Moodle curriculum mapping – Step 2

This is the second exploration of an idea for enhancing Moodle to enable curriculum mapping. It carries on from the first step and is part of a broader project.

The aim today is to:

  • Create a CSV file of Moodle outcomes for a couple of programs.
    Mostly to get a feel for the outcomes that accrediting bodies are after and to test out this “uploading” of outcomes. Also to get some insight into how the “scales” might work.
  • “Map” a course or two with those outcomes.
    The aim is to get a feel for how difficult doing this actually is and how well it works. Perhaps get some insights into ways it could be made easier/more effective.
  • Start identifying the database structures where that information is placed.
    This is a pre-cursor to starting to develop extensions to Moodle that will draw on this information. It helps identify where the information is, what is there and what might be possible in terms of development.

Am going to be updating this post throughout today (30 March, 2010)

Moodle outcomes CSV file testing

Moodle allows you to upload outcomes into Moodle via a CSV file. The format is a 6 field CSV file

  • outcome_name – full name
  • outcome_shortname – short name
  • outcome_description
  • scale_name – name of scale
  • scale_items – comma separate list of scale items
  • scale_description


Participation;participation;;Participation scale;”Little or no participation, Satisfactory participation, Full participation”;

Each outcome in Moodle is associated with a scale. It’s typically used to make student performance against the outcome. For curriculum mapping, I believe the scale can be used to measure how well the course/activity/resource meets the outcome/attribute etc.

The task now is to create a useful CSV outcomes file for my purposes. The choices that exist include:

Am thinking I’ll start with the institutional graduate attributes – mostly for political reasons – and then do one of the disciplinary bodies outcomes for a bit more learning.

Graduate attributes

Not 100% certain this represents the current state of the institution’s graduate attributes, but it’s good for an experiment. The institution is apparently introducing graduate attributes progressively during 2010 with all undergraduate programs done from Jan 2011 and all other programs from 2012.

The institution has 8 graduate attributes:

  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Information literacy
  • Team work
  • Information technology competence
  • Cross cultural competence
  • Ethical practice

As it stands, I’ve been unable to find any description of these. However, a document describing the project has developed some “levels of achievement” for the attributes and offered descriptions of those levels using learning outcomes and the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.

The three levels are: introductory, intermediate and graduate. Each of the outcomes/levels are associated with learning domains from the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.

Note: my aim here is to identify what has been done and work out how it can be translated into Moodle’s outcomes CSV file. Not to judge what’s been done.

The CSV file

The first version of a CSV file for the attributes is done and successfully in. Will reflect more on this after lunch.

The Moodle help documentation suggests that the format is as listed above, with outcome_description and scale_description as optional. That means that you don’t have to include them in a line, but you do need to include all fields. Getting the format exactly right was an interesting experience in trial and error.

The first two lines of the file are

Communication;comm;”Described here″;”CQU Graduate Attributes (Communication)”;”Introductory – Use appropriate language to describe/explain discipline-specific fundamentals/knowledge/ideas (C2), Intermediate – Select and apply an appropriate level/style/means of communication (C3), Graduate – Formulate and communicate views to develop an academic argument in a specific discipline (A4)”;

What is looks like

When trying to map an activity/resource in Moodle, you use the “edit” facility for that activity/resource and a part of the resulting page looks like the following – click on it to see it bigger.

Moodle outcomes

Some comments on this image:

  • Duplicate outcomes suggest Outcome management not great.
    You can see three outcomes for Communication. This is due to the problems associated with importing the CSV file – 2 failed attempts, followed by a successful one. And subsequent difficulties in finding out how to delete the older versions of the outcome…..Ahh, you have to go to “edit outcomes”.
  • Not enough information.
    While it wouldn’t be a problem eventually, the problem I’m currently facing is that I’m not familiar enough with the outcomes to understand what they mean. I want some additional pointers in the interface – even just the normal Moodle help link (a little question mark). This absence is somewhat related to the next point.
  • Can’t use the scale here and now.
    For curriculum mapping, I want to select the scale here and now. The idea is to specify to what level this activity/resource meets the outcome. This highlights the difference in purpose between the outcomes in Moodle (focused on measuring individual student performance) and what the outcomes would be used in many forms of curriculum mapping (mapping how well a course covers outcomes). For Moodle outcomes the scale starts to apply in the gradebook, i.e. when you’re marking the individual student. Not in the activity/resource.

    Graduate attributes could be used for both approaches, map the course and also track student progress.

