Published: Saturday, July 31, 2021

Dive into the world of course mapping with Adam and Brian and three instructional designers on the Digital Learning team.

Adam and Brian collaborate with instructional designs to learn about the ways to strengthen your course maps in order to better your student's experiences in these classes. They discuss the different aspects that go into course maps and the strategies that instructors and follow in order to better their course maps.

Speaker 1: On today's University of Arizona Futures in Digital Learning Podcast, we bring you a conversation with instructional designers from the Digital Learning team, as they explore the topic, of course, mapping. Join Adam Davi, Brian Hale, and Ana Fierro, Laura Smith and Emily Torrez. As they discussed the benefits that a quality course map can bring to the design process and provide insights and best practices for instructors and instructional designers on effectively creating and using course maps.

Adam: Welcome everybody to the Futures in Digital Learning Podcast. This month, we are talking about course mapping. My name is Adam Davi. I'm a Senior Instructional Designer with the Office of Digital Learning. I'm here with my cohost

Brian: Brian Hale and Instructional Designer with Digital Learning.

Adam: And we are joined this month by three instructional designers in our office. I will let them introduce themselves and we'll go ahead and start with Laura.

Laura: Hi, I'm Laura Smith and I'm a senior instructional designer.

Emily: I'm Emily Torres instructional designer.

Ana: I'm Ana and I am an instructional designer.

Adam: Excellent. Thank you all very much for joining us this month. We're excited to pick your brains a little bit about course mapping. I know you are three of our experts in the office on this subject, and it's exciting to dive into this topic a little bit more, because I think it's an underrated topic in terms of instructional design, I guess though for maybe those first time listeners or maybe first-time course developers, please tell us what is a course map. How would you describe a course map? And we'll jump to Emily first on this one

Emily: At its basic form, the course map is essentially just a template in a word doc. And it just has a few different columns. And basically what it does is it's a visual representation of your course and what the course map really aims to do is in trying the backward design strategy, which basically just promotes a student centered approach to your student's learning. So it has learning outcomes in that first column. So that's really driving your whole course forward and informing what kind of learning materials and activities and assessments you might want to include.

Adam: Awesome. That's a great description. There are two things that stood out to me in that description was one the visual representation of your course, I think that's important and then the emphasis on backwards design. I'm curious to know like how does backwards design work in course design. Like how do you implement backwards design in course design? And we can open this up for Ana and Laura as well if they want to jump in.

Laura: So, we'll talk about backwards design a lot with course mapping. I mean the goal is that instructors are thinking having the end in mind and then working backwards, just like it says. And so, I kind of like to think of it. I read this in a book by flower Darby and I really liked the analogy of when you're going on a road trip. You don't just hop in the car and drive aimlessly. You have an end goal in mind, you have a destination. And then based on that destination, you think of all the materials that you need. You know, if I'm going to the beach, I need my bathing suit. If I'm going hiking, I need my hiking boots. And so in designing a course, if you know, at the end you want your students to do this big project, or you want them to know this certain concept, you then work backwards and think, okay, these are the materials that I need them to have. These are the lectures that I'm going to record. These are the assignments and assessments that are going to lead them in this direction. And so, as recourse mapping, we talk with instructors about that and kind of hash through what all that looks like and to make sure it's aligned and organized.

Ana: What I really like about course maps in terms of them being a visual representation of a course is that you can share them with students as well. So, it really sets a roadmap for success because the student are able to see what is clearly expected of them and how everything, including assignments are aligned with the course expectations. I think something that we tend to assume is that students don't care about the learning objectives, but oftentimes they do ask questions like what's the purpose of this assignment. And that's where a course map can come in handy because that explains how everything is connected in a course.

Emily: And I think on a you're picking up on something important. The course map and the backward design approach is really in stark contrast to how a lot of people put their courses together. A lot of instructors kind of have this lecture centered approach where they really kind of focus on, well, what kind of topics do I want to cover? And I know I want to include this reading and then they kind of design assessments around those materials and then they're left trying to connect the dots back to an outcome and it really can end up putting the students in a position of, well, what is the purpose of this? And it's not clear the goals aren't clear up front. And it just prioritizes teaching over student learning. So the correspond brilliant, as simplistic as it looks on paper, it really is kind of a radical shift in design. And it does take, you know, a little bit of practice to get that, to get the hang of it, but it really does produce a more student centered and student focused kind of course.

