Why Curriculum Mapping in Higher Ed is so Important

Sep, 2021

Holla Koala

Why Curriculum Mapping in Higher Ed is so Important

This fictional example shows why curriculum mapping in higher ed is so important and the real life impact it creates.

As the last so-called “low achieving” student triumphantly concluded their capstone presentation with a beaming smile that went from ear to ear, I couldn’t help but return that same beaming smile back. They nailed it. Not in the “Nailed It” tv show kind of way, where you shoot for the moon, and might make it to the launch pad… but in the real way. They really got it. Their success was my success, and knowing that we had navigated the difficult road together and reached the end goal with every odd against us was tremendously fulfilling for us all. Here they were, the going nowhere kids, the low achievers, but they weren’t failing, they were thriving. That success didn’t just happen, it was intentionally  designed.

That design began in a quiet classroom with four teachers furrowing their brows over objectives, outcomes, and content.  As we passed the course outlines that spanned our series of courses back and forth, we started with the end goal in mind. What would the successful student have gained that would help them cross from one course into the next, culminating in the completion of their overall educational goals? Each starting where the other left off, we created a matrix of individual course outcomes. Then, we stacked the course outcomes on top of each other to make sure, over the course of the student’s journey through all the courses, that the overall program and institutional outcomes were met. No holes or gaps, unless we intended them to be there. We didn’t realize we were being pioneers. We just wanted our students to succeed, and we refused to have any part of a narrative that said we hadn’t tried everything we could to get them there.

We met week after week, to hone our map. We took the assignments that we taught, aligned them to the outcomes we had created, and jointly created assessments to give us common ground when we discussed results over time. With administrative blessings, we removed the extra from our grades – no more extra credit, attendance grades, or punitive grade reductions. We took out everything that was not directly tied to the learning so we knew when we looked at the grade of the assessment, it was a direct reflection of the student learning for the aligned outcome. As we walked through the plan from top to bottom, we knew we had hit all the gaps. Each program and institutional outcome was addressed through the classwork we defined, and we knew exactly where to find it all. We were ready to launch our plan.

The cohort of students who walked through the doors next would have the benefit of our most thoughtful and intentional work to date. Us, the subject matter experts of the curriculum, who defined the map and worked the plan up through the program into the institution outcomes and back down to the learning events of the course again. As the last student of the first thriving cohort walked out the door, my smile returned. I couldn’t wait to meet with my group and celebrate our win. I couldn’t wait to hear how things went for them. This year’s program review was going to be different. We were armed with three years worth of data and reflective responses from an aligned curriculum. We were ready to really discuss the concrete ways to continuously improve.

How can you start thinking about curriculum mapping and backwards design in your higher ed institution?

eLumen offers the ability to add a series of questions to assigned SLO assessment rubrics in the form of a Reflection template. These narrative questions are completed by faculty after they have entered their SLO data. As an institution you can sculpt the questions so that you can capture the faculty’s thoughts about the assessment they just completed, where it was placed within the curriculum, what were the benefits and drawbacks to the placement of the assessment in the course. With these ideas captured conversations can ensue to begin developing the Backwards Design mindset. To use this feature, Reflection Templates, contact your Customer Success Manager.