What Education Technology People Know About Curriculum and Why You Should Listen

Businessmans hand drawing an empty flow chart

I often find myself in meetings about curriculum projects. I am usually invited to either share my thoughts on the technology components or explain the technology options for tracking the curriculum. Sometimes the topic is sharing resources and making sure core documents can be managed and properly versioned. In all cases, I am required to have a broad overview of the K-12 curriculum. I am also required to have an understanding of the end-users and how they will apply the curriculum content to their various specialities.

Aside from two or three other people, I generally find I have the most objective overview of how things are connected and the areas that need the most support. In fact when I speak with anyone who is a technology coordinator or manager, I tend to have better curriculum discussions than when I speak to people working in more traditional roles.

The problem is because I am working within the department of technology, my opinions of curriculum topics are often politely disregarded.

All opinions aside concerning who may have the most objective outlook on curriculum, there is one fact that is nearly impossible to argue. As a technology coordinator or director I spend many hours working with data. I spend many hours managing the school’s data systems and creating reports. I spend countless time tweaking and adjusting information so it becomes useful to people who need to see one page summaries of thousands of data points.

Running algorithms and spreadsheet formulas to determine modal frequencies and trends in open responses is also a common practice in the life of an educational technology professional. Survey designs and survey data flow through my department and that data too is studied and reported. My department is the nerve center for  managing data and processing data.

Curriculum mapping is also a core aspect of educational technology. Curriculum mapping technology is not just something most educational technology professionals use, we are also often certified to train others how to use this type of technology to make accurate reports. Being trained to use technology to make reports, means that a person must understand the data and how to organise the data so that it is useful.

Those educational technology professionals who run integration or tech-coaching models are usually completely read in on the curriculum in their division (year groups and subject groups). They have actually read all the documents and plans. These people know who is doing what and when, and they have identified weaknesses that technology can help to strengthen. Clearly, they are more well versed on the curriculum compared to most other teachers.

But who is listening? Who is allowing educational technology professionals to help truly drive the curriculum with data analysis? Who is promoting the idea that the people who understand the end-game should be designing the game?

Here is a test. One of the most popular curriculum mapping tools is Atlas Rubicon. If your school uses this and you still have teachers make daily lesson plans in some form of text document or online web-form, then you are using Atlas Rubicon inappropriately. In Atlas Rubicon, on a single webpage, you can see what everyone is doing every week. Administrators using Atlas can have a weekly standards and alignment report, so that strange anomalies can be part of a weekly agenda. Weekly, so that students are not going through a bad process that is only discovered at the end of the semester.

And one more test. If a school’s analytics suggest more than 85% of the standards are being met, then those are probably wrong as well. The goal is not to hit the highest number, but to find the divergence where planning did not reflect the actual outcome. Posting high numbers usually means adjusting the plan but ignoring what the actual outcomes were.

If that last paragraph did not make sense, go find your educational technology people, because they can explain it and probably graph it.

Tony DePrato


A Reason not to Hate Curriculum Mapping in the New Year

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I never thought I would write this.  First off, I am not a fan of software or solutions that dumb-down, over-complicate, or impeded the evolution of good practice. I have always felt that teachers need to track what they do in a simple format, such as a blog, and use TAGS to connect what they are doing to the community of practice. Wikis are ok for this as well.

My reasoning is that this can be done by everyone very easily and inexpensively. A handful of people are required to add higher level functions and search, but the job is always, and only, part-time. This type of tracking also works for students, and they can even use the same platform, which saves time and resources.

The obvious downside to this system is that the people providing oversight have to look through blogs/wikis occasionally to see who is on/off track. It is not possible to run a report and create a flat map or view of the curriculum. Being someone who reads often, and is very skilled at finding things online, this seems like a trivial task. It seems like a required skill in 2014.

My world of being simple and bluntly correct has been up-turned. I ran into a situation recently as an administrator, and as a by-stander, that made me actually email the company my school school contracts for curriculum mapping software. I actually asked them for more licenses, it was a tough thing to do. My name is Tony, and I am a curriculum map hater.

I was reviewing data, which I always do, and helping show some teachers how to use spreadsheets to view grades in different ways. While doing this I noticed some areas were blank. I inquired, “Why do these classes not have grades”?  Answer #1- the teacher does not FEEL that grading is needed for this subject. Answer #2 – there is no way to grade these classes, no standards or methods.

I then let them know that when a transcript is made, this is going to show-up as BLANK and universities are going to wonder why this subject is BLANK, but for other schools it is graded. There was no answer, only a BLANK stare into the abyss.

The second event was not related to me or my work in anyway. A friend of mine is doing an online course at a well known and very respected Canadian University (This is one of those times I REALLY WANT TO MENTION THE NAME).  She had two assignments for an English course. The first assignment came back as a C-, and there were about 10 comments on it. Every comment said, “awkward”.  That is all the teacher wrote. No examples of why, or ideas for improving. Upon asking for clarity my friend receive a response just as vague as the comments, which somehow determined the paper was a C-.

My friend let others read the paper, including myself. We all made corrections and input ideas. The revision read better and had a clear thesis. Assignment two was now upon her. She completed it, it was 25% of her grade. She received another C-, and a single comment,”You have not shown any effort or improvement at all.”

This is/was just a tenured professor simply deciding to hate or like papers in a second year writing course and not giving feedback to help students improve. Students who are paying money and are on various degree tracks.  In the world of non-academia this sort of behavior would get a person fired immediately, because they are single handedly alienating all the clients.

I realized at that point, in both these situations a proper and aggressive implementation of curriculum mapping would allow for immediate oversight and action by department heads and administrators.

Many people argue, as I once did, that the curriculum mapping process relies on teachers inputting good data. In other words, garbage-in-garbage-out. However, this is only true if the foundational structure of the software is defined by the departments. This is often the case, and the practice should be suspended. It takes longer to setup, but the end result is better metrics and more a powerful use of data.

The foundational structure is in the standards and assessment criteria. If third party standards are used, and assessments are required to be entered on frequent intervals, then oversight can be done in a simple exception report. Meaning: show me all the people who have not added any assessments in the last month; show me how many people have not met at least 30% of their standards in the last four months.

In addition, terms (tags) can be set by the school to ensure all departments use the same language when adding any information to any field. For example, any lesson pertaining to World War II must be referenced as WWII. Terms such as wwii, WWii, The Second World War, etc. are not acceptable. This is known as defining taxonomy, it is a common practice when building data driven websites, and it is easy to implement for most curriculum mapping systems.

Of all the projects I have to finish by June, this one is now rising in importance. Although I enjoy setting up websites, implementing cloud driven initiatives, and building gaming servers for students, I am first and foremost a responsible educator. This type of careless behavior and disconnection from standards is bad for students and bad for the school.

My name is Tony, and I am a curriculum mapping hater, but I am trying real hard to be the Shepard.

Tony DePrato