  • The need for groupings of outcomes.
    The first outcome “David’s first outcome” is some from some earlier testing. But it does highlight an additional requirement, the ability to separate (and perhaps map) between different groupings of outcomes. e.g. CQU’s graduate attributes, course learning outcomes and perhaps discipline accrediting body learning outcomes.
  • The Moodle workflow is somewhat limited.
    With outcomes, as with other aspects of Moodle, the “workflow” – the sequence of screens you go through as you perform a task – leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not often clear where to go, or as you finish how best to proceed.

Other outcomes

Am now looking at the accreditation requirements for psychology and public relations to understand what is there and what implications that might have for this idea.

In terms of public relations it appears to be a combination of course outcomes, university graduate attributes and some specific “criteria/areas” specified by the program.

In psychology, there’s an odd mixture of discipline specific “graduate attributes”, with each having its own set of critiera, and a collection of “skills” to “map” assessment against.

Where’s the data?

Seems the outcomes stuff might be stored in three tables:

  • grade_outcomes: id, courseid, shortname, fullname, scaleid, description, timecreated, time modified, usermodified
    Obviously the table the CSV import modifies.
  • grade_outcomes_courses: id, courseid, outcomeid
    Links a course with an outcome in the previous.
  • grade_outcomes_history: id, action, oldid, source, timemodified, loggeduser, courseid, shortname, fullname, scaleid, description.
    Not sure on this one.

So, one question is where does the mapping against a particular activity/resource get put?

What about code?

moodle/lib/grade/grade_outcome.php defines a class grade_outcome, that is meant to handle it all, including database manipulation.

From theory to intervention: Mapping theoretically derived behavioural determinants to behaviour change techniques

The following draws on principles/theory from psychology to guide thinking about how to incorporate “data” from “academic analytics” into an LMS in a way that encourages and enables academic staff to improve their learning and teaching. It’s based on some of the ideas that underpin similar approaches that have been used for students such as this Moodle dashboard and the signals work at University of Purdue.

The following gives some background to this approach, summarises a paper from the psychology literature around behaviour modification and then explains one idea for a “signals” like application for academic staff. Some of this thinking is also informing the “Moodle curriculum mapping” project.

Very interested in pointers to similar work, suggestions for improvement or expressions of interest from folk.


I have a growing interest in how insights from psychology, especially around behaviour change can inform the design of e-learning and other aspects of the teaching environment at universities in a way to encourage and enable improvement.
Important: I did not say “require”, I said “encourage”. Too much of what passes in universities at the moment takes the “require” approach with obvious negative consequences.

This is where my current interest in “nudging” – the design of good choice architecture and behaviour modification is coming from. The basic aim is to redesign the environment within which teaching occurs in a way the encourages and enables improvement in teaching practice, rather than discourages it.

To aid in this work, I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with a pyschologist who has some similar interests. We’re currently talking about different possibilities, informed by our different backgrounds. As part of that he’s pointing me to bits in the psychological literature that offers some insight. This is an attempt to summarise/reflect on one such paper (Michie et al, 2008)

Theory to intervention

It appears that the basic aim of the paper is to

  • Develop methods to clarify the list of behaviour change techniques.
  • Identify links between the behaviour change techniques and behavioural determinants.

First a comparison of two attempts at simplifying the key behavioural determinants for change – the following table. My understanding is that there are some values of these determinants that would encourage behaviour change, and others that would not.

Key Determinants of Behaviour Change from Fishbein et al., 2001; Michie et al., 2004
Fishbein et al Michie et al
Self-standards Social/professional role and identity
Skills Skills
Self-efficacy Beliefs about capabilities
Anticipated outcomes/attitude Beliefs about consequences
Intention Motivation and goals
Memory, attention and decision processes
Environmental constraints Environmental context and resources
Norms Social influences
Action planning

It is interesting to see how well the categories listed in this table resonate with the limits I was planning to talk about in this presentation. i.e. it really seems to me, at the moment, that much of the environment within universities around teaching and learning is designed as to reduce the chance of these determinants to be leaning towards behaviour change.

Mapping techniques to determinants

They use a group of experts in a consensus process for linking behaviour change techniques with determinants of behaviour. The “Their mapping” section below gives a summary of the consensus links. The smaller headings are the determinants of behaviour from the above table, the bullet points are the behaviour change techniques.

Now, I haven’t gone looking for more detail on the techniques. The following is going to be based solely on my assumptions about what those techniques might entail – and hence it will be limited. However, this should be sufficient for the goal of identifying changes in the LMS environment that might encourage change in behaviour around teaching.

