Moodle, outcomes, metadata and curriculum mapping

This summarises some continued investigation of Moodle support for outcomes as part of preparing for the curriculum mapping project.

Current summary of what I think I’ve learned is that Moodle 2.0 will have significant support for progress tracking, which involves connecting student progress with outcomes etc. This draws on very similar “infrastructure” as would be required by curriculum mapping. Curriculum mapping, however, requires different “reporting” mechanisms. It appears a fruitful marriage may be possible. Need to learn more.

Moodle resources

Moodle resources talking about these topics

Some reflections on pedagogy and Moodle

Found this page on pedagogy on the Moodle site. One of the simplest descriptions of the Moodle model I’ve seen so far – Moodle has courses which contain activities and resources.

Suggests the power of Moodle is sequencing activities, of learning paths. This raises some interesting questions about the suitability (from a pedagogical perspective) of a “course template” that has been created locally. The template makes a course look more like a traditional website divided into sections – resources, assessment etc. i.e. it would appear to break the idea of “paths”

The Social constructionism as a referent outlines 5 points used to describe the connection with social constructionism and Moodle. Some of these can be made to link nicely with some of the ideas around the curriculum mapping project. Here’s a first attempt

  • All of us are potential teachers as well as learners – in a true collaborative environment we are both.
    In terms of teaching staff being aware of what is going on in other courses, Moodle isn’t a collaborative environment. At least in terms of how it is implemented in most institutions. The idea from the curriculum mapping project to use the outcomes, graduate attributes etc to allow teaching staff to navigate into other courses and see examples of how they met them could help provide this.

    It could also go further, from one perspective curriculum designers have to help some academics prepare the curriculum map. i.e. the designer is the teacher of curriculum mapping, the teacher is the student. In some cases, the curriculum designer can do it for the student. Reducing learning. Having something more under the control of the learner than the teacher might help address this.

  • We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see.
    Links to the previous point, but also at a more fundamental level is that most teaching staff don’t think/see the connections between attributes, outcomes etc and the activities/resources in their course. Using the curriculum mapping project information to modify the interface to show them this connection (or its absence) and generate it as part of what they are doing, could be a good thing.
  • We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers.
    This links back to the idea above as well.
  • By understanding the contexts of others, we can teach in a more transformational way (constructivism)
    Curriculum mapping, as I’ve seen it practiced, is often divorced from the context of teaching. It’s done with a tool that is not part of the teaching process, often done at a time divorced from the act of teaching and generally doesn’t fit well within the context in which teaching occurs. The point of this project is to get curriculum mapping happening within the context of teaching, not apart from it.
  • A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within it.
    This point has interesting implications for the notion of constructive alignment – or at least one form of how it is practiced – that is embedded in some practice of curriculum mapping.

It also mentions the importance of about metadata and outcome statements which are becoming more important in Moodle 2.0. This is where the curriculum mapping stuff links in. More and more it appears that the project will be more about building useful blocks/activities/reports on top of this infrastructure. Something which is talked more about in the progress tracking development docs.

Progress tracking

The progress tracking development doc talks about planning/work on incorporating this into Moodle 2.0. It links to IMS standards on definition of competency or educational objective specification and learning information.

Progress tracking seems to have a different focus than curriculum mapping. Tracking focuses on the progress of the student. It does need the same sort of information about competencies, but uses it for a different purpose.

Outcomes and Moodle

It’s time to think about the reality of the curriculum mapping idea that’s been kicking around. i.e. how hard/impossible would it be to implement this idea in Moodle.

As part of developing BIM I came across the fact that Moodle already supports Outcomes. Something that has some connections with the idea of curriculum mapping. This post is about finding out some more about outcomes as they already existing in Moodle. In fact, it’s basically a look at two videos about how to use them.

The following points to the two videos I’ve looked at and has some quick notes I made as I was watching.

In summary,

  • Outcomes are by default not enabled at a site wide level. They need to be enabled to work at the course level.
  • Outcomes can be created at site and course levels.
  • They can be associated with any activity or resource.
  • Outcomes have a scale.
  • Once created, they automatically appear when adding a resource or activity.

While there may be some room for improvement for the specifics of curriculum mapping (e.g. grouping of different outcomes, attributes etc) it seems that the basics for this approach exist already. A prototype should be really easy.