Adam: Those are all, some really good points tonight. Laura, I like your analogy about the road trip that you're not just driving aimlessly. You want to have, have an end goal in mind and on. I do think you're as a former teacher, I've heard that question a lot. Like, what is the purpose of this? Why are we doing this? And so having that course map available and, and putting it out there as a helpful tool for instructors to show students. So what advice would you give to instructors when filling out a course map for the first time? I know you've all kind of mentioned that maybe it's not something that they're accustomed to or they're used to doing, but what advice do you give them for that? How do you approach that? Ana: One thing I'd like to stress is that there's not a right way or a one way to do a course map. And another thing I'd like to stress for instructors is that I can help, and that's our role as instructional designers to help with these different processes in terms of course design. So don't hesitate to reach out to one of us.

Emily: I would add to it is a bit of a beast to fill it out all at once and it can kind of feel like a chore to do so. What I normally recommend to instructors is take it one week or module at a time. Usually the biggest hurdle is figuring out how to properly craft those learning outcomes. And that takes a bit of time and practice. And since the course map is dependent on those outcomes being done first, you really lean on your instructional designer to help you get through those. And then once you kind of figure out the process and okay, now I have my outcomes, what kind of materials and activities and assessments and that alignment piece comes into play. It should be easier as time goes on and that once you go through the exercise the remaining weeks just kind of feel a lot more natural. It comes more naturally.

Laura: And in addition to that, and she mentioned the learning outcomes, having a Bloom's taxonomy list of verbs handy is always helpful. You know, sometimes the instructors can get hung up in, you know, making sure that that's crafted to what they want and need. And sometimes it's nice to just look at a list and not have to rack your brain for synonyms and firms. So that can help in that process too.

Ana: Yeah. Another thing I want to bring up is that looking into research is I've read that it can take up to three years to really finalize a course. So definitely courses to sign along with course mapping is an iterative process.

Brian: So two quick questions I have when we talk about blooms, are we talking about the original Bloom's taxonomy or revised Bloom's taxonomy? Which one do I use?

Emily: Honestly, I wasn't aware two versions of flumes, but basically in, especially for those who may not be familiar with what Bloom's taxonomy is, it's basically a big, long list of verbs that are categorized from lower order thinking skills, such as like remembering or reciting all the way up to higher order thinking skills like creating or synthesizing new knowledge. So having those different buckets of verbs helps you pick the right kind of verb to align to what you're asking students to be doing, but I'm not sure if someone else has more insight into old versus new blooms. Brian: I think they just changed a bunch of the words to be a little more measurable and active.

Laura: Yeah. And added some new dimensions. So I try to keep it simple and just stick with the original or list. I mean, you know, unless an instructor wants to dive in deeper.

Brian: And one of my other questions was Janet Smith brought up in our team chat the other day, what course maps do you use? So if I'm a facilitator thinking about using a course map, where would I go to find a course map that I could use in my course.

Laura: We're going to have some LinkedIn, our newsletter. So check out our DLL, download for some examples and links to that, but there are lots of different options. And additionally, another resource is our interactive guide to online course design also has a couple linked, it's located in canvas, but yeah, I often tell my instructors, I'll give them an example of one and tell them that they can tweak it to meet their needs and preferences. But those are just a few options.

Adam: Good plugs by the way, Laura, thank you for that. I think too, yeah, it's we as instructional designers might have a course map that we prefer that we share out. But oftentimes what I've found is instructors either have already done something similar or maybe they prefer their own kind of methods. And as long as they're getting those concepts of the course map, you know, mapped out for lack of a better word there, then whatever's more comfortable for them to use, to have that, to show those outcomes and those activities and materials and assessments, and to show that alignment and to put that in some sort of visual way, I'm comfortable with them using whatever's best for them. But you know, I think we all have preferred ones that we send out that we think show things better visually, but you know, either way it's, as long as they're hitting that. And, and another thing kind of tapping on what Emily said about blooms taxonomies, you know, I really just encourage them to keep it simple. Sometimes you get instructors that come back with some really complex verb usage out of that, that Bloom's toxic taxonomy wheel. We don't need to get super complex with it. We just need to get to the point and make it easy for students to understand what they're supposed to achieve. So keeping it simple, I think is a key point in here as well. And that'll make it easier as they filled fill things out and we can kind of go through those different steps