First, let’s identify some of the prevalent techniques, i.e. those that are mentioned a more than once and which might be useful/easy within teaching.

Prevalent techniques

Social encouragement, pressure and support

The technique “Social processes of encouragement, pressure, support ” is linked to 4 of the 11 determinants: Social/professional role and identity, beliefs about capabilities, motivation and goals and social influences. I find this interesting as it can be suggested that most teaching is a lone and invisible act. Especially in a LMS where what’s going on in other courses. Making what happens more visible might enable this sort of social process.

There’s also some potential connection with “Information regarding behaviour of others” which is mentioned in 3 of 11.

Monitoring and self-monitoring

Get mentioned as linked to 4 of 11 determinants. Again, most LMS don’t appear to give good overall information about what a teacher is doing in a way that would enable monitoring/self-monitoring.

Related to this is “goal/target specified”, part of monitoring.

There’s more to do here, let’s get onto a suggestion

One suggestion

There’s a basic model process embedded here, something along the lines of:

  • Take a knowledge of what is “good” teaching and learning
    For example, Fresen (2007) argues that the level of interaction, facilitation or simply participation by academic staff is a critical success factor for e-learning. There’s a bunch more literature that backs this up. And our own research/analysis has backed this up. Courses with high staff participation show much higher student participation and a clearer correlation between student participation and grade (i.e. more student participation, the higher the grade).
  • Identify a negative/insight into the behavioural determinants that affect academic staff around this issue.
    There are a couple. First, it’s not uncommon for staff to have an information distribution conception of teaching. i.e. they see their job as to disseminate information. Not to talk, to communicate, or participate. Associated with this is that most staff have no idea what other staff are doing within their course sites. They don’t know how often other staff are contribution to the discussion forum or visiting the course site.
  • Draw on a behavioural technique or two to design an intervention in the LMS that can encourage a behaviour change. i.e. that addresses the negative in the determinants.
    In terms of increasing staff participation you might embed into the LMS a graph like the following. Embed it in such a way as the first thing an academic sees when they login, is the graph – perhaps on part of the screen.

    Example staff posts feedback

    What this graph shows is for a single (hypothetical) staff member the number of replies they have made in course discussion forums for the three courses the staff member has taught. The number of replies is shown per term, in reality it might be shown by week of term – as the term progresses.

    This part can hit the “monitoring”, “self-monitoring” and “feedback” techniques.

    The extra, straight line represents the average number of replies made by staff in all courses in the LMS. Or alternatively, all courses in a program/degree into which the staff member teaches. (Realistically, the average would probably change from term to term).

    This aspect hits the “social processes of encouragement, pressure, support”, “modelling/demonstration behaviour of others”. By showing what other people are doing it is starting to create a social norm. One that might perhaps encourage the academic, if they are below the average, to increase their level of replies.

    But the point is not to stop here. Showing a graph like this is simple using business intelligence tools and is only a small part of the change necessary.

    It’s now necessary to hit techniques such as “graded task, starting with easy tasks”, “Increasing skills: problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting”, “Planning, implementation”, “Prompts, triggers, cues”. It’s not enough to show that there is a problem, you have to help the academic with how to address the problem.

    In this case, there might be links associated with this graph that show advice on how to increase replies or staff participation (e.g. advice to post a summary of the week’s happenings in a course each week, or some other specific, context appropriate advice). Or it might also provide links to further, more detailed information to shed more light on this problem. For example, it might link to SNAPP to show disconnections.

    But it’s even more than this. If you wanted to hit the “Environmental changes (e.g. objects to facilitate behaviour)” technique you may want to go further with than simply showing techniques. You may want to enable this “showing of techniques” to be within a broader community where people could comment on whether or not a technique worked. It would be useful if the tool help automate/scaffold the performance of the task, i.e. moved up the abstraction layer from the basic LMS functionality. Or perhaps the tool and associated process could track and create “before and afters”. i.e. when someone tries a technique, store the graph before it is applied and then capture it at sometime after.

It’s fairly easy to see how the waterfall visualisation (shown below) and developed by David Wiley and his group could be used this way.