How to use Moodle outcomes

Outcomes are in the Grades part of the site admin menu. And need to be enabled there. The outcomes themselves are also set at the site level – not course!!!???

Outcomes have short and full names, description and a scale.

Outcomes appear in the course administration menu. Then you select from the site list to use them in a course.

Ahh, can create course level/specific outcomes.

Should work with activities. Outcomes appear when adding?

When grading an assignment can see outcomes.

Outcomes do appear in the gradebook.

Introduction to Scales and outcomes

Adds a scale, within a test course.

Outcomes added also within the course, but as part of the grade. Can have multiple outcomes.

Also used to create an assignment.

Outcomes can be applied to activities and resources.

The current state of curriculum mapping in/with Moodle

As part of looking into a project around curriculum mapping I need to take a look at the current state of play around curriculum mapping in the Moodle community. This is a summary of what I can find at the moment.

Moodle is used in both schools and universities. My impression is that schools have a longer history and broader use of curriculum mapping, however, mapping in universities is hotting up.

In summary, there are a few examples of Moodle “tools” that claim to do some aspect of curriculum mapping. However, none of them seems to provide the services I’m suggesting. There does appear to be some call for this type of service.

UPDATE: More recent exploration is based around Moodle’s existing outcomes support which might offer a foundation on which to build curriculum mapping.

Discussion threads

The Moodle community generally has discussions within Moodle-hosted discussion forums on the site. The threads I could find looking at curriculum mapping include (you will have to create an account on the site to view these):

  • Curriculum mapping with Moodle
    Starts with a general question back in September 2007 that never really went anywhere. Some 2009 posts that include a pointer to a more recent thread, a pointer to the curriculum module for Moodle and a pointer to a US-based school’s curriculum mapping done with drupal.
  • Curriculum mapping
    A more recent and complete thread. Includes a pointer to the module, and a pointer to a Moodle doc on curriculum mapping. There’s also some feedback from a user of existing mapping tools and summarises one of the aims of the project being thought about here

    Atlas curriculum mapping is time-consuming and frustrating for many, in part because it is divorced from the courses it maps. Since Moodle houses a school’s actual courses, it would be most excellent if the mapping could be a layer on top of what’s already there.

    . There’s also a pointer to the announcement of a Moodle block covered in the next point.

  • Announcement of a Moodle block – to facilitate the design of a competency based curricula.
  • Curriculum patch for Moodle.
    This is a “patch” to the core of Moodle. It only works with a small subset of Moodle versions. My take on it, is that this is not really mapping curriculum but providing a way to prescribe a fixed hierarchy for a course (tree, parallel or serial) or groups of courses and ensure students move within it.

    Doesn’t appear to be what I’m interested in. Also demonstrates some of the potential problems that arise when a “patch” needs to change lots of the Moodle core. This needs to be kept to a minimum.

  • Moodle docs on curriculum mapping
    Essentially a page dedicated towards spawning the development of a Moodle component for curriculum mapping.

Other resources

  • New moodle block ‘curriculum design tool’
    Surpisingly not linked into the above discussions, found via a google search. It does seem to be the moodle block that was announced above though.

    There is project page (or this page which seems to be running the block) which I didn’t find last year when I looked a bit. The block is meant to provide functions to

    • Design curriculum maps relating to competencies (educational goals), professional abilities (learning objectives), learning activities (resources) and assessments.
    • Submission of learning activities by educators with associated searchable metadata
    • Review submitted materials
    • Search and browse published curriculum maps and get related learning object repositories.
    • Rate learning objects
    • Checking out materials from the learning object repositories via a shopping cart model (free shopping)
    • Gap analysis for selected learning object items
    • Packaging of selected curricula items with a dynamically created curriculum description including links to learning activities and assessments.
    • Tracking of downloads and follow up surveying of users.

    This seems to be somewhat broader than what I had in mind. As implemented it seems to implement a repository for learning objects that can be peer-evaluated against some criteria. Not curriculum mapping amongst existing courses.

Web resources

  • A discussion thread on a school educators network Ning forum.
    Describes one person’s aim to move a school from another mapping platform into using Moodle. Has various reactions and ideas in response. A number of the responses are talking about problems of limited use of specific purpose curriculum mapping software. There is also a description of how one school “kludged” around the direct absence of mapping in Moodle, which seems to be what the original author was going to do. i.e. no direct support for mapping in Moodle, just use Moodle’s existing features to approximate it.

