Wayfinding & Curriculum Mapping in Higher Education

A curriculum map is a visual representation of how a program’s activities or courses lead to a coherent learning experience for students. (Principles of curriculum mapping can also be applied to the co-curriculum).

Wayfinding: Why Curriculum Mapping is Important

An example from the field of wayfinding illustrates the importance of curriculum mapping. Wayfinding refers to how people orient themselves in a space and use directional cues, like signs or walking paths, to navigate their environment. The design of a space has a significant impact on one’s experience and perceptions of their environment. Higher education has been leveraging that idea for decades.

This blue line in the photo below represents how I orient to my space at my university. My orientation to the campus and experiences are centered around assessment and evaluation.

Students, however, have a much different perspective and university experience, as shown by the red line. Whereas my orientation is centered around my discipline, students experience the university as a whole, as shown by the red line. Curriculum mapping helps us see how students navigate their experience and create a more cohesive and whole curriculum.


My Wayfinding (blue line) — Student Wayfinding (red line)

Types of Curriculum Maps

There are three types of curriculum maps: simple, embedded, and developmental. The following images highlight examples of all three. The last part of this post presents examples of how to use curriculum mapping.

Simple Curriculum Maps



Embedded Curriculum Maps

Embedded curriculum maps show where learning outcomes are addressed and assessed at specific points in the curriculum.


This curriculum map flips the assessments and courses.



Developmental Curriculum Maps

Developmental maps show student growth over time. A short list of developmental frameworks are shown below:

  • Introduced, Developed, Mastered
  • Introduced, Reinforced, Practiced, Demonstrated
  • Low Emphasis, Medium Emphasis, High Emphasis
  • Introduce, Emphasize, Measure
  • Instruction, Practice, Feedback



Using Curriculum Maps

Example 1. Art History Program Curriculum Map

What conclusions can you make about this curriculum map?


Conclusion 1 – Museum administration and budgeting is not covered anywhere in the common Art History program courses. It should probably be removed as a program outcome – there’s no sense having it as an outcome if it’s not being taught to all students. Faculty can still teach budgeting and administration in their individual courses, but no claims can be made about program graduates possessing this skill. If program faculty feel that administration and budgeting is important, then it should be reinforced in the common courses.

Conclusion 2 – Attendance at college art events is not addressed in any of the outcomes. This does not necessarily mean it should be removed as an activity, however. It just means program faculty should have a conversation about this activity’s role in the program.

Example 2. Biology Program Curriculum Map

What conclusions can you make about this curriculum map?


Conclusion 1 – Students are expected to have mastered laboratory skills by the end of the program. Faculty may be frustrated by this and blame the students. However, a curriculum map in this hypothetical example reveals that students were never introduced to laboratory skills. It is unfair to assess students for something they were never taught. Laboratory skills should be reinforced earlier in the curriculum.

Conclusion 2 – Students were introduced to the idea of major cellular processes, and expected to master it by the end of the program. However, they were never given the opportunity to practice this skill.

Conclusion 3 – Students were introduced to the careers in biology. However, career awareness is never discussed in the curriculum beyond the introductory course. Faculty should have a discussion about this outcome’s place in the curriculum.

Example 1. Student Affairs Curriculum Map

What conclusions can you make about this curriculum map?


Conclusion 1 – Civic responsibility is not covered in the student affairs curriculum. Staff have a decision to make. Should they remove civic responsibility as an outcome? Or, should it be reinforced and assessed in the curriculum?

Conclusion 2 – Global awareness is only addressed in the housing survey. Maybe that’s enough. But it won’t cover students who do not live in the residence halls.

Conclusion 3 – Two assessments are not addressed in any of the outcomes. For example, campus housing conducts an annual social media use survey and student organizations conduct an annual textbook cost survey. If an assessment is not being used for improvement, then you’re wasting staff and student time. The ultimate value of assessment lies in it’s use. Staff should consider removing these assessments.

Benefits of Curriculum Mapping & Recommendations

  • Curriculum maps are meant to be discussed and shared. They are an impartial and objective (to the extent that is possible) way of highlighting curricular gaps.
  • Curriculum maps highlight unproductive practices. If an assessment is not supporting the curriculum or being used, then it should be considered for removal.
  • Curriculum maps help programs set priorities and plan for the future.
  • Curriculum maps can communicate expectations to students.
  • Curriculum mapping is meant to be inclusive and include multiple viewpoints.
  • Curriculum mapping is not meant to prove someone wrong.


About rlsmith205

Bloomington-Normal, IL
This entry was posted in Assessment - General, Methods and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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