Their mapping

Social/professional role and identity

  • Social processes of encouragement, pressure, support


  • Information regarding behaviour by others


  • Goal/target specified: behaviour or outcome
  • Monitoring
  • Self-monitoring
  • Rewards; incentives (inc. self-evaluation)
  • Graded task, starting with easy tasks
  • Increasing skills: problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting
  • Rehearsal of relevant skills
  • Modelling/demonstration of behaviour by others
  • Homework
  • Perform behaviour in different settings

Beliefs about capabilities

  • Self-monitoring
  • Graded task, starting with easy tasks
  • Increasing skills: problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting
  • Coping skills
  • Rehearsal of relevant skills
  • Social processes of encouragement, pressure and support
  • Feedback
  • Self talk
  • Motivational interviewing

Beliefs about consequences

  • Self-monitoring
  • Persuasive communication
  • Information regarding behaviour, outcome
  • Feedback

Motivation and goals

  • Goal/target specified: behaviour or outcome
  • Contract
  • Rewards; incentives (inc. self-evaluation )
  • Graded task, starting with easy tasks.
  • Increasing skills: problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting
  • Social processes of encouragement, pressure, support
  • Persuasive communication
  • Information regarding behaviour, outcome
  • Motivational interviewing

Memory, attention, decision processes

  • Self-monitoring
  • Planning, implementation
  • Prompts, triggers, cues

Environmental context and resources

  • Environmental changes (e.g. objects to facilitate behaviour)

Social influences

  • Social processes of encouragement, pressure, support
  • Modelling/demonstration of behaviour by others


  • Stress management
  • Coping skills

Action planning

  • Goal/target specified: behaviour or outcome
  • Contract
  • Planning, implementation
  • Prompts, triggers, cues
  • Use of imagery


Fresen, J. (2007). “A taxonomy of factors to promote quality web-supported learning.” International Journal on E-Learning 6(3): 351-362.

Michie, S., M. Johnston, et al. (2008). “From theory to intervention: Mapping theoretically derived behavioural determinants to behaviour change techniques.” Applied Psychology: An International Review 57(4): 660-680.

First step in “Moodle curriculum mapping”

This is perhaps the first concrete step in a project that is aiming to look at how the act of curriculum mapping can be embedded into the, increasingly, most common task and tool used by academics. That is, how can an LMS (like Moodle) be used/modified to make curriculum mapping a part of what academics do, both in terms of maintaining the mapping, but more importantly using the mapping in interesting and useful ways.

As outlined in a previous post it appears that Moodle (the institutional LMS at my current institution) already has functions that offer some basic level of support for curriculum mapping. However, they are mostly used/intended for tracking student outcomes/performance. This post documents an initial foray into using these functions to implement some form of curriculum mapping. The plan is:

  • Use existing functions to map a course or two and find out how that works and how it might be made better.
  • Use the data of the mapping to generate some applications that use the data.

Turned out, due to having to fight other fires, that today’s work was limited. Only small progress.

The courses and the people

I’m working with 2/3 courses. Two from in and around public relations and one from psychology. More detail on these later.

The set up

The plan is to perform this project on a copy of Moodle running on my laptop. i.e. it’s separate from any systems people rely upon and allows me the freedom to code. I’ll be taking backups of the live course sites for the above course, restoring them on my laptop’s Moodle and mapping the courses.

My first problem was to restore the backups. I had an old version of libxml which meant the restore process in Moodle wasn’t handling the HTML code all that well. So new install of xampp and Moodle – some wasted time. Really didn’t like the new Nazi password approach that is now default in the version of Moodle I’m using. More passwords to write down. ;)

Getting outcomes up and going

I’d had outcomes working on the old version of Moodle. My next barrier was getting outcomes to appear on the new. It wasn’t happening simply and I was running out of time, so it sat for a bit. Here’s what I’ve done to get it working:

  • As the Moodle administrator, turn on outcomes under “General Settings”
    Just typing “outcome” in the Moodle adminstrators block was the quickest way to find it.
  • Create some outcomes
    Either in the Admin box under grades or inside an individual course.
  • Possibly add site wide outcomes to the course.
    Outcomes option in course modify box.

Having completed those tasks the theory is that everytime you edit an activity or resource you will have an option to view and select appropriate outcomes.


An outcome has the following data associated with it:

  • Full and short name.
  • Standard outcome – is it available site wide.
  • Scale – which existing scale to use with the outcome.
  • Description – textual description

Outcomes can be imported using as csv file. This could be useful as you could create a set of outcomes for a particular discipline in a CSV file and make them available for anyone to use. Folk at other institutions could import them and have a consistent set of outcomes.

