Curriculum Maps

Producing a curriculum map can provide useful information for faculty teaching within the program even before any assessment activities commence. In addition to serving the aforementioned functions, curriculum maps can be used to identify opportunities in an academic program for collecting evidence of student learning and achievement. They can be constructed in a number of different ways, but at their core they describe the alignment between the courses and experiences all students must complete in the program’s curriculum and the program’s learning objectives (PLOs).

An exemplary curriculum map lists all courses and experiences in the program in chronological order with each program addressed at all 3 levels: introduce (1), practice (2), and master (3). 1’s, 2’s and 3’s are in the proper sequence and listed only for courses in which the program objective is addressed through a significant assessment.

Creating a Curriculum Map

Developing a curriculum map is a team endeavor. Though the effort may be led by a program coordinator or director of graduate studies, it is important to gather input from most or all faculty in the program, as individual course instructors are best positioned to describe what they teach and if/how what they address program objectives.

Moreover, it’s often the case that a course is taught by multiple faculty in rotation, and different faculty may cover different topics, ideas, and skills. Curricular mapping provides an opportunity for faculty to discuss the curriculum from a program perspective, rather than a course perspective.

*A preferable term for curriculum maps for graduate programs is “milestone map.” In this case, the objectives are often mapped to milestones, such as a thesis, dissertation, or dissertation defense. We use the terms “curriculum map” and “course” throughout this explanation for brevity.


Curriculum maps also indicate the level of achievement at which faculty expect students to perform with respect to a specific PLO. Penn State’s approach for degree programs is to categorize the phase of education, or the way a course or experience forwards a PLO as Introduced (1), Practiced (2), or Mastered (3)* (see table below). Curriculum maps for certificate programs will not depict 1, 2 and 3. They will include only a checkmark where a course addresses an objective.

To create a curriculum map, begin with the program’s learning objectives and a list of core courses completed by all students in the major including:

  • required courses offered by the home department;
  • required courses offered by other departments;
  • general education courses required by the major;
  • restricted electives listed as course groups with titles rather than listing each course in its own line (optional); and
  • specified out-of-the classroom or extra-curricular experiences (if required of all students).

Create separate tables when there are several distinct degree options, i.e. where most of the courses completed by students in the major are contained in the options. NOTE: The AMS is set up at the program level, rather than the option level, so it only allows for a single curriculum map to be entered. If your program has options, use the curriculum map in the AMS to cover only the courses and sets of restricted electives that apply to all options. The curriculum map can be exported from the AMS and then modified to reflect each of your options.

When completing a curriculum map, it is best to place courses into the table in the basic order in which students tend to take them. For certificate programs, order of courses may not be a feature of the curriculum map. Some programs prefer to describe the relationship between PLOs and courses in prose.

Example Curriculum Map for Undergraduate Programs

Example Curriculum Map for Undergraduate Programs.

Example Curriculum Map for Graduate Programs

Example Curriculum Map for Graduate Programs.

Example Curriculum Map for Certificate Programs

Example Curriculum Map for Graduate Programs.

Determining Introduced/Practiced/Mastered Placement on a Curriculum Map

A 1, 2, or 3 (introduced, practiced, or mastered) should be assigned if a PLO is addressed to a significant degree in a course, i.e., is evaluated in a final exam or significant paper or project. Not all cells will have notations in them. Each PLO should be addressed at I, P and M levels across the map to support student development through the curriculum.

Using a Curriculum Map to Choose Annual Assessments

  • Assessments of PLOs are chosen from courses where 1, 2, 3 are marked.
  • Program assessment should involve regular use of master-level assessments to measure achievement of PLOs, such as final projects or research papers, completed in the last year of degree.
  • Examine introduced- and practiced-level assessments if there is a concern with mastered-level performance for one or more PLOs.
  • Examine introduced, practiced and mastered-level assessments if you would like to review student development toward mastery through all years of the program, from first to last.

Example Curriculum Map with Gaps

Note that in the map below students do not have the opportunity to practice or demonstrate mastery for critical thinking. In addition, students do not have the opportunity to practice project management prior to demonstrating mastery.

Example Curriculum Map with Skills Integration

Students can practice integrating critical thinking, communication and integrity/values in Advanced Content Course B.