The Why Behind Curriculum Mapping

June 21, 2023 Watermark Insights

Assessing learning outcomes is critical in higher education, helping educators and administrators answer questions about what skills and content students have learned and what they must master before meeting their educational goals. Yet having the data and insights to find these answers can be difficult without a plan for measuring learning and outcomes.

Curriculum mapping in education is a key part of the assessment process, offering valuable insights into your programs’ ability to deliver specific outcomes. Curriculum mapping is a method of showing the connections between the expected outcomes of an academic program and the specific courses where this learning takes place. Learn more about curriculum mapping and how your higher education institution can utilize the process to help students achieve success. 

What Is Curriculum Mapping?

Curriculum mapping is a process where the educators, administrators, and support staff at an institution develop an outline for teaching and assessing learning outcomes throughout the student learning journey. As part of curriculum mapping, educators create learning goals and set the scope and progression of learning across courses and degree programs. They also use curriculum mapping to measure classroom progress and guide future curriculums.

The curriculum mapping process results in a document called a curriculum map that educators can use to assess what and how content was taught in the classroom. A curriculum map typically looks like a grid or table and provides clear insight into the outcomes students have achieved — and where they should go next. A curriculum map may cover an entire school year. The process guides faculty and students throughout the educational experience.

Curriculum mapping is about taking a long view of a student's educational journey and ensuring that learning outcomes align with what educators teach in the classroom. This tool encourages educators to reflect frequently on learning progress and use data to meet students' needs. Ultimately, curriculum mapping lays a strong foundation for your assessment process so that you know where to look when it comes time to report on progress.

Example of Curriculum Mapping

While curriculum mapping may produce different results across degree programs, departments, and higher education institutions, the process for each will look similar. When an institution creates a curriculum map for a degree program, the educators, department heads, and other staff involved in the program work together to develop a set of learning outcomes students should achieve. The next step is determining where educators will introduce, reinforce, and assess those outcomes. 

To create a curriculum map, the educators and administrators make a table with all the courses in the program. They then determine where to teach and assess each learning outcome. The result is a graph educators can use to determine in which courses students should master specific concepts. Educators and administrators may then refer back to the curriculum map when creating lesson plans, evaluating the results of exams and course evaluations, and completing any other curriculum planning.

What Is the Purpose of Curriculum Mapping?

Why map learning outcomes to courses? There are quite a few objectives of a well-defined curriculum mapping process:

  • Planning a sequence for instruction: You can identify which course should first introduce a student to a concept and how that student should be deemed “proficient.” You can also ensure that outcomes are spread evenly throughout the program.
  • Identifying gaps in your program: Are all of your learning outcomes covered in the current courses? Is the student’s path to proficiency clear? Better to find that out in the planning stages!
  • Finding opportunities for assessment: When you map outcomes to courses, you can then define how to monitor student progress along the way. Based on the specific course content, you'll also identify the best ways to assess student learning — projects, exams, and presentations.
  • Improving the learning experience: When assessing student learning as they move through a program, you can spot negative trends and adjust the program accordingly by adding new courses or modifying syllabi and assignments.
  • Align curriculum with goals and standards: Curriculum mapping allows you to align a program's content with your mission statement, overarching institutional goals, and educational standards. For example, some accreditation agencies may require you to meet certain curriculum standards, and mapping ensures you're on the right track.

The Benefits of Curriculum Mapping

If you are wondering why you need to develop a curriculum grid, take a look at these key benefits of curriculum mapping for your higher education institution:

1. Improve Student Learning

Curriculum mapping supports students as they learn by fostering collaboration between faculty as they create a student-first curriculum. Educators can pool their resources and work together to ensure that students meet expected learning outcomes at the right time before moving on in the program. Curriculum maps close gaps in a program's curriculum to help students build on their knowledge properly. A curriculum map can also connect degree programs to occupations, helping students turn their skills into careers. 

2. Measure Learning Outcomes

A curriculum map provides signposts for educators and faculty to help them determine how effective their courses were at meeting specific learning objectives. After a course is complete and faculty have assessed learning outcomes, they can compare what they actually taught in the classroom and what learning outcomes students achieved against the curriculum map. Used this way, a curriculum map is an effective tool for helping faculty understand where learning gaps occur so they can adjust their methods.

3. Create Clear Objectives for Each Course

The curriculum mapping process also helps faculty and program chairs better understand how their given course fits into the big picture of their students’ educational experiences and define expectations for student growth as they take additional courses. By outlining outcomes introduced in one class and then reinforced in a later advanced course, you can ensure students develop their knowledge and skills across the curriculum.

Curriculum mapping also helps faculty identify what students should learn in each course. Faculty can create clear objectives for their courses to help with course planning and keep the course on track while in process. Clear objectives also help students understand what they'll learn or be able to do after completing the course. Setting clear course objectives is also necessary for analyzing whether the course did what it was intended to do and measuring student outcomes. 

4. Simplify Reporting and Tracking

Curriculum mapping allows faculty and program chairs to evaluate a course's learning outcomes, content, and relevance, and how that data relates to students' needs. Since reporting and tracking such data is ongoing, curriculum mapping helps simplify and make these tasks consistent. For example, faculty can use reports on curriculum data to track the impact a course has on student achievement. 