Also, you may not want all discipline outcomes to be available site wide. Could annoy the mathematicians if they kept seeing outcomes from psychology etc. Having outcomes as a CSV would allow these to be imported at a course level. But maybe not…

Checking when outcomes appear

Interested in seeing if the outcomes appear for all activities/resources. Doing a quick test with a couple of courses and reporting where it works. It works for

  • Forums
  • Resource
    • Web page
    • Link to file or web page

Doesn’t work for

  • Labels
    Means of inserting text/HTML into the topics. Used by some to specify readings. Might want to have outcomes on these.
  • Summary


As I was doing the above test, a few thoughts arose:

  • What outcomes would you have for a course synopsis?
    For some resources/activities they are too global, too high level to specify a list of outcomes/attributes etc. What do you do with these?

    Given that one of the aims might be to highlight “coverage”, there are some things you wouldn’t allocate anythign to.

  • Why wouldn’t you have outcomes associated with labels?
  • The obvious question which has been bugging me for a while – not all activities/resources for a course are likely to be in the course site. Any curriculum mapping based on the LMS site is not going to be complete. Unless there is some change in practice on the part of the academics. Not a straight forward thing to do.

Moodle, outcomes, metadata and curriculum mapping

This summarises some continued investigation of Moodle support for outcomes as part of preparing for the curriculum mapping project.

Current summary of what I think I’ve learned is that Moodle 2.0 will have significant support for progress tracking, which involves connecting student progress with outcomes etc. This draws on very similar “infrastructure” as would be required by curriculum mapping. Curriculum mapping, however, requires different “reporting” mechanisms. It appears a fruitful marriage may be possible. Need to learn more.

Moodle resources

Moodle resources talking about these topics

Some reflections on pedagogy and Moodle

Found this page on pedagogy on the Moodle site. One of the simplest descriptions of the Moodle model I’ve seen so far – Moodle has courses which contain activities and resources.

Suggests the power of Moodle is sequencing activities, of learning paths. This raises some interesting questions about the suitability (from a pedagogical perspective) of a “course template” that has been created locally. The template makes a course look more like a traditional website divided into sections – resources, assessment etc. i.e. it would appear to break the idea of “paths”

The Social constructionism as a referent outlines 5 points used to describe the connection with social constructionism and Moodle. Some of these can be made to link nicely with some of the ideas around the curriculum mapping project. Here’s a first attempt

  • All of us are potential teachers as well as learners – in a true collaborative environment we are both.
    In terms of teaching staff being aware of what is going on in other courses, Moodle isn’t a collaborative environment. At least in terms of how it is implemented in most institutions. The idea from the curriculum mapping project to use the outcomes, graduate attributes etc to allow teaching staff to navigate into other courses and see examples of how they met them could help provide this.

    It could also go further, from one perspective curriculum designers have to help some academics prepare the curriculum map. i.e. the designer is the teacher of curriculum mapping, the teacher is the student. In some cases, the curriculum designer can do it for the student. Reducing learning. Having something more under the control of the learner than the teacher might help address this.

  • We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see.
    Links to the previous point, but also at a more fundamental level is that most teaching staff don’t think/see the connections between attributes, outcomes etc and the activities/resources in their course. Using the curriculum mapping project information to modify the interface to show them this connection (or its absence) and generate it as part of what they are doing, could be a good thing.
  • We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers.
    This links back to the idea above as well.
  • By understanding the contexts of others, we can teach in a more transformational way (constructivism)
    Curriculum mapping, as I’ve seen it practiced, is often divorced from the context of teaching. It’s done with a tool that is not part of the teaching process, often done at a time divorced from the act of teaching and generally doesn’t fit well within the context in which teaching occurs. The point of this project is to get curriculum mapping happening within the context of teaching, not apart from it.
  • A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within it.
    This point has interesting implications for the notion of constructive alignment – or at least one form of how it is practiced – that is embedded in some practice of curriculum mapping.

It also mentions the importance of about metadata and outcome statements which are becoming more important in Moodle 2.0. This is where the curriculum mapping stuff links in. More and more it appears that the project will be more about building useful blocks/activities/reports on top of this infrastructure. Something which is talked more about in the progress tracking development docs.

Progress tracking

The progress tracking development doc talks about planning/work on incorporating this into Moodle 2.0. It links to IMS standards on definition of competency or educational objective specification and learning information.

Progress tracking seems to have a different focus than curriculum mapping. Tracking focuses on the progress of the student. It does need the same sort of information about competencies, but uses it for a different purpose.

Outcomes and Moodle

It’s time to think about the reality of the curriculum mapping idea that’s been kicking around. i.e. how hard/impossible would it be to implement this idea in Moodle.

