Curriculum Mapping & Analysis

Once program outcomes have been established, it can be helpful to assess how well the curriculum meets or supports those outcomes. Curriculum mapping provides an analytic framework for better understanding how the skills and subject matter currently, or potentially, embedded within individual courses contribute to the established program-level outcomes of a program.

Curriculum mapping is “the process of associating course outcomes with program‐level learning outcomes and aligning elements of courses (e.g., teaching and learning activities, assessment strategies) within a program, to ensure that it is structured in a strategic, thoughtful way that enhances student learning.” (11) In other words, mapping provides a global view of how elements of the curriculum relate to the program outcomes.

If the unit is revising an existing program, mapping consists of associating courses with program outcomes. Mapping the curriculum (which could be just core required courses, or core and elective courses) allows units to identify curricular gaps, where outcomes are not currently being taught and/or assessed, and curricular redundancies, where outcomes are taught in multiple courses without a rationale for the overlap.

In the case of new program development, or where a program is making significant changes, it may not be optimal for a unit to associate the new outcomes with the existing curriculum. Instead, it may make more sense to create a curriculum map to guide the development of new courses. In this case, the program outcomes would be used as the starting point for considerations of course alignment (implementing the concept of backwards design that was described in the introduction), and units would build the curriculum from the end of the program to the beginning. In other words, start with the advanced courses where students would demonstrate mastery of the program learning outcomes, and work backwards through the students’ development to the introductory courses. Starting with the end point in mind helps to ensure that 1) students leave the program with the appropriate level of mastery, and 2) students are given appropriate opportunities throughout the entire curriculum to develop skills and knowledge before demonstrating mastery of the outcomes near the end of the program.

Typically, curriculum maps are structured with the learning outcomes along one axis and the courses along the other axis (see Sample Curriculum Map below). At the cross-section of each line (consider a cell in Excel), the unit would note whether or not that program learning outcome is addressed in that course, and use an alpha or numerical code to indicate the level of development of the outcome within that course (the code for the sample map is outlined below). It can be helpful to have course outcomes to complete a curriculum map, but in the absence of those, instructors will need to articulate the main course goals.

It is important for units to understand that each outcome should NOT be addressed in every course – in fact, a well-balanced curriculum would likely see a maximum of three or four outcomes addressed in a given course.

Sample Curriculum Map

I  = Introduced (12):
The learning outcome is explicitly introduced in this course; teaching and learning activities focus on basic concepts and skills with entry‐level complexity.

D = Developed:
The learning outcome is explicitly developed or reinforced in this course; teaching and learning activities focus on enhancing and strengthening existing knowledge and skills, as well as expanding complexity.

P = Proficient:
Students explicitly demonstrate graduation-level proficiency or mastery of the learning outcome in this course; teaching and learning activities focus on the use of content or skills at multiple levels of complexity.

A table listing courses (down left side) and specific classes (along top) with an I (Introduced), D (Developed), or P (Proficient) indicating level of learning outcomes.

Sample questions to prompt analysis:

  1. Which program‐level learning outcomes are being most/least emphasized?
  2. How is learning progression encouraged for each learning outcome?
  3. Where are the gaps and redundancies in this program?
  4. What recommended areas of focus would you have for future curriculum discussions?

Curriculum mapping can be used as an opportunity to track more than just courses and outcomes. Since the unit is taking the time to gather data on the program as a whole, it is a great opportunity to track other elements of the curriculum that might be of interest to the unit. For example, it may be beneficial to know what courses provide students with research experience (field or other); or, it may be helpful to learn which courses involve other kinds of significant learning experiences, such as field work, writing intensive assignments, and so forth. Units can use mapping as a chance to pull together information to complete the picture of the curriculum for analysis.

 

UTQAP Connection

UTQAP new program proposals require proponents to map out how courses and other requirements support program learning outcomes and Degree Level Expectations

 

Continuing with the Swedish Studies program example, the department has decided to find out 1) how well the current curriculum supports the new program outcomes related to research, 2) what types of assessments students currently complete related to research, and 3) what instruction students are given related to research. The completed curriculum map showed introductory level exposure in one second-year course, and proficient-level exposure in several fourth-year courses. The department decided to drill a bit further into the specifics of those courses to assist their analysis. The list below provides an example of how the unit might gather and record that information.

Learning Outcome: Students will be able to use research within the field to make evidence-based decisions

Course: Course203
Outcome Coverage:  I
Instructional Methods:  Lecture on research strategies, Class discussion
Assessments:

  • Weekly quizzes – one lesson dedicated to research strategies
  • Mid-term exam – several multiple choice questions and one short open-response question related to research strategies
  • Final exam – several multiple choice questions related to research strategies

Course: Course402
Outcome Coverage: P
Instructional Methods: Seminar – mixture of lecture and student presentations, Class discussion
Assessments:

  • Weekly 2-3 page reading response with at least one additional reference
  • 10-page paper on an elected topic that requires students to have min. 8 sources, at least 5 of which must be peer-reviewed

Course:  Course404
Outcome Coverage: P
Instructional Methods: Seminar – mixture of lecture and student presentations, Class discussion
Assessments: 15-page paper on a specified topic that requires students to have min. 5 sources, all of which must be peer-reviewed

Course: Course405
Outcome Coverage: P
Instructional Methods: Independent study – instructor sets certain readings and student selects other options; student conducts independent research over the course of the semester.
Assessments: Guided research project

  • Project proposal with annotated bibliography
  • Mid-term check in (in-person interview where student discusses project)
  • Final report (15-20 pages) with references

From this information it appears that students are given at least one opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the learning outcome, but arguably the opportunity in Course405 offers more in-depth experience than Course402 and Course403. The lesson in Course203 is helpful, but the assessment methods may not be the best way to determine whether students have a proper introductory understanding of research strategies since they do not involve students testing out any strategies per se. Most significantly, there does not appear to be any instruction or assessment related to research between second year and fourth year, which means that in the current curriculum, students will reach research-intensive fourth year courses with potentially minimal research skills. It could be inferred that this gap reduces student preparedness and interferes with the ability of the instructors of advanced courses to set projects at a sufficient level of difficulty and depth.

See Appendix B for resources on curriculum mapping.

Weather Station Courses

Mapping is a useful opportunity to identify “weather station courses” where several outcomes are addressed, courses that all students take, or other courses that are especially significant to students’ progress within the program. The benefit of having weather station courses in the program is they allow a unit to do a manageable check-in on student progression and development. It is very difficult to track student progress for every outcome and every course, so weather station courses make program assessment more efficient. In the sample map, courses such as Course103, Course202, Course301, and Course403 have the potential to be effective weather station courses.

Reviewing Evidence of Student Learning

A review of student work is a useful way of analyzing how well students are performing in the program, and gauging to what extent they are learning what the program intended them to learn. It is not feasible to review samples of student work for all program outcomes; however, if there is a specific issue a unit is trying to address through curriculum renewal (consider the research skills example), it may be helpful to review specific examples of student work at the analysis phase to guide decisions about changes to the curriculum in the Planning & Implementation phase.