In addition, academic chairs can confirm that outcomes are being taught throughout the program, while faculty can take more responsibility for teaching a specific outcome. 

5. Use Student and Faculty Time More Effectively 

Curriculum maps increase collaboration between faculty and staff within a department, which can help educators make the most efficient use of their and their students' time. With a clear goal for the learning outcomes students should achieve in each class, educators can eliminate redundancies and learning gaps in their courses and across degree programs, ensuring that future course material connects to past learning. 

As faculty measure what they taught against the planned curriculum and complete curriculum maps year after year, they see how their courses change over time and become better at planning lessons that meet learning outcomes. 

6. Increase Student Engagement

Increase Student Engagement

Keeping students engaged in their learning gives them a sense of purpose, direction, and stake in their education. Curriculum mapping helps students understand their path, see how their courses will help them achieve their goals, and clarify their expectations as they work through the program. For example, visualizing a course's objectives helps students make connections and know what to expect from the course. 

With increased clarity of the curriculum path they're on, students can take ownership of their education and make deeper connections between courses in the curriculum. 

7. Maintain Compliance With Accreditation Standards

If your institution seeks accreditation status or reaffirmation, curriculum mapping helps prove that your faculty and institution are planning, implementing, assessing, and improving curriculum procedures. Curriculum mapping practices contribute to many accreditation processes. Accreditation agencies often require consistent proof that an institution is meeting curriculum benchmarks, as this demonstrates the drive for student success.

You may also need to meet state and national guidelines for educational standards, which curriculum mapping can help you report on and comply with.

8. Encourages Faculty Collaboration

Curriculum mapping is inherently collaborative. Since various courses, often taught by different faculty members, build on one another and relate to each other, faculty members can work together to create relevant curriculum maps across a program. Collaborating on curriculum maps ensures the courses in a program align with the program's goals and create a cohesive educational experience for students. Leveraging collaboration during curriculum mapping also strengthens your faculty and creates an overall collaborative culture.

Creating a Curriculum Map

The curriculum mapping process should be intentional and focused on keeping track of what students have learned and what comes next. The webinar Assessment Foundations: Curriculum Mapping explains how to simplify your curriculum mapping process. These tips for introducing curriculum mapping to your degree program or institution can also help you improve the process: 

  • Ensure that learning outcomes are specific and measurable: The best learning outcomes are precise and achievable. Consider what skills students who go through a degree program might need in the workforce or as they continue their education. 
  • Evaluate how your curriculum may need to change: Curriculum maps are excellent sources of guidance for improving your curriculum. Are there some core courses that don't promote the learning outcomes specified in your curriculum map? Develop the classes so they do.
  • Evaluate your curriculum map as you go: Especially in the beginning, you may find that your curriculum map doesn't align with where you want your curriculum to be. Regularly evaluate the map to determine what's working, your students' needs, and how the curriculum map could better serve the students and faculty. 
  • Use the right tools: Creating a curriculum map can be time-consuming. Consider using software to help you easily collaborate on and share your curriculum map with your institution. 

How Watermark Helps With Curriculum Mapping

Your institution's curriculum and catalogs say a lot about its goals and objectives. Watermark can empower the faculty and staff at your higher education institution to take control of the curriculum mapping process. With Watermark Curriculum Strategy, faculty can upload lesson plans, activities, resources, and other materials to the Watermark platform so others can compare curriculum maps. As a result, educators can collaborate to create course catalogs and handbooks for the courses at your institution.

Here are a few ways Watermark Curriculum Strategy helps higher education institutions with curriculum mapping:

  • Improved collaboration: With tools for building curriculum proposal and approval workflows, Curriculum Strategy ensures that no one on your faculty is in the dark about curriculum updates. The platform shows the status of every item, which items are missing, and outlines the edits collaborators have made. Curriculum Strategy makes it easy to guide collaborators through reviews and revisions. 
  • Ensured data accuracy: Data accuracy is vital for curriculum and catalog consistency. Curriculum Strategy provides seamless SIS integration to reduce duplicate data. The platform ensures accurate and consistent data across course descriptions, credit information, requisites, policies, and outcomes. This feature keeps everyone working with the most current information as they collaborate.
  • Consistency across print and online versions: Curriculum Strategy allows your institution to publish student handbooks and catalogs to clarify policies. An enhanced print capability enables collaborators to simultaneously update the print and online catalogs. The system also keeps branding consistent across your institution's content.

Improve Your Curriculum Management With Watermark

Improve Your Curriculum Management With Watermark

Implementing curriculum mapping at your higher education institution is well worth the effort. A curriculum map can keep your institution and students on track with learning achievements, making it easier for faculty and educators to coordinate a curriculum that advances student outcomes. 

When your institution is ready to take charge of the curriculum mapping process, Watermark Curriculum Strategy can help. The comprehensive platform allows educators to streamline collaboration and create accessible curriculum maps to connect institutional offerings to students' futures. To see our solutions in action, request a demo today

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