How do we choose which content we cover in our courses? As subject matter experts, we’re expected to automatically know the answer to this question, which is sometimes easier said than done. Too often, educators are left with very little guidance, creating a scenario in which teachers, especially those in professional education, are forced to depend on their experiences as students or on what is passed down from the previous instructors to decide what they should teach. In a world in which we have seemingly limitless data, this is no longer an acceptable method of determining which content our students receive.
Regardless of which level of education we teach, our obligation as educators remains the same: to prepare our students for what’s next. Whether that’s preparing third-grade students for fourth grade or law students for their careers as lawyers, we must meet specific standards to ensure we’re appropriately instructing our students. However, it’s one thing to plan to teach the necessary content required by our respective accrediting bodies, but it’s another to do so and have data-driven proof that we’re teaching the appropriate content AND that students are retaining that information.
So, there’s the goal: cover content that our accreditation standards require while also making sure students are ready for their next academic or professional challenges. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry; you’re not alone! The good news is that the answer is already part of our courses. That’s right—it’s time to leverage our assessments to do more than provide student grades.
Seeing What’s Missing
One of the great concerns in course creation is missing essential content—no matter how experienced we are in our field, there’s always the possibility that something can slip through the cracks. This is where proactively mapping our curricula is paramount.
OK…let’s take a quick break for an important rant…
Too often, institutions stop their curricular mapping process at their student learning outcomes/objectives. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite enough if your goal is to have proof that you’re covering the appropriate content. To complete this process, we must include assessments to close the loop in the mapping process. Without providing quantitative data from student assessment data, we essentially are mapping a list of content we intend to teach. That’s all our syllabi and presentation materials imply—what we expect to cover in our lessons. However, assessment data is the data-driven measure needed to offer proof that we’ve met our content goals with students. Of course, the added benefit that this data will also satisfy accreditors is nice to have too.
… and we’re back. Where were we? Oh yes, finding gaps in our curricula through proactive mapping. By mapping our assessment items as they are written to our class sessions and learning objectives, we can eliminate gaps in the content we’re teaching. Addressing all of the necessary content is step one in achieving our ultimate goal—improving student outcomes.
Redundancy vs. Repetition
It’s an age-old balancing act—understanding that some content needs to be addressed several times due to importance and/or complexity, but being aware that redundantly covering the same content is one of the fastest ways to lose students’ attention. Therefore, introducing repetition into our courses and curriculum is something that should be done with a clear plan in mind.
It’s one thing to have a plan for your own course, especially if you’re the only faculty in the course. However, the repetition vs. redundancy balance becomes increasingly more difficult when there are multiple faculty members contributing to the same course. Course content organization becomes an even greater challenge when we’re tasked with integrating our content with other courses in the curriculum.
Mapping our exam items by content areas allows institutions to have a plan with when and how content is addressed across the curriculum. Mapping items to categories within an assessment software is a way to streamline communication and transparency when evaluating the content in our curricula. In addition to using categories that are specific to each school’s accrediting body, categories can also be custom created by your school to match your curriculum. Therefore, a common language that is specific to your program can be created to improve communication in an effort to eliminate unplanned redundancy.
In all levels of education, the ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes to best prepare students for the next step in their academic and/or professional careers. Using assessment items to close the loop in curriculum mapping is the vital first step in deciding which content should be delivered to best integrate your courses. Create a foundation for success at your institution by ensuring your courses are addressing the appropriate content. No more gaps. No more bored students because they’ve “already heard this before.” Using categories to map your assessment items provides a simple method of improving communication among faculty to achieve curricular goals. Your students will not know to thank you for this, but they’ll certainly be better off for it.