    There is a post from a Moodle user/admin arguing why the stand alone mapping software is good because it does provide these features. In particular, the post mentions the inability to identify the overlaps or holes.

  • Enterprise Learning Intelligence Suite (ELIS)
    An “integrated stack of technologies designed to provide end-to-end management of an online learning program”. Includes curriculum mapping and a range of other services. Apparently being released under the GPL.

    Based on this presentation it appears that “curriculum mapping” is really just grouping courses together as a curriculum – similar to the “patch” mentioned above. Not what I had in mind. Another presentation seeks to reinforce this.

How to make curriculum mapping useful to university academics

The following is an attempt to make concrete various ideas that have been floating around about a project to take a very different approach to curriculum mapping. There’s a small glimmer that these ideas may form the basis for an ALTC grant application

The following includes:

The idea

The outline of the idea is:

  • Implement the following changes by working closely with the academics and changing the project, its processes, aims etc in response to the learning that occurs.
  • Modify Moodle (this is the LMS my current institution uses) so that it is possible that all activities and resources within a course site can be linked to course learning outcomes, institutional graduate attributes and other criteria/categories (outcomes etc).
  • For courses within a program that has been through a recent accreditation, use those resources to add the outcomes etc. to existing courses, resources and activities.
  • Have this process involve collaboration between the academics and people who can help with and change the system, explain the meaning of learning “terminology” and generally make it a helpful and positive experience.
  • Work with academics to ensure that current Moodle courses have outcomes etc populated appropriately.
  • Modify Moodle so that when an activity or resource changes, there are visible reminders that the outcomes etc associated with that activity/resource should also be changed. Make it simple for the academic to change these.
  • Ensure that when a course site is copied from one term to another, the outcomes etc are part of that copy process.
    The intent is that once the outcomes etc are in place, the academics only need to modify those bits that have changed and they are supported and encouraged to do so during what they normally do.
  • Draw on this information to develop different curriculum maps for different purposes. The maps can draw on the fact that there are links from the outcomes etc to actual data in the LMS (e.g. student posts on the discussion forum, assignments, quizzes etc.)
  • Work within a program with the teaching academics to make the use of the curriculum maps a useful and important part of what they do in the process of their normal course delivery. i.e. make it part of the way we do things around here. (This does not mean writing policies.)

The main part of the project would be having a group of people with the right mix of technical and educational knowledge actively working with the academics to identify how this information could be made useful for the academics. Some work would also be done for other stakeholder (e.g. accreditation bodies).

The actual uses of the information would arise from this collaboration, but some possible examples might include:

  • Access to examples of implementing an attribute or outcome within the program or the institution.
    Problem: The assumption is that given an outcome staff will pick a learning design that will help the students achieve that outcome. Most academic staff don’t have the abstract knowledge to do this. Seeing concrete examples might help.

    1 solution: Provide an interface that matches the current outcome of interest for the academic, with a other similar outcomes in other courses. Allow the academic to drill down and see the actual activities and resources mapped to those.

  • Representation of the holes and duplications in a course.
    Problem: Generally, the people teaching courses in a program don’t know what’s going on in another course or in the program as a whole.

    1 solution: Provide a program level summary that identifies the holes and duplications in attributes, outcomes, activities and resources.

What is curriculum mapping

Just to be sure that we’re talking about the same thing, the following offers some definitions of curriculum mapping

Curriculum mapping is a representation of the different components of the curriculum in order that the whole picture and the relationships between the components of the curriculum can be easily understood (Harden 2001). Curriculum mapping displays the essential features of the curriculum in a clear and succinct manner (Prideaux 2003) and provides a context for planning and discussing the curriculum (Holycross 2006).

If you want more information, the above quote is taken from this report.

