Curriculum Development, Alignment and Coordination: A Data-Driven Approach

Most faculty work hard to make each individual course they teach the best learning experience it can be. They learn with each semester, and make revisions based on what worked and where the course stumbled. If done correctly, it’s a continuous improvement process that runs like a well-oiled machine. But no matter how good their individual courses are, it’s easy for faculty to end up in a silo–unsure of what’s happening in other courses throughout their discipline or department.

Curriculum mapping, a process that helps faculty align curriculum to ensure that the program addresses all learning outcomes effectively, can help break down those silos.

“It is through cross-curriculum development that learning and skills development can be enhanced and reinforced,” says Peter Wolf, director of Teaching Support Services at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

In the recent online seminar Connect Learning Across Courses with Curriculum Mapping, Wolf explained how Guelph uses curriculum mapping to ensure that individual learning experiences are connected across courses and relate to the larger context of the student experience.

Although curriculum mapping can be accomplished with a low-tech approach such as Excel, Guelph uses two different software applications to accomplish its goals. Using the Visual Understanding Environment (VUE), an open source project based at Tufts University, Guelph’s curriculum committees can develop course progression maps to help make informed decisions about program structure. For example, by viewing the four-year course progression map of a particular major, the committee discovered that the most difficult required courses were all in semesters four and five. In an earlier survey, students reported feeling burned out during these same two semesters. The department was able to make a few adjustments to even out the workload, without sacrificing program quality, Wolf says.

To accomplish the second dimension of curriculum mapping–breadth program outcomes mapping–Guelph developed its own software called CurricKit, a curriculum mapping toolkit that helps match program outcomes with individual courses by collecting data from faculty, course outlines, and curriculum committees. The software helps map courses across three components: knowledge, skills and values; instructional methods; and assessment methods.

“The processes are faculty driven, that’s the only way to have a sustainable model,” says Wolf. “The goal is not to evaluate courses or evaluate faculty, but to use data to have meaningful discussions that drive curriculum decisions so that our graduates have the knowledge, skills, and values we want to foster in our students.”