Curriculum Mapping

A curriculum map illustrates how and why the more granular learning outcomes achieved in curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular experiences link and combine together to result in the broader learning we expect from Grinnell College graduates. By aggregating the specific learning outcomes up to the area or institutional level, we can use course-level information to determine how well students are accomplishing our departmental and institutional outcomes.

Mapping shows us where the learning occurs so that we can make decisions about how we allocate resources (time, money, and personnel) to most effectively accomplish our goals. Mapping helps us…

  • Identify unnecessary overlap and repetition
  • Identify gaps in learning opportunities
  • Identify learning outcomes that are no longer relevant

How to map our curriculum

We can portray curriculum maps in many ways depending on our goals. The different approaches have different benefits and limitations, so you may find it useful to combine various types to tell the whole story.

Branching illustrations

A tree-like branching system can be useful to quickly see how many outcomes are connected to each other. This format can show if the same outcome is linked to more than one other outcome or not linked at all.

Example 1: Branching curriculum map structure in MS Word

Curriculum Map Example

Example 2: Branching curriculum map structure in an Online Mind Mapping software tool (interactive)

Grid maps for skills

Maps which indicate skill level helps us identify areas where there are gaps and overlaps in our curriculum so that we can effectively allocate and request resources. One version maps courses to Area outcomes.

Example 3: How the skill level each course contributes to each departmental learning outcome (Student skill level: Introduction, Developing, Proficient)

Course Dept. Outcome 1 Dept. Outcome 2 Dept. Outcome 3 Dept. Outcome 4
CRS 101, Section A Introducing Introducing
CRS 101, Section B Developing Introducing Developing
CRS 203 Proficient Introducing Developing
CRS 211 Introducing
CRS 301 Proficient Developing Proficient
CRS 401 Proficient Proficient

In Example 3, the department might consider the following questions about their curriculum:

  • “Is it possible for students to make their way through our curriculum without gaining the skills they need?”
  • “Do students have opportunities to experience each outcome at each difficulty level (introductory, developing, and proficiency)?”
  • “Is there overlap in one or more outcomes we can eliminate to save ourselves effort?”
  • “Are there learning gaps we want to fill? Do we need to request resources to teach these?”
  • “Do we expect different sections of the same course to have the same outcomes and difficulty levels?”

Grid maps for outcome link rationales

Maps which link more specific outcomes to broader outcomes and include a rationale for the connection can document your thought processes about the learning. In this way, you can communicate with stakeholders and have a reference to consider when re-examining your outcomes in the future.

Example 4: Mapping Area Outcomes to College-Wide Learning Outcomes

College-Wide Learning Outcome Area Outcome Rationale
Outcome 1: Students develop creative and critical thinking skills that allow them to analyze the work of others, formulate relevant questions, and respond to those questions in a substantive way using quantitative and qualitative evidence. Departmental Outcome #5: Research Design and Implementation The research design and implementation part of our area outcome #5 requires students to demonstrate creativity and critical thinking as the conduct research in the field.
Outcome 2: Students develop a sense of social responsibility and fairness that guides them in their personal and professional lives. Departmental Outcome #1

Departmental Outcome #6

To achieve our outcome #1, students must effectively work with community partners engaged in social justice activities.

Our area outcome # 6 relates to students adhering to the ethical constraints of our field, which is a social responsibility.

Outcome 3: Students develop the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively in various modes for various purposes and audiences. Departmental Outcome #5: Writing research papers When students write their research papers using clear language and effective writing skills, they are demonstrating their ability to communicate in ways appropriate for our field.
Outcome 4: Students develop the ability to continue learning independently and collaboratively. Departmental Outcome #3 To accomplish this learning outcome, students must demonstrate effective teamwork skills on projects, which demonstrates their ability to learn collaboratively.
Outcome 5: Students develop the ability to approach a question from multiple perspectives, representing a diversity of ideas and experiences. Departmental Outcome #7 Students are expected to write on the same topic from various viewpoints.
Outcome 6: Students pursue a chosen field of study in depth and develop understanding of a core body of knowledge in that field as well as the ability to employ modes of inquiry appropriate to that field. Departmental Outcome #5: Conclusions and Discussion Students demonstrate the depth of their understanding about the field when they must interpret their research within the existing literature in the field.

Grid maps for aligning assessments

Each learning outcome should be closely linked to the assessments that will provide evidence that the outcome occurred as desired. A grid showing the assessments for each outcome can allow stakeholders to quickly determine if there are gaps in assessment or if there are areas that have more resources devoted to assessment than is necessary. For more information about alignment, see the alignment guide.

