Nov. 12, 2019

Curriculum Links: The new online tool that makes curriculum mapping simple and easy

Free application now available to UCalgary community
Cari Din Faculty of Kinesiology
Cari Din, Faculty of Kinesiology

The days of traditional curriculum mapping via whiteboards, Excel spreadsheets, paper-based forms and survey tools are soon to be a thing of the past. The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning is pleased to present Curriculum Links, the custom-built, online application for mapping academic programs in higher education. It is designed to gather information about courses, pulling it together at the program level to make patterns in curriculum data easy to understand.

Curriculum review is a collaborative, faculty-led examination of undergraduate and course-based master’s programs that assists with better understanding the student learning experience. Critical to the success of a curriculum review, curriculum mapping is the process of charting the relationship of courses to a program's overall aims. This data helps groups to identify trends, strengths, gaps and redundancies, which can lead to evidence-informed discussions about future directions for the program.

Positive user feedback

Whether you are looking to improve an established program or develop an entirely new one, a thoughtfully aligned, robust curriculum is essential to creating exceptional learning experiences. Curriculum Links is a highly customizable curriculum alignment application that collects elements of courses such as course outcomes, student learning activities and assessments, in order to create visual maps that inform discussions about trends and patterns across the program.

Dr. Cari Din, PhD, and Dr. William Bridel, PhD, have been using the application along with their colleagues in the Faculty of Kinesiology. They hope to finish mapping their programs early in the new year.

The Curriculum Links mapping software has encouraged reflective thinking through design.

"By asking instructors to link specific learning activities with the learning outcomes stated for a course, we are feeling and hearing there is a beautiful pause created by these kinds of questions: What are the activities students do to move toward a specific learning outcome? What teaching decisions am I making to enable learning? For me, this also progresses to: Is this the most effective way to support learning this course outcome? And ultimately: How can I improve learning in this course?” explains Din (pictured above).

Software development and application

After extensive research and prototyping using the University of Saskatchewan Curriculum Alignment Tool, the Taylor Institute began preliminary designs in 2015 for a customizable and robust curriculum mapping application that would better serve our university’s needs. Before this, there had not been a viable open source curriculum mapping application that balanced a well-designed and structured workflow with the ability to adapt to the various contexts encountered in departments and faculties across an institution.

Fast forward four years, and we have Curriculum Links as it exists today — a flexible and scalable application that can be installed and run on any commodity web server and accessed online through a web browser. Commercial tools exist, but Curriculum Links is free and is now available for general use by the University of Calgary community. The application has been met with positive feedback from several groups.

Dr. Kimberley Grant, PhD, an educational development consultant in the Taylor Institute, has worked closely with users of the Curriculum Links platform as well as project team members Dr. Patti Dyjur, PhD, faculty adviser, and Kevin Saito, architect and developer.

“Because Curriculum Links offers a clear, user-friendly way to enter data, as well as flexibility to create great visuals and customized reports, groups that have been using it for curriculum development or curriculum review are able to quickly and smoothly aggregate a lot of program-level information,” she says. “Those visuals and reports then become important conversation-starters about next steps to enhance student learning."

The future of Curriculum Links

Given the success of the software, there is the possibility of offering Curriculum Links to the broader community either through commercialization of the software, community access and shared hosting, or as an open source application. The software is designed to provide separation of data, such that users from one institution or program are not able to access the data from other institutions or programs. This separation makes it possible to offer a single shared instance of the software, enabling participants to create accounts as needed and to work on their own curriculum mapping projects within the shared environment.

Curriculum Links is a highly scalable, valuable tool for helping instructors in higher education institutions better understand their program. By mapping their course, they are prompted to think about its design and how it fits into the program as a whole. Aggregate data can be used to hold evidence-based discussions about the quality of the program, fostering exceptional student learning experiences.

The Taylor Institute has created a number of resources to support groups with Curriculum Review and Curriculum Development at the University of Calgary. Learn more, or get started using Curriculum Links