Curriculum design representations

Examples of representions at the Curriculum Design level

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Gráinne Conole
21 April 2009

The following are ideas for different types of representation that might be used to describe design at the curriculum level. Ten representations are suggested:

  1. Textual summary and keywords
  2. At a glance map
  3. Timeline
  4. Content/topic/curriculum map
  5. Workload – overall, distribution, breakdown
  6. Principles/pedagogy matrix
  7. Cost
  8. Success criteria tick box
  9. Relationships and inter-dependencies
  10. Process flow maps

Further information and some diagrams for each are available at www.e4innovation.com. A slideshare presentation given at a meeting in Strathclyde University on 21st April is available on slideshare

1.    Textual summary and keywords
This representation provides a brief textual overview of the course (akin probably to what is already produced in course descriptions). In addition we would include keywords, which give an indication of the nature of the course. For us keywords might include a description of the type of course it is (in terms of mapping to some abstract model). At the OU we have identified six models: ‘OU classic’, bought-in, Web 2.0, wrap around, empty box, and disaggregated curriculum assets. In addition we would include a set of keywords that described the course generally, in terms of discipline, level and pedagogy (problem-based, dialogic, etc.).

2.    At a glance map
This representation would list out all the components of the course. It would be possible to drill down into each component to find out more details about it – for example what tools are being used, when and for what purpose?

3.    Timeline
The timeline would distinguish between activities during the production phase of a course and those during the actual presentation/delivery of the course. In addition, a simplified student timeline (akin to what we in the OU in terms of the course calendar), giving a breakdown week by week of what the student has to do, along with key milestones such as assignment deadlines would be useful.  For us for example each course starts with a Business Appraisal (BA), then there are eight ‘stage gates’ (SG1 – SG8) over the production and presentation of the course. Other key moments include drafts of material (from D0 a rough outline of content and activities through to D2 a final draft).  In terms of the student view – courses are divided into blocks with each block consisting of a number of weeks; key deadlines include TMAs (Tutor Marked Assignments) and ECA (End of Course Assignment).

4.    Content/topic/curriculum map
One way of representing content is showed below – where the content is organised by a series of themes and sub-themes.

5.    Workload – overall, distribution, breakdown

The workload representation would need to identify the stakeholders involved in the course and an allocation of their time involvement/costing across the production/presentation of the course. This could be presented as a simple aggregate of time/costs or broken down into appropriate timeframes (weeks or months)

6.    Principles/pedagogy matrix
This representation articulates the pedagogical approach being adopted by the course and the overarching principles. The example we provide uses a schema we have developed previously, more details are available in a recent Ariadne article. It provides a matrix which maps the principles of the course against four macro-level aspects of pedagogy. Principles might be generated/articulated by the course team (for example getting the students to reflect on experience and show understanding or incorporating frequent interactive exercises and feedback across the course) or might be derived from theory or empirical evidence (for example the 12 REAP assessment principles).


Furthermore we can then produce a set of ‘Course Design DNAs’, which can be used to compare the nature of different courses. Below is an example of two comparative DNAs. One for OpenLearn which is a repository of open educational resources and one for SocilaLearn which is an initiative applying web 2.0 tools and principles to an educational context.

Variants on the matrix are also possible. For example mapping principles to course activities, or mapping the principles to a different set of pedagogical characteristics (for example Bloom’s educational taxonomy, the REAP principles or Laurillard’s conversational framework).

7.    Cost
As with the timeline representation, cost would be broken down into production vs. presentation/delivery costs. As with the workload costs could be viewed across different timeframes.  The people cost would be an aggregation of the workload representation discussed earlier, but in addition cost types include resources, media, assessment and administration.

8.    Success criteria tick box
This representation tries to articulate what constitutes a ‘good course’, what does good mean? At the OU we have identified four broad criteria for good; good in terms of: pedagogy, innovation, cost effectiveness and fitness for purpose/context.  For each of these it is then possible to list a set of  sub-criteria or demonstrations/evidence of how the course is ‘good’ in terms of the four macro-criteria.

9.    Relationships and inter-dependencies
We didn’t really get onto articulating what this might look like but essentially this representation would show relationships and inter-dependencies at the course level. This might include a mapping of learning outcomes, topics and assessment for example, or a representation of media use across the course. Diana Laurillard’s London Pedagogic Planner has attempted to do some aspects of this,  as did the Media Advisor tool we developed a few years ago.

10.    Process flow maps
Finally UML-type representations can be used to show the process of curriculum design – who is involved and when and an indication of data flow across the system.

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Presentation at Cluster C meeting

Presentation at Cluster C meeting

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Gráinne Conole
10:31am 21 April 2009


Jim thinks that the most challenging representation will be mapping relationships between entities at the curriculum level.

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