A Matrix Approach to Curriculum Design
Jump down to Building Faculty Consensus on Skills Lists * Constructing Matrices * Using Your Matrix * Benefits of the Matrix Approach * References and Additional Readings
Assumptions Behind the Matrix Approach
- Geology majors should begin their capstone research experience having practiced all of the formal steps in the process (recognizing problems, writing proposals, carrying out a project, reporting results) multiple times in previous geology courses.
- Students graduating from Carleton as geology majors should be proficient at a variety of geologically specific skills, preferably practicing those skills in multiple courses.
- Geology graduates should also have developed general communication, analysis, and quantitative skills in their geology classes.
Building Faculty Consensus on Skills Lists
If your department's faculty agree that your graduates should be proficient at some set of geoscience-specific and some set of general skills, the next step is to develop a list of those skills. Getting all of the faculty in a department to agree to such a list is a non-trivial task. However, it may be one of the most important conversations your department can have on the topic of curricular design. One way to initiate this conversation is to ask each faculty member to list the skills (both general and geoscience-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.) Chances are there will be at least some subset of skills which everyone agrees are important.
Once faculty agree on the skills their graduates should know, you can draft a matrix to examine where in the curriculum students have opportunities to practice those skills. List skills along the left-hand side and required courses along the top. You can construct multiple matrices, to look at skill development at multiple levels of detail, as shown in the matrices below. This allows you to look at where in the curriculum each skill is practiced and to look for gaps in the curriculum.
For broadly defined skill categories:
Expanded version of a Documentation/Communication skills matrix for written communication:
Using Your Matrix
The final step is to fill in the matrix and visually assess whether students have enough opportunities to practice each skill. 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?
Benefits of the Matrix Approach
Carleton's geology faculty describe three major benefits to adopting this approach (Savina et al., 2001):
- Faculty learned about each other's teaching styles and courses.
- Faculty felt relieved at not having to try to teach every skill in their own courses, knowing what their colleagues were teaching.
- Students feel well-prepared for their senior capstone research experience.
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.