Curriculum maps

by Paul Maharg on 05/07/2006

The second year of the Diploma, 2000-1, I had a lot of curriculum problems. One of the major ones was that I was getting contradictory signals from students saying one thing, saying another about the course. Some said in the feedback that this course was too easy, or that one too hard. Who to believe?

Above all, though, it was clear that the timings and allocation of classes in the timetable wasn’t right. What was to be done about this? During the year I got hold of a student I knew to be conscientious, good but not the best, and asked him to keep a diary of the time he spent on the course — absolutely everything: planning, cramming, f2f classes, preparation, coursework, social, the lot. Then after the course was ended he set out his timetable in an Excel chart with line graph showing a 40-hour week (which we expected students to do) as a baseline and a +40 > -40 scale the amount of hours he put into the course over the 28 teaching weeks.

The results were a revelation. When I thought he’d be busy, sometimes he was, sometimes he wasn’t. Similarly with downtime. But when he was busy, he was working really hard — 60 hours and more. And towards the end of the course he confirmed it just tailed away the last week or so. I thought I knew the curriculum, but I only knew it from a staff point of view.  It was also very clear that what we didn’t have was a balanced course, evenly spread throughout the year. Balancing the curriculum is a matter of seeing it from students’ points of view: when was busytime, when was downtime, and why. Lots of things contribute to a balanced curriculum, and the art of learner-centred timetabling is definitely one of them.

The next year, we made major changes. Classes were pushed into the afternoon to accommodate student preparation time. Courses were re-ordered through the curriculum. The Excel line graph became my sonar, my way of seeing the student view of things on the course.  I guess that I’m saying that curriculum maps have a place (and maybe contradicting what I’ve said earlier about them); but that it depends what the maps shows,  who’s drawing it with what information to hand, and what you do as a result of the analysis…

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