Personal News

The blog has been on the quiet side — something I hope to change in 2021 — in large part because I moved schools in June. After 12 years as a faculty member at St. John’s, I am now the Dean of Charleston School of Law. Becoming a dean in the middle of a pandemic has been a fun whirlwind but has left little time for writing. Nevertheless, having survived my first semester, I plan to post here more often.

As a bit of background, Charleston School of Law is a young, independent law school. One of only two law schools in South Carolina, CSOL was founded in 2004 with a mission of “pro bono populi” – for the good of the people. Since then, our graduates have donated over a half million hours of pro bono work to the local legal community. While the Law School has had challenges (some common to legal education, some unique), we are very much on the upswing. For instance, our Fall 2020 class was our highest credentialed class since 2012. I hope to be able to share lots of good news about the Law School in 2021. In the meantime, I’ll have a few assessment-related posts coming up.

What is the point of curriculum mapping?

Curriculum mapping is the process of identifying where in a school’s curriculum each of its learning outcomes is being taught and assessed. We recently posted our curriculum maps on our assessment webpage, including the survey instrument we used to collect data from faculty.

Curriculum mapping was a big discussion item at an assessment conference in Boston last Spring and understandably so. But, to be clear, curriculum mapping is, itself, not assessment. It is, rather, a tool to assist with the programmatic assessment process.  It also furthers curricular reform.

Mapping is not assessment in the programmatic sense because even the best of curriculum maps will not show whether, in fact, students are learning what we want them to learn. Curriculum mapping helps with assessment because it enables an assessment committee to identify where in the curriculum to look for particular evidence (“artifacts” in the lingo) of student learning.

It also helps with curricular reform in two ways:

  • by enabling a faculty to plug holes in the curriculum.  If an outcome has been identified as desirable but it is not being taught to all or most students, a new degree requirement could be created. Our school did this with negotiation. We had identified it as a valuable skill but realized, through a curriculum mapping exercise done several years ago, that it was not being taught to a sufficient number of students. We then created a 1L course specifically on negotiation and other interpersonal skills.
  • by restructuring degree requirements so that smarter sequencing occurs. In theory, advanced instruction should build upon introductions.  A curriculum map will help show the building blocks in particular outcomes: introduction to competence to advanced.

Overall, I hope that schools put serious thought into curriculum mapping, while also recognizing that it is not the end of assessment … but instead the beginning.