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Why Curriculum Mapping?

When I tell people that I’m interested in curriculum mapping, I get the typical eye-glaze-over that any academic topic probably gets when you surprise someone who just asked, “How your day is going?” I also can’t help but think that in their mind, not only are they relegating this conversation they are about to have to their most-boring-topics bucket, but also cross-listing it to their biggest-waste-of-time bin as well.

So, my goal is in this post is just to touch on a couple of points. The first is that it curriculum mapping can make teaching more collegial and the second is that it ups your teaching skills to “god-like” status (potential hyperbole…but possibly not).

Currently, there are few mechanisms and approaches for clearly capturing/summarizing curriculum for either communication or reflection.

This is partly to do with the complexity of curriculum. But this lack of summarizing leads to a lack of reflection, feedback, and growth. Curriculum mapping provides us with a theoretical basis for reflecting and communicating that can help us to coordinate and communicate with our colleagues (see examples below). Being able to have productive conversations with others potentially also addresses another concern in academia, loneliness.

One of the biggest challenges in academia is feelings of isolation. As a large chunk of our work can be teaching (and a large chunk that may not be rewarded in promotion, reappointment, or tenure) I think academics feel that to make visible what is going on in their classroom will open them up to criticism and/or losing academic freedom. I feel that the fear limits faculty from talking about their course. Second, because there are so many elements involved in a course and its curriculum, it seems a bit overwhelming about how to represent your course and how to invite conversation with your colleagues. Regardless of the reasons, because we cannot represent our curriculum, we rarely get feedback on our curriculum.

As for the hyperbolic “god-like” status. Curriculum mapping can increase your efficacy in a number of ways:

  • you have better alignment between objectives/assessments/teaching materials: backward design,
  • you are better able to communicate the relatedness of disciplinary knowledge to students: segmentation,
  • the map allows you to be self-reflective on choosing material for less overlaps or gaps in your instruction, and/or
  • you can improve by getting feedback from colleagues about content, approaches, and other curricular dimensions.

The fact is most of us already do some mapping in our syllabus, but most of those maps are the first steps and could be grown in many productive ways. I will be writing more comprehensively on some of these topics in future posts, and I’m sure talking about syllabus language won’t be eye-glazing at all!

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