Supporting curriculum mapping?

The following was initially written as a report for my current institution. I’ve removed the name of the institution here. It is my perception that most universities suffer from the problems described below.

I am particularly interested in answers to the following questions:

  • Is there any university that has done curriculum mapping well, broadly (i.e. at least one program, perhaps multiple) and consistently over time? Who are they?
  • What methods/tools have been used for curriculum mapping?
  • Is curriculum mapping really worth it? What’s the evidence?
  • What other theories, tools and practices might help increase the success of curriculum mapping?
  • What other barriers and hurdles get in the way?

Summary

The absence of any standards or support for the act of curriculum mapping is a flaw in the practice of learning and teaching at this university. It creates risk in a number of practices, including but not limited to: the accreditation of programs; implementation of generic attributes; understanding the student experience; and, the collegial discussion of an improvement to the curriculum of programs.

In 2006 the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA – http://www.auqa.edu.au) released a report of its quality audit of the university, which included a number of recommendations. The implementation of curriculum mapping with support from appropriate processes, resources and systems is a key component of any institutional response to recommendations #6, #8, #12 and makes important contributions to recommendation #5 of the institution’s 2006 AUQA report.

It is suggested that:

  1. The institution should prioritise the implementation curriculum mapping through the provision of appropriate resources, processes and systems.
  2. The aim should be to embed the production and use of curriculum maps into the everyday practice of learning and teaching, rather than simply adding yet another process or system to be used by academics.

The rest of this document covers the following topics:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is curriculum mapping?
  • How might it be done?

What is the problem?

Few, if any, of the programs (a collection of courses/units that make up a degree, e.g. Bachelor of Science) at the university have an up to date overview of their program that shows how students are prepared for and assessed in terms of the program’s learning outcomes, the course learning outcomes and associated graduate/generic attributes or skills.

Those programs that do have an up to date overview almost certainly have an impending visit from an accreditation agency. That looming visit has almost certainly required a frantic, and likely fruitless, search for the documentation produced for the last accreditation visit followed by a process of asking current academics for up to date information on the courses they teach and the resources, activities and assessments they use in those courses. Those individual reports are then collated by a central person or group and presented to the accreditation body. This process is to be repeated at the next visit.

The problems associated with current practice includes, but is not limited to:

  • loss of knowledge;
  • duplication of work;
  • little or no knowledge of how one course relates to another;
  • almost certain development of duplication and holes in the curriculum;
  • no ability for people teaching within a program and those charged to help to understand the overall picture;
  • no ability to provide the overall view to students; and
  • many more.

What is curriculum mapping?

Curriculum can be defined as

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).

The curriculum represents the expression of educational ideas in practice (Prideaux 2003).

Curriculum mapping is a representation of the different components of the curriculum in order that the whole picture and the relationships between the components of the curriculum can be easily understood (Harden 2001). Curriculum mapping displays the essential features of the curriculum in a clear and succinct manner (Prideaux 2003) and provides a context for planning and discussing the curriculum (Holycross 2006).

Curriculum maps ensure that decisions about the curriculum are not made in a vacuum. Curriculum maps are a key requirement for curriculum development, which includes identifying professional development needs of academic staff, as curriculum maps provide the necessary information to identify the requirements of a particular course and program. Curriculum mapping provides an object that can help academic and other staff communicate about the curriculum of a course (Holycross 2006). Mapping is a remarkable tool for communication among teachers (Jacobs 2003).

Recommendation #8 in AUQA’s audit report of the university (AUQA 2006) is

AUQA recommends that the university encourage a more collegial approach to curriculum development, which will both stimulate and incorporate scholarship and research and philosophical discussions about quality education

Curriculum mapping is most prevalent within the primary and secondary education sector. However, curriculum mapping within tertiary education has been advocated and driven by the generic skills movement (Sumsion and Goodfellow 2004). Curriculum mapping is also quite common within medical education (Romkey and Bradbury 2007). The entries (The University of New England 2004; University of Queensland 2004; Murdoch University 2007) in AUQA’s good practice database that mention mapping are generally associated with mapping of graduate attributes – a small component of curriculum mapping.

Recommendation #6 in AUQA’s audit report of the university (AUQA 2006) is

AUQA recommends that the university develop strategies to systematically embed its generic skills and attributes into the curriculum, teaching and assessment practices of the University such that the CQU experience is of a consistent quality and is comparable with universities nationally

How might it be done?

Although the generic skills literature provides examples of final products of curriculum mapping, there is surprisingly little guidance concerning the practicalities of the processes involved (Sumsion and Goodfellow 2004).

This section describes how to do curriculum mapping by looking at:

  • process;
    The basic steps involved in curriculum mapping.
  • difficulties; and
    Some of the factors that complicate and reduce the effectiveness of curriculum mapping.
  • systems.
    The tools and approaches used to implement curriculum mapping.