As part of developing BIM I came across the fact that Moodle already supports Outcomes. Something that has some connections with the idea of curriculum mapping. This post is about finding out some more about outcomes as they already existing in Moodle. In fact, it’s basically a look at two videos about how to use them.

The following points to the two videos I’ve looked at and has some quick notes I made as I was watching.

In summary,

  • Outcomes are by default not enabled at a site wide level. They need to be enabled to work at the course level.
  • Outcomes can be created at site and course levels.
  • They can be associated with any activity or resource.
  • Outcomes have a scale.
  • Once created, they automatically appear when adding a resource or activity.

While there may be some room for improvement for the specifics of curriculum mapping (e.g. grouping of different outcomes, attributes etc) it seems that the basics for this approach exist already. A prototype should be really easy.

How to use Moodle outcomes

Outcomes are in the Grades part of the site admin menu. And need to be enabled there. The outcomes themselves are also set at the site level – not course!!!???

Outcomes have short and full names, description and a scale.

Outcomes appear in the course administration menu. Then you select from the site list to use them in a course.

Ahh, can create course level/specific outcomes.

Should work with activities. Outcomes appear when adding?

When grading an assignment can see outcomes.

Outcomes do appear in the gradebook.

Introduction to Scales and outcomes

Adds a scale, within a test course.

Outcomes added also within the course, but as part of the grade. Can have multiple outcomes.

Also used to create an assignment.

Outcomes can be applied to activities and resources.

The current state of curriculum mapping in/with Moodle

As part of looking into a project around curriculum mapping I need to take a look at the current state of play around curriculum mapping in the Moodle community. This is a summary of what I can find at the moment.

Moodle is used in both schools and universities. My impression is that schools have a longer history and broader use of curriculum mapping, however, mapping in universities is hotting up.

In summary, there are a few examples of Moodle “tools” that claim to do some aspect of curriculum mapping. However, none of them seems to provide the services I’m suggesting. There does appear to be some call for this type of service.

UPDATE: More recent exploration is based around Moodle’s existing outcomes support which might offer a foundation on which to build curriculum mapping.

Discussion threads

The Moodle community generally has discussions within Moodle-hosted discussion forums on the site. The threads I could find looking at curriculum mapping include (you will have to create an account on the site to view these):

  • Curriculum mapping with Moodle
    Starts with a general question back in September 2007 that never really went anywhere. Some 2009 posts that include a pointer to a more recent thread, a pointer to the curriculum module for Moodle and a pointer to a US-based school’s curriculum mapping done with drupal.
  • Curriculum mapping
    A more recent and complete thread. Includes a pointer to the module, and a pointer to a Moodle doc on curriculum mapping. There’s also some feedback from a user of existing mapping tools and summarises one of the aims of the project being thought about here
    Atlas curriculum mapping is time-consuming and frustrating for many, in part because it is divorced from the courses it maps. Since Moodle houses a school’s actual courses, it would be most excellent if the mapping could be a layer on top of what’s already there.

    . There’s also a pointer to the announcement of a Moodle block covered in the next point.

  • Announcement of a Moodle block – to facilitate the design of a competency based curricula.
  • Curriculum patch for Moodle.
    This is a “patch” to the core of Moodle. It only works with a small subset of Moodle versions. My take on it, is that this is not really mapping curriculum but providing a way to prescribe a fixed hierarchy for a course (tree, parallel or serial) or groups of courses and ensure students move within it.

    Doesn’t appear to be what I’m interested in. Also demonstrates some of the potential problems that arise when a “patch” needs to change lots of the Moodle core. This needs to be kept to a minimum.

  • Moodle docs on curriculum mapping
    Essentially a page dedicated towards spawning the development of a Moodle component for curriculum mapping.

Other resources

  • New moodle block ‘curriculum design tool’
    Surpisingly not linked into the above discussions, found via a google search. It does seem to be the moodle block that was announced above though.

    There is project page (or this page which seems to be running the block) which I didn’t find last year when I looked a bit. The block is meant to provide functions to

    • Design curriculum maps relating to competencies (educational goals), professional abilities (learning objectives), learning activities (resources) and assessments.
    • Submission of learning activities by educators with associated searchable metadata
    • Review submitted materials
    • Search and browse published curriculum maps and get related learning object repositories.
    • Rate learning objects
    • Checking out materials from the learning object repositories via a shopping cart model (free shopping)
    • Gap analysis for selected learning object items
    • Packaging of selected curricula items with a dynamically created curriculum description including links to learning activities and assessments.
    • Tracking of downloads and follow up surveying of users.

