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Curriculum Mapping: Objectives, Assessment, and Technology

Over the last few months I have sat in on various meetings and presentations about e-portfolios, open courseware, and assessment.  Under discussion are the ways in which different technologies can help mediate across-campus open access to course objectives and assessment processes.  Out of these discussions one area that has really stood out for me is the concept of “curriculum mapping” and how this mapping can be part of the larger conversation of cross campus curricular design.

Earth as a system concept map

Earth as a system: A sample visual course map (you can click on the image for a larger version) from the On the Cutting Edge professional development program (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/assess/conceptmaps.html).

Across the United States, there are already benchmarking components of “curriculum mapping” in place geared towards K-12 (a good of this overview can be found here), though I have to admit this is less interesting than the overarching concept of having department and program objectives mapped out using technologies such as e-portfolio platforms.  I feel this mapping plays an important role in:

1.  Sharing what faculty and instructors are doing with our colleagues across the campus, and
2.  Creating course landscapes for the students.

As such just what are some advantages of and tools for mapping these objectives and course content?

For #1 above I see a connection with the basic concept of the open courseware aesthetic where the course, department/program, and instutional objectives are organized and accessible to the campus community.  Why is this important?  One reason I think is that it allows for colleagues to map out content to what other instructors are doing in other courses.  For me personally that means seeing that, yes, a School of Journalism and Communication course is covering mass media history, and as such I don’t necessarily need to repeat that content in my visual literacy course.  This then allows me to map out my own course content connections between photography and painting to the history covered in the other course.

Another reason that mapping has become important, as well as controversial, are the ways in which this mapping can inform larger assessment needs of a university.  Now, I believe there is a lot to say about this topic, but for the purposes of this posting I just want to briefly introduce this reason.  As noted, this a highly debated area right now in higher education and more can be read about it in these two articles from  The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education.

As for #2 and creating that “landscape” for students, one area that I am very interested in is the visualization of data.  I feel that the idea of creating visual maps of objectives, course content, assignments, and so on can be a powerful way to create a tool for students, and their advisers, to track the courses they need to take in order to graduate in a timely manner.  Additionally, within a specific course having a visual map (much like a concept map) for students allows them see how certain objectives connect to certain assignments as well as connecting points of course content.  This gives the student a visual representation for navigating a course.  I can see an important product of this navigation as giving the student who may be disengaged with some of the basic content a visual map to ‘see’ the strands of connection these basic areas will have later to the more interesting information (say for instance just getting the student through the first couple weeks of introduction to the more interesting specific content coming up later in the term).  The mapping as well gives instructors a road map to review and update their own courses.

How can technology play a role in all of this?  One area is the aspect of open courseware that I commented on in this previous posting.  Additionally there are other applications out there of interest that are specifically geared towards visualization mapping of curriculum and concepts.  Here are a few resources of interest:

Visual Understanding Environment: “The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University. The VUE project is focused on creating flexible tools for managing and integrating digital resources in support of teaching, learning and research. VUE provides a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information.”

CmapTools:  “The IHMC CmapTools program empowers users to construct, navigate, share and criticize knowledge models represented as concept maps.”

Inspiration Software: “For visual mapping, outlining, writing and making presentations, use Inspiration® 9, the ultimate thinking and learning tool. Brainstorm ideas, structure your thoughts and visually communicate concepts to strengthen understanding with the Diagram and Map Views.”

I will be looking forward to participating in more of these cross campus curricular design discussions, and interested in seeing what new technologies emerge on the horizon to help map the landscapes of instructional objectives, course content, and assessment.

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