The Architecture of Curriculum

The goal of good curriculum design, is to take the broad outcomes that you desire in a graduate, and break it down into a sequence or collection of courses that can build those capabilities. Using the metaphor of a building can be helpful for understanding curriculum.


Survey courses or a group of foundation courses introduce essential knowledge and skills that are often prerequisites for more advance coursework within a discipline or field. Sometimes programs define a “major core” which includes courses in this category.


In architecture, keystones function as a support over portals or windows on different floors of a building. For curriculum, these may be key courses that create cohesiveness and reinforcement of prior learning, but precede courses in the final stages of the program.


Summarizing and integrating knowledge from the various core classes, specializations, practicums, and electives is the goal of a capstone course or experience. Capstones serve to bring cohesiveness to the curriculum by helping students process all that has been learned across their academic career as they look ahead to graduate school, employment, or societal contributions. Capstone assessment can include comprehensive exams, portfolios of exemplary work, oral interviews about the program, or integrative papers that demonstrate learning from the entire program (thesis or integrative paper).

Curriculum Mapping

Degree plans are the curriculum documents that are often used in advising, and show students the required courses for a degree program. Degree flowcharts or course prerequisite maps are other tools that may more clearly illustrate the sequence of courses. A Curriculum-Outcome Matrix is another  type of curriculum map that serves as a helpful planning tool for faculty. A Curriculum-Outcome Matrix illustrate how the overall program learning outcomes relate to the specific courses in the degree plan, and at what level (introducing, reinforcing, mastering). These levels often correspond to the cornerstone, keystone, and capstone course types mentioned above. Matrix documents help faculty coordinate their overall goals for students, and determine meaningful places to assess different outcome areas. 

Curriculum-Outcome Matrix [xls]


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