Matrix Approaches to Program and Curriculum Design
Mapping program learning outcomes and course activities in a matrix provides a rich graphical portrait of program content and can be used as a starting point for program assessment
Jump down to Goals and Assumptions * Identifying the PLLOs * Constructing Matrices * Using Your Matrix * References and Additional Readings
Benefits of the Matrix Approach
There are benefits to this approach for both students and faculty members (see Savina et al., 2001):
- Faculty members learn about each others' courses and teaching styles, building collegiality.
- Faculty members share responsibility by understanding what skills they are responsible for teaching and which their colleagues will teach.
- The student experience is well-coordinated, making students feel better supported and prepared.
Goals and Assumptions with this Approach
- Students moving through a degree program will have predictable opportunities to be exposed to ideas and practice skills over their academic career.
- These opportunities will come both in the classroom during required and elective courses, and outside the classroom in co-curricular activities such as field trips, peer-peer mentoring and participation in student organizations.
- Graduating students within a major should be proficient at a set of predetermined, discipline-specific skills, and have had an opportunity to practice these skills several times over their academic career.
- Graduates should also have developed a set of more general skills such as communication, analysis, and quantitative methods as part of their experience in the major.
- Identifying the Program-Level Learning Outcomes (PLLOs) for a degree program is a starting point for gap analysis, curriculum and program planning, as well as designing program assessment.
Identifying the Program-Level Learning Outcomes
Once you agree that your graduates should be proficient at some set of discipline-specific and some set of general skills, the next step is to develop a specific list of those skills. Getting all faculty members in a department to agree on such a list is a non-trivial task. However, it may be one of the most important conversations your department can have related to curricular design. One way to initiate this conversation is to ask each faculty member to list the skills (both general and discipline-specific) that he or she sees as essential for your graduates, and then to compare all of the lists. (You could use the ideal student exercise to accomplish this.) Start by building consensus around the subset of skills that are common to everyone. In an ideal case, once a new program has been established, each PLLO will have one or more corresponding assessment activities. Outcomes should be generalized to keep their number, and therefore the assessment effort, reasonable.
EXAMPLE: In this example a Curriculum Matrix built using only the program required courses was paired with a more comprehensive matrix which included a broader range of department-sponsored activities. Core Course Matrix (Acrobat (PDF) 64kB Sep4 14)Earth Science Course Matrix (Acrobat (PDF) 147kB Sep4 14). Provided by David Mogk at Montana State University
EXAMPLE: A Program Matrix build on 10 Program Learning Outcomes. This example includes core cores, required courses, and disciplinary electives in the list of learning opportunities. Provided by Dallas Rhodes at Georgia Southern University Example Program Matrix (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 22kB Sep4 14)
Starting with a Blank Matrix Template (Excel 51kB Sep4 14) may be helpful in building a matrix tailored to your program.
Using Your Matrix
As you fill in the the matrix, the next step is to assess whether students have enough opportunities to practice each skill. This process can start with a visual scan of gaps in the matrix and lead to curriculum design and revision. Can you reasonably expect them to master the skills you consider essential, given how often they practice each one? Which skills may need additional opportunities for practice? Where could you add such opportunities? What opportunities could be created outside the classroom? At this point the matrix could be adapted to address other types of programmatic goals such as preparing students for the workforce or supporting the whole student.
The Matrix and Assessment
Assessment is collecting program data for a specific purpose. Following the development of a matrix, student learning outcomes can be assessed at the programmatic level. Assessment plans can be designed to: a) provide faculty with an opportunity to reflect on course goals, methods and expected student learning outcomes, b) aggregate these course learning goals an assessment of the PLLOs identified for the matrix, c) provide formative feedback to improve teaching and learning and d) to demonstrate that the departmental and institutional vision and missions are being met. The NAGT Building Strong Departments program has more information on Program Assessment and Review.
An Example of Using the Matrix Approach in Curriculum Design
In 2103 the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, constructed a matrix as part of their process to revise their undergraduate curriculum. David Mogk has provided a detailed account (Curriculum by Design, part one and part two) of how the matrix approach was used in this process.
References and Additional Readings
- Macdonald, R. Heather and Bailey, Christopher M., 2000. Integrating the Teaching of Quantitative Skills Across the Geology Curriculum in a Department. Journal of Geoscience Education v. 48, n. 4, p. 482-486.
- Savina, Mary E., Buchwald, C. Edward, Bice, David M., and Boardman, Shelby J., 2001. A Skills Matrix as a Geology Department Curriculum Planning Tool. GSA Paper No. 79-0.