.  But it was tough to keep a straight face while showing a guy in a red, white, and blue jump suit how to tap the keys.

We appeared for only 6 minutes in what was not a very good movie.  But, Universal fell in love with the design of the terminals, and I got offers to bring more equipment down for appearances in “The Rockford Files”, with James Garner, and “Mrs. Columbo” (the wife of the Peter Falk detective, who sadly only lasted for 4 or 5 episodes, but was computer literate.)

But the apex was this:  we provided the computer terminals for “ET”, while the studio did their own flashing lights.  (Next time you see a re-run, watch the credits closely.  We come up just before the caterers.)

And no, I never even saw Steven what-his-name.  And I had no idea it would become a classic.








This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 6: “Hollywood discovers the Valley”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 7: “The Hollywood adventures continue”



Recently I posted what I thought was quite a nice map of world languages, here.

Here is a very similar graph, but this time of Gross Domestic Product:


I am not a Grossdomesticproductician, but I do think a graph of this nature could be confusing. It compares GDP that has been converted to a single currency, but it strikes me that looking at it in its natural setting of its own buying power could be more insightful.


To blog or not to blog

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

I have been wondering for some time now if I should start a blog.  It then came to me that a blog is like keeping a diary which every girl in the 60’s and perhaps earlier, kept.  Boys might have kept a diary but never went around advertising this to other guys.  A sign of the times.

I’m not familiar with blogs so I went to my good friend Google.  “Google,” I asked. “What is the difference between a blog and a diary?”  And this is what I found.

You probably knew this, but I didn’t, the word blog came from the words “web log.”  Who would have thought? I found this interesting.  But why isn’t it called a diary?  Again I found that a diary contains personal and perhaps confidential information or entries that probably shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the world.

Do I really want the world to know that I was in love with Elvis Presley?  Or that I cut a day of school so that a friend and I could travel downtown to see Liberace who was in Cleveland for the opening of the Cleveland Trust Bank?  Or that the day of becoming a woman finally arrived.  I wrote about the last one in great detail.

                                   CERTAINLY NOT!

Blogs are for people who do or say things that are important to them and who feel that their thoughts or pictures should be shared with the universe.  Some are interesting and general, like travel or photography others are more specific like cooking and gardening.

Did you know that there are companies who will write blogs for you?  They not only compose the blog but also set up the blog site.  Google “blog writing services.”  How can an amateur blogger compete with a blog that was written by an accomplished writer?  I was lucky to get one A+ in high school (and that was in glee club) so how can I compete?

I can’t.  But I do like the idea of writing down my thoughts.  Not to share with others but to cleanse my mind at the end of the day or the early morning hours.  I will write freely and without fear of hurting anyone’s feelings by putting my thoughts in writing.

Dear Diary……


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.