May 30, 2019

Curriculum Maps: Putting information to good use

Cara Barker, Research & Instruction Librarian, Western Carolina University

This post is a continuation of “Curriculum Maps: Building a Strong Foundation for Liaison Work.”

One of the things I love best about data gathering for a specific purpose is that it sometimes helps in more ways than you anticipated. In academic libraries, you often see this with circulation, electronic resource stats, and building use data. Curriculum maps offer similar opportunities. In the first post on curriculum mapping, I walked through the information gathering portion of creating curriculum maps. In this post, I’ll show you how to transfer the information you’ve collected into the map. I’ll also talk about other ways curriculum maps can inform librarian practice beyond instruction.

When my colleague and instruction coordinator, Heidi Buchanan, got our department involved in curriculum mapping, she created a libguide to help stagger the tasks. We’ve already walked through collecting the information for tasks one and two, so now we are moving on to the actual mapping portion of our program. The “map” is really a spreadsheet, designed to show how all the pieces of information we’ve gathered connect. You will find a map template on Heidi’s guide, under the tab for task three.

Creating your Map

To keep the spreadsheet manageable, you could consider limiting the list of courses to two groups: classes for whom you (or your predecessor) have done some form of instruction and classes that are required for all students in the major/program. You should fill out as much of the spreadsheet as you can, but don’t fret over not having every piece of information you need to complete the map. The goal is to have enough information to assess the instruction needs of your program.

You may also consider customizing the template to suit your needs. In my case, I have a significant number of N’s on my map (figure 1). I could leave those blank and assume that any blank space is a ‘No’ if I find it too cluttered. In the sample section of my map, you can also see where I’ve tried to adjust for answers that don’t fit the Y/N paradigm. As you work through your first map you may develop notations that are a better fit for your program’s information. One of the things I’ve considered adding is a column for the average number of sections offered for a course or the average number of students in a section. Any other data you consider important to planning instruction could be added.

Figure 1. Sample section of my Art & Design curriculum map.

So, what’s next? You’ve gathered and organized all this information, filled in your map, and are waiting to figure out what to do with all of this content. Well, that depends on what your map tells you. If you look at my chart above you can see a hole in my instructional work for this program, namely my lack of presence in the two required Art History classes. I note on the map that the last time I worked with the class was 2017. There are, however, classes that I do work with on a regular basis that fall outside of the required group of courses. My relationship with the program is currently built on teaching outside of the required classes, working with specialized classes in ceramics and interior design, among others. Since everyone’s map and history with their program is different, the insights this exercise will prompt are unique to you.

Once the curriculum map is completed, you now have an organized document to share with your faculty. If you want to take an extra step in creating a document for presentation, you could use a mind mapping software (mindomo, etc.) to create a visual representation of the required courses and note where library instruction is happening and where it might be of use to the students.[1] If you are examining a program that you’ve served for some time, you will have knowledge of the program and your experience in working with their students to add to the data in your map and visualization. These pieces together can be a powerful tool if you are trying to convince your program’s faculty to change the current information literacy instruction arrangement.

Figure 2. Sample Mindomo image for my Communication curriculum map. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

The Benefits of Curriculum Mapping

While curriculum mapping is a great resource for information literacy instructors, it can serve other purposes for liaisons. Curriculum mapping is also a great tool for new subject liaisons. As new liaisons, we are often instructed to ‘get to know’ our departments/programs as a first step. This can be an overwhelming prospect as someone who is new to the position and new to the institution. Using curriculum mapping to create a structured format for examining your programs can help give the task focus. This task can also help you develop targeted questions for when you sit in on departmental meetings or in one-on-one sessions. For more ways curriculum mapping can help you as a liaison, I’ve attached a poster I presented on this topic to the end of this post.[2]

The last aspect of liaison work I want to connect with curriculum mapping is collection development. At my institution, we collect primarily to support the curriculum. This is where the information you gathered in task one for the curriculum map is helpful. You might have some classes that haven’t been taught for several years or a class that has recently appeared in the class schedule. Make note of courses that haven’t been taught for a while and inquire about the possibility of it continuing. Is your library devoting money to resources for any defunct courses? Are there new courses you weren’t aware of that may not have enough resources to support student research in that subject? If you are assessing your collections, you may consider the information generated while mapping as a piece of the assessment process.

As I’ve shown above, curriculum mapping is a great tool in library instruction assessment. The information generated in that process also has many applications beyond instruction. There is a fair amount of work involved in gathering the information, but the final product is something you can refer to and build on over time. I hope that you give curriculum mapping a chance and find it useful in your work. If you have any examples of maps or applications for the finished product that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them.


[1] M. Sara Lowe et al., “Visual Curriculum Mapping: Charting the Learner Experience,” 2013, http://scholarship.claremont.edu/library_staff/18.

[2] Cara Barker and Heidi Buchanan, “Collaborate, Corroborate, and Communicate: Curriculum Mapping for More than Just Instruction” (Poster Presentation, October 20, 2017).

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