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An Atlas for Higher Ed: Curriculum Mapping and Library Instruction

Posted on 27 November 2013 at 3:03 pm in Musings.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with maps. I had maps on the walls of my bedroom and I would browse an atlas for fun (nerd alert!). When I started reading, I liked the books with maps in the front (still do). By middle school, I had descended into roleplaying games and would spend hours (poorly) drawing maps of my own fictitious world, a habit that lasted longer than I care to admit.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise when professional peers started talking about curriculum mapping, I got interested. My first exposure to the concept came during the CARL Conference 2012 during a keynote presented by Char Booth and Brian Mathews. Char was presenting the curriculum mapping work she was doing at Claremont Colleges through an IMLS grant.

Meanwhile, my colleague Nicole Branch was investigating curriculum mapping as well. She attended a curriculum mapping workshop at ACRL 2013, and brought back a number of templates and materials we could incorporate into our work.

The Scaffold

Scaffolding on the side of the Boston Public Library, used via Creative Commons license, courtesy Boston Public Library.

Nicole and I co-coordinate library instruction at our place of work. We are a small, private liberal arts university. We do not have a semester-long library skills course as some institutions do; information literacy instruction is a part of university learning outcomes and is intended to be integrated with regular course curriculum. Librarian-led instruction takes place in one-shot workshops, either initiated by the faculty or in conjunction with partnered academic programs.

As our program expanded and we received more faculty requests, Nicole and I ran into a problem that will be familiar to other instructional librarians: students who think (rightly or not) that they’ve “already had this workshop before.” As a small school, we do often see the same students in many of our different workshops. We needed to ensure we were delivering different presentations each time, not only to maintain student interest, but to actually address all five ACRL standards for information literacy instruction over the course of a student’s matriculation (which is plainly impossible in any single workshop).

Before we were “mapping,” we were already starting this coordination: sharing lesson plans with each other, identifying skills we wanted to address in one course vs. another, and working with academic departments to ensure that our instruction would be regular parts of course curriculum (our primary partners were our school’s freshmen composition classes and an interdisciplinary general education program attended by all undergraduates.) This “scaffolded” program of information literacy was the foundation of our curriculum map: the landmarks, as it were, to which we’d apply a roadmap.

Charting Our Program

The next phase in the development of our curriculum map was a response to an opportunity: our campus administration was starting to think about curriculum mapping as it relates to graduate and undergraduate programs, and our University Librarian suggested Nicole and I could present on the subject to our annual Dean’s Conference, an end-of-academic-year faculty meeting. Most faculty had only seen the portions of our information literacy instruction that related to their courses; this was a chance to unveil the comprehensiveness of our program and use it as an example when explaining how curriculum mapping worked.

One of the features of curriculum mapping is that it can be adapted to any level of instruction, whether it’s an individual workshop, a semester-long course, or an academic program, and the micro components can roll into the macro. You can start the process from scratch, or you can adapt existing learning outcomes and assessment models into the curriculum mapping format. It’s flexible.

Nicole Branch put together the backbone of our presentation. She adapted the materials distributed at the ACRL workshop, and also incorporated the approach developed at University of Hawaii, Manoa’s office of assessment. Our scaffolded series of workshops became this chart, showing which ACRL standards and university learning outcomes each of our workshops addressed. We didn’t input every detail of our workshop into this form; those existed in our detailed lesson plans, and didn’t need replication.

As the cherry on top, I adapted that chart into a mind map, which makes for a splashy visual presentation that faculty really responded to — the map in “curriculum mapping.”

For us, the completed curriculum map was transformative: we could see the big picture of how our program worked and the pedagogy we employed; it forced us to ask tough questions about our own assessment techniques; it allowed us to communicate our goals better with faculty; and we could identify which information literacy standards were inadequately addressed. It encouraged us to be reflective and we revised a number of our workshops as a result, a process that is still continuing as we strive to improve our program.

An Atlas for Higher Ed

The next chapter is unfolding right now. As a follow-up to the Dean’s Conference presentation, the administration has asked the library to work with various academic programs on their own curriculum mapping efforts. Nicole and I have developed a new presentation we’ve been delivering to different departments to assist them in their process. I am curious how each department will approach this differently, and what we will learn from them as a result. Together, we can produce a series of maps that intersect across university learning outcomes, academic majors, and general education requirements: an atlas for our model of higher education.