Example 5: Aligning departmental outcomes and their assessments

Learning Outcome Assessment Rationale
DEPT-LO-1 Assessment 1

Assessment 2

[Write rationale for why the assessment(s) provides evidence for the particular area learning outcome]
DEPT-LO-2 Assessment 3 [Write rationale for why the assessment(s) provides evidence for the particular area learning outcome]
DEPT-LO-3 Assessment 4 [Write rationale for why the assessment(s) provides evidence for the particular area learning outcome]
DEPT-LO-4 Assessment 5 [Write rationale for why the assessment(s) provides evidence for the particular area learning outcome]

Grid maps for aligning instruction

Each learning outcome should be closely linked to the instructional approaches that will help the student achieve those outcomes. For more information about alignment, see the alignment guide.

Example 6: Aligning departmental outcomes and their assessments

Learning Outcome Instructional Approach Assessment
DEPT-LO-1: Effective communication Read textbook, online discussion, and student blog Evaluate discussion post quality with rubric

Evaluate blog writing quality with rubric

DEPT-LO-2: Effective interpersonal interaction Review teamwork basics. Students conduct project in teams. Peer evaluation about team contribution
DEPT-LO-3: Content knowledge Read textbook. Lecture. Homework. Homework

Quizzes & Tests

Evaluating curriculum maps

High quality curriculum maps share certain features including writing outcomes as measurable statements, linking learning outcomes to highlight the most significant connections, and including a rationale for the connections.

Rubric for evaluating a curriculum map
Criterion Incomplete Developing Satisfactory
Measurable statements Outcomes are not written as measurable statements. Outcomes are written as measurable statements, but could be improved. Each outcome is written as a strong measurable statement.
Links between outcomes Area outcomes are not explicitly linked to College-Wide Outcomes Area outcomes are linked to multiple College-Wide Outcomes.

No rationale provided for why the link is appropriate

Each area outcome is linked to no more than one CWLO.

Provides a rationale for why the outcomes are linked.

Assessments No assessment is identified for the area outcome Assessments are clearly identified for area outcomes, but the assessments may be weak. Selected appropriate assessments to measure each outcome.

Tips and questions about curriculum mapping

Learning outcomes should be mapped
Our primary function at Grinnell College is to educate students; thus, each academic area must have at least one measurable learning outcome. See the Learning Outcome Guide for assistance writing measurable learning outcomes.
Goals do not necessarily need to be mapped
Goals are the aspirations for your department, major, or program. These could include any factors representing your area’s values, function, contribution to society, or impact on learning.
Goals may include factors that influence departmental function (e.g., The department will retain staffing appropriate to our curricular needs.)
Not necessarily written as measurable and student-centered (e.g., the department will instill an appreciation for scientific approaches to knowledge formation)
Measurable learning outcomes are easiest to assess
Each learning outcomes for departments, majors, or programs will be assessed. These are the knowledge, skills and attitudes that all students graduating from your department, major, or program should be able to demonstrate on the day they receive their diploma.
Student-centered—written as what the student will do to demonstrate learning, not what the teacher will do help the student learn
Only list behaviors that you can “guarantee” all passing students will exhibit
Select a manageable number of learning outcomes
The College will expect you to assess each learning outcome you list, so choose carefully. Consolidate your writing learning outcomes and research learning outcomes with your area learning outcomes.
Too many represents a heavy assessment burden for the area
Too few may not provide enough key indicators for decision-making in your area
Link each area learning outcome to the College-Wide Learning outcome it contributes to most significantly
By aggregating the assessment data from all the area outcomes connected to each CWLO, we can get a picture of how well we’re achieving our institutional outcomes and how various areas across the campus are contributing to our students’ liberal arts education.
Must I map all learning outcomes?
Preferably. Mapping our outcomes communicates how the learning outcomes for any given learning experience contributes to our graduates’ overall education. More mapping gives you a more robust framework to make decisions about your curricular offerings. (See the Learning Outcome Writing Guide for assistance.)
Must each of my area outcomes match a college outcome?
Not necessarily. It is OK if your area has a few learning outcomes that are unique and essential to your field and do not fit a college-wide learning outcome. However, we expect most area outcomes to fit one of the six college outcomes.
May I link my area outcome to more than one college outcome?
Please avoid if possible. Try to link each area outcome to only one College outcome. Although overlap may sometime be inevitable because we are dealing with integrated ideas, we will produce the most useful data if our links only represent the strongest, highest priority associations. If you’re finding that many area outcomes link to more than one College outcome, consider re-wording area outcomes to increase specificity.
Must each college outcome be linked to one or more of our area outcomes?
Preferably. Ideally, we want all our college learning outcomes to be reflected within each disciplinary curriculum to ensure your area contributes significantly to the learning considered vital by the College. Lacking these connections, students focused in your area may experience deficiencies in achieving certain College outcomes.