Brian: If I'm an instructor. Can I just use the course map, whatever version of it that I used for my in-person class, for my online class? Emily: Well, I would jump in and say, it's still useful to go through the entire exercise of filling out the course map because there are some differences in online that you have to be mindful of when going from face-to-face to online. So even if you have offered the course before and you're converting it to online, you still want to check if your outcomes are actually up to snuff. And if your learning materials and assignments are actually aligned to your outcomes, because there's always room for improvement. So what I typically see as some instructors will feel like, oh yeah, been there, done that. This is just kind of a dumb little homework assignment that I have to do. But really it's a good opportunity to take stock of your course and see if there's ways to rework certain assignments or certain outcomes or whatever the case may be. But still take it just as seriously as if it were a brand new course.

Adam: Yeah. I think using that as a starting point is a good place and I'm sorry, I cut you off Laura, so I'm going to let you go.

Laura: Oh no, that was great. I was going to make a similar comment of you. Can't just put a face-to-face course directly online. I mean, there's some things you have to tweak and do to optimize the modality. So I agree.

Adam: Definitely starting with those outcomes, like Emily said, is a good place to start. And then you can kind of evaluate from there. I often have instructors who really want to hold on to an activity they did in a face-to-face course, and it just doesn't translate well all the time to online. And that's, those are one of the hardest things to kind of talk through with an instructor. What I think, so you all touched on some of these things, but what are some other aspects of the course to keep in mind when filling out the course map? So, you know, we talked about outcomes, we've talked about activities, assessments, materials, what other aspects of the course kind of come up with instructors as they are filling out the course map as you're, or as you're working with them on the course.

Emily: I think one of the biggest question marks that a lot of instructors have in regards to the course map is knowing how much to assign in a given week, especially in the online format with it being so different from face-to-face going from 15 weeks to seven and a weeks, you do have to condense quite a bit. So, it can feel overwhelming. Like how much do I know how to give? So keep in mind credit hours, it's still the same, it's 135, whether you're doing 15 weeks or seven and a half weeks, it just means you're basically double timing it through your online course. So you're really looking at giving students about 20 hours worth of work a week. And that can feel a little bit daunting, but that's what, you know, that's what it's there for. It's what they signed up for. So there's two ways to go about knowing how much work is adding up to those 20 hours. You can either use a calculator. I believe rice university has a pretty good one with some inputs you can put in to see how long a certain reading will take, for example, or you can just use an educated guess not very scientific, but just as, just as good to gauge whether it's enough or not.

Ana: I think that also brings up accessibility as well, because when we're talking about how much to assign to students in terms of workload, we also had to be cognizant of cognitive load. And so when it comes to accessibility, the way that a course map can help out is making sure that the course is easy to navigate. Some of the things that we tend to emphasize when looking at this is making sure that there's self-evident titles, that the course promotes treatability. So a course map can really help us see how all of that is tied in and making sure that it's easier for a student to navigate through and access.

Adam: That's a great point Ana, I think the course map is a good opportunity to look at, you know, what materials are you putting out there and how are students accessing them? And, yeah, it's a to take a look at all of that and to see is it accessible? Is it easy to navigate? And I think that's an underrated aspect of the course map as a chance to kind of take that look as almost a preview of the course before it goes out there. So thank you for bringing that up. I think that's very valuable.

Laura: That also sparked some conversations about technologies and what technologies will work well with the different assignments and assessments and accessibility needs or thinking about universal design and how that can be implemented or OER. Sometimes non instructors are willing to explore other materials rather than just the textbook that's been historically used in the course. So, I mean, those are all things that you'll dive deeper in after the course map, but things that can, you can keep in mind or, you know, that maybe sparked through that process.

Emily: I think another aspect as well is looking at your consistency in certain activities week over week. You don't want to be having every week is different from the next there's no through line. You want students to be able to kind of latch on to the course materials and have some sense of routine and having certain, certain activities every single week, it really builds in that predictability. So it doesn't have to be a big thing. It could be something just like a discussion or a weekly reflection, just some small, but meaningful task to the, to the learning experience. Especially if it's a student to student interaction can really help students feel connected and like they know what to expect from the course week over week.

