Curriculum mapping, process, technology and higher education – some questions

A long-running problem at my institution – I don’t think we’re alone, I think most universities are in this boat – has been the absence of any support or processes around curriculum mapping.
I’ve written briefly about this before, but now I have to produce a report with some background and recommendations.

The following is an attempt to ask questions and see if anyone can provide some additional insights. The following is based on the little bit of searching I’ve done so far.

The questions

Some of the questions I have:

  • Is curriculum mapping a good idea?
  • Has anyone been able to do it with a large group of university academics in a way that is embedded into the group i.e. it’s long-term and sustainable? How?
  • What’s the good literature in this area?
  • What tools are people using?
  • Is anyone going bottom up rather than top-down?

Some definitions

I like this definition of curriculum

a sophisticated blend of educational strategies, course content, learning outcomes, educational experiences, assessment, the educational environment and the individual students’ learning style, personal timetable and programme of work (Harden 2001).

For curriculum mapping this definition works for me so far (same source)

Curriculum mapping is a spatial representation of the different components of the curriculum so that the whole picture and the relationships and connections between their parts are easily seen. (Harden 2001)

The literature is full of reasons about why this is a good thing, for me the representation of the curriculum – as a whole or various perspectives – provides a tool to enable analysis, disussion and reflection by the full spectrum of management, teachers, support staff, students and others.

Who’s done what?

Most of the work seems to be in schools. There are a few web-based tools, apparently focused at schools:,, and

Some – much? – of what’s been done in higher education seems to originate from the generic skills push/literature/practice. One example is a paper by Sumsion and Goodfellow (2004). The stuff in the AUQA good practice database appear to be directly related to graduate attributes – mapping and integrating/mapping.

The other major source in higher education appears to be the medical and health disciplines (e.g. Harden, 2001; Holycross, 2006). Holycross (2006) report on using Excel for their maps. As mentioned in the previous post the University of Virginia School of Nursing appeared to be doing some work in this area, but I can’t find much beyond the above.


Harden, R. M. (2001). “AMEE Guide No. 21: Curriculum mapping: a tool for transparent and authentic teaching and learning.” Medical Teacher 23(2): 123-137.

Holycross, J. (2006). “Curriculum Mapping – An essential tool for curriculum development.” The Journal of Physician Assistant Education 17(4): 61-64.

Sumsion, J. and J. Goodfellow (2004). “Identifying generic skills through curriculum mapping: a critical evaluation.” Higher Education Research & Development 23(3): 329-346.

5 thoughts on “Curriculum mapping, process, technology and higher education – some questions

  1. David,

    We have tried mapping aspects of nursing across the curriculum; aspects that need to be built across a period of time and that relate to a range of settings in which nursing occurs, as opposed to stuffing the whole thing into one course. Literacy and information literacy was one area (generic), and wound management (content specific) was the other. The problem we found was that while we could do this as an academic exercise, without the absolute support of all academics (which we were not able to achieve), the whole thing fell apart. On paper it worked, but in practice I think this would require the commitment of all who teach into the program. That can sometimes be more difficult than doing the mapping itself.

    I wrote a paper about the mapping of wound management and found there were a couple of very different approaches to this idea – only one seemed to employ technology and that tended to be retrospective. To my way of thinking that is a bit like closing the gate after the horse has bolted and that mapping is more significant in the planning stage of the curriculum to make sure the required content is covered across all the courses in the program, but I guess that all depends on why you are mapping in the first place.



    1. G’day Wendy,

      If current projects come to fruition, I’d like to catch up with you and learn from your experience.

      I think you’re right about getting support from all academics. The technical task of doing curriculum mapping – whatever that might be – is a fairly trivial exercise when compared with the task of getting everyone to engage effectively. IMHO.


  2. Hi David,

    I attended your herding cats talk this morning and you are so right about the approach that has been taken in the past (? continues to be taken). This is why things like curriculum mapping have been problematic because not everyone has been on the same page or had the same goals. I definitely don’t think you are a popo! A critical thinker, yes; and uncompromising mirror, yes (don’t you just hate mirrors when you are carrying a couple of extra kilos!), but negative, no. Please let me know when you have cracked the engagement case because I feel like I’ve been hitting my head against that one for some time now and have the bruises to prove it. Seriously, though, it is absolutely refreshing to hear someone else is on th same planet, and you may not have offered any solutions, but you sure as hell have defined the problem far better than I could have done.



    1. G’day Wendy,

      Thanks for the comments. I share and feel your pain re: mirrors.

      As for the engagement thing, I’m hoping/can only follow my own advice continuous change within the confines the context places. There are a couple of projects that might move this way – but it’s early days and it’s difficult.

      I do hope to engage in a lot of conversation with people, as much as possible.


  3. Pingback: Questions about alternatives to curriculum mapping « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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