    This seems to be somewhat broader than what I had in mind. As implemented it seems to implement a repository for learning objects that can be peer-evaluated against some criteria. Not curriculum mapping amongst existing courses.

Web resources

  • A discussion thread on a school educators network Ning forum.
    Describes one person’s aim to move a school from another mapping platform into using Moodle. Has various reactions and ideas in response. A number of the responses are talking about problems of limited use of specific purpose curriculum mapping software. There is also a description of how one school “kludged” around the direct absence of mapping in Moodle, which seems to be what the original author was going to do. i.e. no direct support for mapping in Moodle, just use Moodle’s existing features to approximate it.

    There is a post from a Moodle user/admin arguing why the stand alone mapping software is good because it does provide these features. In particular, the post mentions the inability to identify the overlaps or holes.

  • Enterprise Learning Intelligence Suite (ELIS)
    An “integrated stack of technologies designed to provide end-to-end management of an online learning program”. Includes curriculum mapping and a range of other services. Apparently being released under the GPL.

    Based on this presentation it appears that “curriculum mapping” is really just grouping courses together as a curriculum – similar to the “patch” mentioned above. Not what I had in mind. Another presentation seeks to reinforce this.

How to make curriculum mapping useful to university academics

The following is an attempt to make concrete various ideas that have been floating around about a project to take a very different approach to curriculum mapping. There’s a small glimmer that these ideas may form the basis for an ALTC grant application

The following includes:

The idea

The outline of the idea is:

  • Implement the following changes by working closely with the academics and changing the project, its processes, aims etc in response to the learning that occurs.
  • Modify Moodle (this is the LMS my current institution uses) so that it is possible that all activities and resources within a course site can be linked to course learning outcomes, institutional graduate attributes and other criteria/categories (outcomes etc).
  • For courses within a program that has been through a recent accreditation, use those resources to add the outcomes etc. to existing courses, resources and activities.
  • Have this process involve collaboration between the academics and people who can help with and change the system, explain the meaning of learning “terminology” and generally make it a helpful and positive experience.
  • Work with academics to ensure that current Moodle courses have outcomes etc populated appropriately.
  • Modify Moodle so that when an activity or resource changes, there are visible reminders that the outcomes etc associated with that activity/resource should also be changed. Make it simple for the academic to change these.
  • Ensure that when a course site is copied from one term to another, the outcomes etc are part of that copy process.
    The intent is that once the outcomes etc are in place, the academics only need to modify those bits that have changed and they are supported and encouraged to do so during what they normally do.
  • Draw on this information to develop different curriculum maps for different purposes. The maps can draw on the fact that there are links from the outcomes etc to actual data in the LMS (e.g. student posts on the discussion forum, assignments, quizzes etc.)
  • Work within a program with the teaching academics to make the use of the curriculum maps a useful and important part of what they do in the process of their normal course delivery. i.e. make it part of the way we do things around here. (This does not mean writing policies.)

The main part of the project would be having a group of people with the right mix of technical and educational knowledge actively working with the academics to identify how this information could be made useful for the academics. Some work would also be done for other stakeholder (e.g. accreditation bodies).

The actual uses of the information would arise from this collaboration, but some possible examples might include:

  • Access to examples of implementing an attribute or outcome within the program or the institution.
    Problem: The assumption is that given an outcome staff will pick a learning design that will help the students achieve that outcome. Most academic staff don’t have the abstract knowledge to do this. Seeing concrete examples might help.

    1 solution: Provide an interface that matches the current outcome of interest for the academic, with a other similar outcomes in other courses. Allow the academic to drill down and see the actual activities and resources mapped to those.

  • Representation of the holes and duplications in a course.
    Problem: Generally, the people teaching courses in a program don’t know what’s going on in another course or in the program as a whole.

    1 solution: Provide a program level summary that identifies the holes and duplications in attributes, outcomes, activities and resources.

What is curriculum mapping

Just to be sure that we’re talking about the same thing, the following offers some definitions of curriculum mapping

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).

If you want more information, the above quote is taken from this report.