Adam: That's a great point. And that's something that I touch on with my instructors all the time is that aspect of consistency because the students appreciate that. And it's a good way to have, you know, kind of informal assessments from week to week with some of those activities and assignments as well that not only you build that structure out for students, but you can assess where they are with the material as well. And it's not so daunting for the students either. I think the, the word quiz or exam can often be triggering, you know, our essay, but you have a discussion, you have some sort of interactive activity, you know, they're doing the same type of work, but they're doing it in a way that's a little bit more relevant and meaningful to them.

Laura: Yeah, it aids in building that community.

Adam: Yeah. Community building, we're bringing in all the, all the buzzwords this week I get. So what happens, you know, obviously I guess, what is, what is the timeline with, with course maps that you typically work with? Is that something that you have the instructors fill out at the beginning of the design process and then kind of set aside, or how often do you come back to those throughout the design process and, and through the course launch, I guess.

Emily: So typically the design cycle for an online class is about usually work with your instructional designer for about sixteen weeks, maybe a little more depending, but basically the course map takes up a good chunk of those weeks. It is really that foundational piece. And without that, it makes it really difficult, at least on the designer side to help the instructor and pull the course together. So in my experience, my instructors will spend multiple weeks on the course map, getting the outcomes done mainly, and then they might have some placeholder things. Like, I know I want to have a discussion in week three, but I don't quite have the prompt done yet. That's perfectly fine. It doesn't have to be completely fleshed out, but just having those major pieces in there makes it a lot easier for us to, to help build the course and give some guidance.

Laura: And we'll refer back to the map throughout the development process. So it's not just, oh, we created it and now we're going to set it aside, but we use it to help us build in our LMS or as we are kind of fleshing out those specifics of what will this assignment look like or considerations to take with due dates or restrictions, things like that. So, yeah, we'll, we'll use it throughout the whole process.

Ana: In my case, as someone who mostly does read the science and refreshes. Oftentimes I work with courses that don't necessarily have a course map because this was designed by the instructor. And so now they're coming in for that continuous improvement support. And so I think, in my case, I like to help out with the course lab because it's not something that instructors familiar with, but once we start working on that, it really helps us navigate how we can improve the course.

Adam: That's a really good perspective, you know coming from that continuous improvement side, you know, you get courses kind of after they've run initially. So, you know, then still looking back at either, is there a course map and does it need to be refined or is there not a course map? And can we, can we go back and kind of piece one together and look at that and improve this course, moving forward so that it aligns a little bit better and more effectively? So that's a good point. I think for instructors who are listening to like, even if you've taught this course and you're redesigning it, you can always go back and look, and revise that course map. I want to touch a little bit more on something that Ana brought up, towards the beginning of our podcast and using the course map with students and putting that out there and, you know, how do we communicate what's on a course map for students in the actual course or what ways can we do that? What ways can it be helpful for students to see that information?

Emily: So if we extend the metaphor, Laura talked about earlier about it being kind of a roadmap, or some people have even referred to it as a, like a blueprint, if you were to build a house. So it's really that foundational document and how it comes across in the course to a student is basically in the structure of how it's set up in D2L. Well, and we have some certain elements that can make it easier for students to navigate and see what they're going to be doing. A lot of that resides in that weekly overview page of, Hey, here's a snippet of what's coming up this week, here are your assignments, and here are the outcomes. And if the instructor is a superstar, they will have put in which activities and materials actually line up to the learning outcome. That's a little bit of an advanced move, but we do see it, but it's a nice way for students to see, okay, in the upcoming week, here's exactly what I'm going to be doing. And here's how it relates to those outcomes that I need to be able to show, you know, for my grade.

Ana: Yeah. And I think Laura also brought up the importance of scaffolding. And so I think if we see a student that is struggling maybe we can use that course to see how we can support the students and built in more scaffolding that supports their success as well.

Laura: Another plug-in last months, DL Newsletter, too many included an example of a chart that you can use that shows your learning outcome and assignments and how they align. So students have that visual representation of, of that alignment and of what was decided and developed in the course map.

