Developing Skills Within a Degree Curriculum

Content on this page is derived from participant presentations, discussions, and breakout groups at the 2016 and 2017 workshops, as well as resources from Building Strong Departments.

Strong curriculum design involves the development of program- or degree-level learning outcomes that are addressed across a sequence of courses. These learning outcomes are concepts, skills, strategies, or ways of thinking that students need to be successful in their careers. When developing a curriculum or program with computation skills integrated throughout, it is important to keep in mind that there needs to be a consistency of tools across the courses, reinforcement throughout the curriculum, and a focus on computational skills that will improve job/graduate school readiness. Students benefit from making connections between courses, but they do not commonly make these connections on their own. Structuring a curriculum to make the connections clear and intentional helps the students transfer the skills between courses and build their confidence. Below are models from departments that are implementing computation into their curriculum.

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Computational Competencies

What skills do you want students to have by the time they complete their degree? The challenge for every department or program is to develop a collective vision for these goals and how to implement them. One strategy for weaving these computational learning goals throughout a curriculum is by following the matrix approach to program design. The program matrix provides a visual representation of in which courses, how often, and how in-depth the learning goals are addressed in a curriculum.

Workshop participants identified the following examples of computational competencies that can be addressed using MATLAB:

Developing and Using Models Teaching Modeling with MATLAB »

  1. Develop models from first principles
  2. Create an outline for and translate a real-world problem to a mathematical solution (algorithmic/thinking/modeling)
  3. Test hypotheses and use models to answer questions
  4. Perform basic model analysis

Acquiring, Evaluating, and Analyzing Data Teaching Data Analysis with MATLAB »

  1. Understands the role of data and metadata
  2. Evaluate data reliability/quality
  3. Perform basic data analysis (stats, signal processing, image processing, etc.)
  4. Develop models and systems from data

Creating and Interpreting Visualizations Teaching Visualization with MATLAB »

  1. Present data in a visual format
  2. Interpret visualization of data

Computer Skills Teaching Computational Skills with MATLAB »

  1. Know basic programming best practices
  2. Troubleshooting/debugging

Examples of Developing Skills Within a Degree Curriculum

Departments can take different approaches to building computation and modeling skills into a degree curriculum. Below are examples of STEM departments that have taken steps to do this by developing skills matrices, creating computational learning goals, and embedding computation using MATLAB into a sequence of courses.

Building Strong Departments has more resources on program and curriculum design that can help departments incorporate learning outcomes into a curriculum.

Siena College Physics and Astronomy Department

The Siena College Physics and Astronomy Department made computation and modeling central learning goals of their degree curriculum.

William & Mary Geology Department

The William & Mary Geology Department developed a curriculum matrix to incorporate quantitative skills throughout their curriculum.

  • Coherent Curriculum (Acrobat (PDF) 111kB Oct25 16) document shows an approach to using learning goals to develop a curriculum matrix.
  • Skills Matrix (Acrobat (PDF) 142kB Oct25 16) document is the template matrix for the William & Mary curriculum matrix.

University of St. Thomas Physics Department

In their mission, the University of St. Thomas Physics Department describes how they aim to provide students with "understanding and appreciation" of computational techniques and problem-solving skills. They work to achieve this mission by embedding computation throughout the curriculum.

Essays on Developing Computational Skills Within a Degree Curriculum

These essays highlight approaches to building students' computation and MATLAB skills across the curriculum.

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