Process

While there is not a standard process, a curriculum mapping exercise will normally include some or all of the following steps:

  • data entry;
    Typically the course designer or coordinator will provide information about the course including: its resources, activities and assessment and how those link with outcomes and attributes. Some work has been done where students complete the curriculum maps (Romkey and Bradbury 2007).
  • confirmation or triangulation;
    In some, but not all, mapping exercises this information is then confirmed either through an independent check by a third party or through triangulation with other data sources such as students.
  • synthesis, comparison and analysis;
    The resulting course maps are then brought together to enable comparison and analysis of the overall curriculum.
  • sharing; and
    Curriculum maps and the results of analysis are shared with a wide array of interested parties including accreditation bodies, staff teaching within the program, support staff, students and management. Within the school sector such maps are also available on the web to parents.
  • response.
    Some form of action is undertaken as a result of the analysis.

These steps should be embedded directly into the standard teaching practice within the organisation and this is, at least theoretically, what happens in schools. It appears that in higher education this is typically a one-off process. A long term commitment to mapping can only come by infusing the process into the culture of the program (Holycross 2006).

Difficulties

This is perhaps because developing and implementing a curriculum map is not an easy task (Holycross 2006). It is not the straightforward, unproblematic task so often portrayed in the generic skills literature (Sumsion and Goodfellow 2004). Driven by government requirements, university initiatives around graduate attributes remain patchy with the best outcomes being the production of “curriculum maps” which have the potential to foster superficial and ineffective approaches to the development of graduate attributes (Green, Hammer et al. 2009).

Some of the difficulties arise due to:

  • tensions between accountability and autonomy;
    Curriculum mapping promotes accountability (Daniels 2005) and can be seen as a top-down attempt at control that can give rise to staff resentment (De La Harpe and Radloff 2000). A commitment to a collegial approach within a climate of facilitation, trust, autonomy and transparency is necessary for effective curriculum mapping (Sumsion and Goodfellow 2004).
  • workload issues.
    If curriculum mapping is to be undertaken effectively, recognition of the time demands on all involved is necessary (Sumsion and Goodfellow 2004). Failure to recognise extra workload is the main problematic institutional influence reported by staff (Gonzalez 2009).

The potential impact of audit instruments and processes, like curriculum mapping, can achieve the opposite of their intended effect (Power 1994). It will be especially difficult in an institutional context where, despite rhetorical changes, promotional and payment systems have yet to convincingly reward teaching equally to research performance (Green, Hammer et al. 2009).

Systems

The majority of curriculum mapping at CQUniversity has been performed with traditional tools such as pen and paper and basic software applications such as Word and Excel. In terms of mapping graduate attributes – a subset of curriculum mapping – Sumsion and Goodfellow (2004) report on the use of Excel spreadsheets at Macquarie University, Murdoch University developed a web-based tool called GAMP (Murdoch University 2007), and the University of Queensland appeared to use word processor documents (University of Queensland 2004).

The much higher level of use of curriculum mapping within schools has resulted in a number of commercial curriculum mapping systems including: http://www.curriculummapper.com, http://www.techpaths.com/, and http://www.rubiconatlas.com/.

Choice of an information system for curriculum mapping must consider the time it takes to develop and maintain the database, it must not impose an unnecessary burden on academics (Holycross 2006).

References

AUQA (2006). Report of an Audit of the University. Melbourne, Vic, Australian Universities Quality Agency: 72.

Daniels, L. (2005). Integrating technology into teacher education through curriculum mapping: Year three and sustainability. Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2005, Phoenix, AZ, USA, AACE.

De La Harpe, B. and A. Radloff (2000). Helping academic staff to integrate professional skills. Integrating key skills in higher education: Employability, transferable skills and learning for life. S. Fallows and C. Steven. London, Kogan Page. 165-174.

Gonzalez, C. (2009). "Conceptions of, and approaches to, teaching online: a study of lecturers teaching postgraduate distance courses." Higher Education 57(3): 299-314.

Green, W., S. Hammer, et al. (2009). "Facing up to the challenge: why is it so hard to develop graduate attributes." Higher Education Research & Development 28(1): 17-29.

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.

Jacobs, H. H. (2003). "Connecting curriculum mapping and technology." Curriculum Technology 12(3).

Murdoch University. (2007). "Embedding graduate attributes in a course curricula."   Retrieved 3 September, 2009, from http://www.auqa.edu.au/gp/search/detail.php?gp_id=2795.

Power, M. (1994). The audit explosion. London, White Dove Press.

Prideaux, D. (2003). "Curriculum Design." British Medical Journal 326: 268-270.

Romkey, L. and L. Bradbury (2007). Student curriculum mapping: A more authentic way of examining and evaluating curriculum. 2007 American Society for Engineering Education Southeastern Section. Louisville, Kentucky.

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

The University of New England. (2004). "Integrating graduate attributes into UNE courses."   Retrieved 3 September, 2009, from http://www.auqa.edu.au/gp/search/detail.php?gp_id=1608.

University of Queensland. (2004). "Graduate attribute mapping in programs."   Retrieved 3 September, 2009, from http://www.auqa.edu.au/gp/search/detail.php?gp_id=1102.

2 thoughts on “Supporting curriculum mapping?

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

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