Brian: Would it maybe be a smart idea to combine the course map with the syllabus that you're offering, so that it's just one thing the students have to read, or should you keep them separate?

Emily: That's an interesting question, because there is quite a bit of overlap between the syllabus and the course map. I've never actually seen an instructor post the course map. It's really more of a working in the background document that does inform how you build in D2L. But that would be interesting to explore. And I'm curious if Laura or Ana, if you've had any experience with that.

Ana: Yeah. As part of the continuous improvement team. If an instructor decides to go through a quality matters internal review oftentimes we work on the course map and we also upload it to the course. And so that way it's a part of the course content. And if students are interested in taking a look at that they can do so I think it comes in very handy. And I would like to see that become more frequent, where the instructors are sharing the course maps with students, because I think it also opens up the opportunity for students to provide feedback that was available then you know, they, they can sit through their own eyes and provide that feedback to the instructor. And that's part of that continuous improvement, right. Where we're also providing space for students inputs as well.

Laura: Yeah. My experience is similar to Emily's in that, on the front side, I haven't added it. So thanks for sharing that that's helpful perspective, but I agree, Brian, I think it could be something that could also be combined, maybe something to explore.

Adam: Personally. I think that the topic of the syllabus is, one that needs a little bit more exploring and, a bit of a revamp from, from traditions. So that's the, maybe that's a subject for another day, but I'm definitely all for kind of a revamp and re-look it, you know, what a traditional syllabus is and how we can make that a little bit more engaging for students. So this could be a way to do that, and this could be a way to, to kind of shake it up and show, show things a little bit more visually that is I guess, more effective for the path of the student learner in the syllabus, as opposed to just the path to a certain grade, if that makes sense.

Emily: Yeah. It's nice to know it's happening in the continuous improvement phase. Because I wasn't aware of that working mainly with brand new builds. So knowing that now I might, you know, encourage posting it, perhaps not necessarily as is, but in a more student friendly format, because it is a working document that might not necessarily make a lot of sense to students as is, but could be presented a little bit more cleanly because I think the goal is students just want to know what's expected of them. And if they feel like we're hiding the ball or the syllabus is really confusing, that's not helpful for anyone. So I think that is worth exploring definitely in more detail, hopefully in a future podcast.

Adam: Well, next month is all about continuous improvement. So we will definitely hit on that a little bit more next month. And I can say from personal experience too, going through the internal reviews for the quality matters with instructors, that that has helped inform my work on new builds more to see what aspects did not meet those reviews, and then to go back and say, all right, well, if in the future of this course does go through this, we need to make sure we add these elements in and make it more clear so that it does meet those standards again. Yeah. We can talk about that more in a future podcast for sure. But, that is definitely helpful and nice to know that the course map process in particular is something that is brought up in those reviews as well. And so we can stress that a little bit more with our instructors who may be resistant to doing the course maps.

Ana: That’s actually a good point to bring up because it's more likely for a course to pass a QMI or if it has some course map, because that way we can see the alignment between different course components. So I would think it's important and it would definitely be beneficial if the instructors interested in receiving a quality matter seal, which I think is really nice for students to see and courses, because that shows that they're receiving a quality education as well.

Adam: Yeah, that's something we can bring up with instructors as well as we get into those builds with that said, I think this has been an enlightening conversation about course maps. I've really enjoyed it's opened my eyes up to maybe a few new ways to approach things. So I appreciate all the expertise shared today. And I look forward to reading what you all have to write in the DL download as well and seeing some of those course map examples. So thank you all very much.

Emily: Thanks Adam and Brian. Thank you.

Adam: Thank you all again. And we hope to see you on future editions of the Futures in Digital Learning Podcast and look forward to sharing some more stories about instructional design. So thank you all. And thank you to those who are listening, and we'll see you next month.

Speaker 5: The Futures of Digital Learning Podcast is a production of the University of Arizona, Digital Learning. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas you'd like to share with our office, go to the contact us link on our website.

Authored By:

Adam Davi

Adam Davi
Senior Instructional Designer

Brian Hale

Brian Hale
Instructional Designer

Emily Torrez

Emily Torrez
Instructional Designer II

Laura McAllister Smith

Laura Smith
Senior Instructional Designer
Guest Author(s):
Ana Fierro
Former Instructional Designer, Digital Learning