Problems with current practice

The following list is based on my observations, the literature and anecdotal reports from others:

  • Staff don’t engage meaning it is unlikely to change practice.
    The curriculum mapping process is seen as an add-on, it solves someone else’s problem or something that someone else does for them. With the lack of engagement, it becomes questionable whether these considerations become a key part of day to day thoughts and subsequently makes any long-term change in understanding and practice.
  • Divorced from practice leading to unreliability of what is reported.
    Completing a curriculum map is done either at the beginning or the end of a course. It’s not done during a course. This separation leads to the reliability of what is included in a curriculum map being highly questionable. One reason for this is that memory is not perfect, what is recalled and reported may not be what went on. Then there’s the whole question to task corruption and compliance.
  • Complexity leads to unreliability.
    The task of mapping out an entire course is complex. Most curriculum mapping requires that it be done as one task after the course is complete. The complexity of the task leads to mistakes, either through academics rushing it or the inevitable problem of chinese whispers when the academics are communicating information to a third party.
  • Tools that are not integrated into practice leading to duplication and unreliability.
    Curriculum mapping is usually done with pen and paper, an excel spreadsheet or perhaps a commercial stand alone tool. Yet another tool for academics to use. Each of these tools have their limitations. But perhaps the most important is that the new curriculum mapping tool is not the LMS or any of the other systems the academic users for learning and teaching. It’s something else to learn and doesn’t even connect with other tools. These tools don’t actively reduce the workload for the academic or provide additional functionality. It’s all cost and no benefit.

Current representation

In order to implement curriculum mapping across a program or institution, you have to design how you are going to do this. How you understand or represent the problem significantly impacts upon how you design your solution. Representation has a profound impact on design work (Hevner et al., 2004), particularly on the way in which tasks and problems are conceived (Boland, 2002). The formulation of the initial state into an effective representation is crucial to finding an effective design solution (Weber, 2003).

I suggest that the process widely used to implement curriculum mapping is similar to most projects within organisations and universities. It is a teleological process. Truex et al (2000) identify a shared assumption about teleological design processes involving a three-stage rational sequence: “(1) determine goals, (2) determine steps and events that lead to these, (3) follow the steps and generate the events”.

In curriculum mapping this means some group, typically not coal-face teaching academics, identify the need for curriculum mapping. Common groups include accreditation agencies, quality assurance groups and other business and government bodies. In response to this need another group, generally some sort of central learning and teaching group, decides on a process to perform the curriculum map and then engages with and encourages academics to complete the curriculum map.

The focus – the central/core aim – of the institution then becomes of completing this project. The focus has moved away from improving learning and teaching but to actually getting the forms filled in. The questions academics are asked become, “have you completed the form yet?”. The academics start complying and not engaging.

If done well, the project will achieve its aim of getting completed curriculum maps. However, the quality of those maps will be questionable and there’s a good chance the majority of academics are annoyed at having to waste more time and teaching and learning when they all know that they get recognition and promotion for research.

One alternate representation – changing thinking

Oliver et al (2007) describe the practicalities of curriculum mapping as (emphasis added)

far from simple and require a shift in educational thinking

The “shift in thinking” is the foundation of the representation of curriculum mapping that informs the following idea.

The core aim of this project is to change the educational thinking of academics and consequently improve learning and teaching.

Representing the problem this way means that different ideas and approaches to complete the problem. For example:

  • You only change what people think by changing what they experience day to day.
  • You only change what people do day to day if it provides them with some demonstrable benefit. That the choice architecture around what they do is such that they voluntarily make a good choice.
  • You only know what will give them demonstrable benefit by really understanding their experience and if they trust you.
  • You only know what they experience and have their trust if you are interacting with them throughout the process and providing them real assistance.

This is why the above basic outline of an idea cannot be implemented as a traditional project, with set goals and outcomes. It has to be implemented as a learning project. The following from Cavallo (2004) captures this well

As we see it, real change is inherently a kind of learning. For people to change the way they think about and practice education, rather than merely being told what to do differently, we believe that practitioners must have experiences that enable appropriation of new modes of teaching and learning that enable them to reconsider and restructure their thinking and practice. The limitations inherent in existing systems based upon information transfer models are as impoverished in effecting systemic development as they are in child development.


Boland, R. J. (2002). Design in the punctuation of management action. Frontiers of Management Workshop, Weatherhead School of Management.

Cavallo, D. (2000). “Emergent design and learning environments: Building on indigenous knowledge.” IBM Systems Journal 39(3&4): 768-781.

Hevner, A., S. March, et al. (2004). “Design science in information systems research.” MIS Quarterly 28(1): 75-105.

Oliver, B., S. Jones, et al. (2007). Mapping curricula: ensuring work-ready graduates by mapping course learning outcomes and higher order thinking skills. Evaluations and Assessment Conference. Brisbane.

Weber, R. (2003). “Still desperately seeking the IT artifact.” MIS Quarterly 27(2): iii-xi.