Problems with current practice

The following list is based on my observations, the literature and anecdotal reports from others:

  • Staff don’t engage meaning it is unlikely to change practice.
    The curriculum mapping process is seen as an add-on, it solves someone else’s problem or something that someone else does for them. With the lack of engagement, it becomes questionable whether these considerations become a key part of day to day thoughts and subsequently makes any long-term change in understanding and practice.
  • Divorced from practice leading to unreliability of what is reported.
    Completing a curriculum map is done either at the beginning or the end of a course. It’s not done during a course. This separation leads to the reliability of what is included in a curriculum map being highly questionable. One reason for this is that memory is not perfect, what is recalled and reported may not be what went on. Then there’s the whole question to task corruption and compliance.
  • Complexity leads to unreliability.
    The task of mapping out an entire course is complex. Most curriculum mapping requires that it be done as one task after the course is complete. The complexity of the task leads to mistakes, either through academics rushing it or the inevitable problem of chinese whispers when the academics are communicating information to a third party.
  • Tools that are not integrated into practice leading to duplication and unreliability.
    Curriculum mapping is usually done with pen and paper, an excel spreadsheet or perhaps a commercial stand alone tool. Yet another tool for academics to use. Each of these tools have their limitations. But perhaps the most important is that the new curriculum mapping tool is not the LMS or any of the other systems the academic users for learning and teaching. It’s something else to learn and doesn’t even connect with other tools. These tools don’t actively reduce the workload for the academic or provide additional functionality. It’s all cost and no benefit.

Current representation

In order to implement curriculum mapping across a program or institution, you have to design how you are going to do this. How you understand or represent the problem significantly impacts upon how you design your solution. Representation has a profound impact on design work (Hevner et al., 2004), particularly on the way in which tasks and problems are conceived (Boland, 2002). The formulation of the initial state into an effective representation is crucial to finding an effective design solution (Weber, 2003).

I suggest that the process widely used to implement curriculum mapping is similar to most projects within organisations and universities. It is a teleological process. Truex et al (2000) identify a shared assumption about teleological design processes involving a three-stage rational sequence: “(1) determine goals, (2) determine steps and events that lead to these, (3) follow the steps and generate the events”.

In curriculum mapping this means some group, typically not coal-face teaching academics, identify the need for curriculum mapping. Common groups include accreditation agencies, quality assurance groups and other business and government bodies. In response to this need another group, generally some sort of central learning and teaching group, decides on a process to perform the curriculum map and then engages with and encourages academics to complete the curriculum map.

The focus – the central/core aim – of the institution then becomes of completing this project. The focus has moved away from improving learning and teaching but to actually getting the forms filled in. The questions academics are asked become, “have you completed the form yet?”. The academics start complying and not engaging.

If done well, the project will achieve its aim of getting completed curriculum maps. However, the quality of those maps will be questionable and there’s a good chance the majority of academics are annoyed at having to waste more time and teaching and learning when they all know that they get recognition and promotion for research.

One alternate representation – changing thinking

Oliver et al (2007) describe the practicalities of curriculum mapping as (emphasis added)

far from simple and require a shift in educational thinking

The “shift in thinking” is the foundation of the representation of curriculum mapping that informs the following idea.

The core aim of this project is to change the educational thinking of academics and consequently improve learning and teaching.

Representing the problem this way means that different ideas and approaches to complete the problem. For example:

  • You only change what people think by changing what they experience day to day.
  • You only change what people do day to day if it provides them with some demonstrable benefit. That the choice architecture around what they do is such that they voluntarily make a good choice.
  • You only know what will give them demonstrable benefit by really understanding their experience and if they trust you.
  • You only know what they experience and have their trust if you are interacting with them throughout the process and providing them real assistance.

This is why the above basic outline of an idea cannot be implemented as a traditional project, with set goals and outcomes. It has to be implemented as a learning project. The following from Cavallo (2004) captures this well

As we see it, real change is inherently a kind of learning. For people to change the way they think about and practice education, rather than merely being told what to do differently, we believe that practitioners must have experiences that enable appropriation of new modes of teaching and learning that enable them to reconsider and restructure their thinking and practice. The limitations inherent in existing systems based upon information transfer models are as impoverished in effecting systemic development as they are in child development.


Boland, R. J. (2002). Design in the punctuation of management action. Frontiers of Management Workshop, Weatherhead School of Management.

Cavallo, D. (2000). “Emergent design and learning environments: Building on indigenous knowledge.” IBM Systems Journal 39(3&4): 768-781.

Hevner, A., S. March, et al. (2004). “Design science in information systems research.” MIS Quarterly 28(1): 75-105.

Oliver, B., S. Jones, et al. (2007). Mapping curricula: ensuring work-ready graduates by mapping course learning outcomes and higher order thinking skills. Evaluations and Assessment Conference. Brisbane.

Weber, R. (2003). “Still desperately seeking the IT artifact.” MIS Quarterly 27(2): iii-xi.