Academic Program Design and Assessment to Support Semester Conversion:  A Guide for Faculty

Step 2: Develop (or revise) curriculum maps and assessment plan

What is curriculum mapping? 

A curriculum map is a table or matrix that shows where learning outcomes are fostered in a program.  It is developed by program faculty to chart the relationship between the program outcomes (PLOs) and what is taught in the core courses.  It can provide a basis for making decisions about teaching and learning at both the course and the program levels.  It can also be useful to faculty in the process of conversion from quarters to semesters, as it focuses attention on how what we are teaching relates to what we have stated as our goals for students to attain.

What is the value of mapping curriculum?

The curriculum mapping process helps determine any gaps or unintended repetitions by charting what is planned and what is actually occurring in individual courses and across the program. By explicitly identifying which learning outcomes are addressed in each course, programs can more easily determine whether the program addresses all learning outcomes in a balanced way, or whether there are gaps or an overemphasis on any particular learning outcome. The curriculum map also makes it easier for faculty to check the sequencing of courses throughout the program to assure students the opportunity to achieve mastery of the program’s PLOs.

What are the guidelines for PLO/course alignment?

Using both the ILOs and your program’s PLOs, use a curriculum map template from your college or one of the Assessment Plan Templates at the end of this guide to map pre-requisite and required courses for a student’s program of study.  List the core program course numbers and mark/map their alignment by identifying within courses where each PLO is Introduced, Developed, and Mastered.  In addition, indicate where each PLO will be Assessed for mastery.

All required courses must align with at least one PLO, and all PLOs must align with at least one required course.  While assessment of course-level student learning occurs in all courses for the purpose of providing students with feedback and evaluation, in courses where the PLO is mastered, the Committee on Academic Planning and Review (CAPR) requires that there will be assessment of that mastery for the purpose of program assessment. Mastery in a PLO may be assessed in one or in several courses.

In addition, all academic degree programs’ learning outcomes (PLOs) should be aligned in the curriculum map with the ILOs indicating where a program learning outcomes aligns with an Institutional Learning Outcomes the program faculty select. These are in addition to two ILOs that the program faculty aligns with one of its PLOs. The program will identify an assignment in one or more upper-division major courses which can be sampled for secondary assessment of student work according to the University’s ILO assessment cycle. (This process is overseen by the GE Sub-Committee and the ILO Sub-Committee of the Senate.) Programs are encouraged to coordinate this assessment with their program assessment processes and timelines. Resources are available from the Office of Educational Effectiveness Services to assist programs with the development of assignments, collection of student work, etc.

What does a sample curriculum map look like?


Program Learning Outcomes


PLO #1

PLO #2

PLO #3

PLO #4







I, D



I, D
























M  (A)



M (A)

M (A)

M (A)

M (A)

* Required course for major

**Course numbering guidelines (see Curriculum Map #1 template)

  • I = Introduced
  • D = Developed and practiced with feedback
  • M = Demonstrated at the mastery level appropriate for graduation
  • (A)  = Assessment of mastery (this will be included in your assessment plan)

What is an assessment plan?

A five-year assessment plan is developed by each program with the goals of self-evaluation and curricular revitalization to plan for the challenges of the future and maintain leadership in their respective field.  Program review is extremely important for development of informed decisions about program, faculty and student needs, resource allocation, and management. 

All program PLOs must be assessed within a five-year cycle (see Program Design templates).  Indicate the year that each of the PLOs will be assessed. Assessment results will be reported annually to CAPR and summarized in the five-year review.

What is the purpose of assessment, and why is it important?

The purpose of student learning assessment at CSUEB is to continually improve the quality of our academic and co-curricular programs.  Faculty answer the questions "How are students doing in achieving the outcomes we have established for them?" and “What does this tell us about how we might strengthen our curriculum and/or our instructional practices? Faculty design and conduct the assessments, and the entire campus commits to supporting a culture of evidence and a spirit of inquiry.  Assessment is conducted at three different levels:

  1. At the course level, the instructor creates and carries out assessments to provide feedback to students and use in grading.
  2. At the program level, the program faculty create and carry out assessments to learn about their program’s effectiveness, report to CAPR and plan program improvements.
  3. At the institutional level, secondary review of (anonymous) samples of student work allows faculty to see how students are performing overall and to reflect on the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction across the entire University.

Learn more about assessment from the Academic Programs and Graduate Studies Student Learning Assessment Guide here.

Why can’t we just use grades for purposes of PLO and ILO assessment?

Faculty sometimes ask why it is that the university can’t assess ILOs and PLOs  by  using students’ grades. There are a number of reasons why this is not a good idea – especially for ILO assessment. Chief among them is the preservation of academic freedom for faculty. To use grades in any statistically meaningful way for institution-wide assessment would require standardizing grading policies. As it is, some faculty give extra credit and others don’t, some allow make-up work and others don’t, some require participation or attendance and others don’t, and so forth. Each faculty member makes those choices and, in order to preserve that freedom, the university would not want to impose, for ILO assessment purposes, any standardized grading practices.

How can assessment be enhanced to better demonstrate mastery of learning?

Consider strengthening course assignments, especially those demonstrating mastery in undergraduate upper division courses.

Strong assessments (assignments) often:

  • Are appropriate for the goal
  • Help students achieve multiple learning outcomes.
  • Have real-world application.
  • Are designed at the level of targeted performance (e.g. senior level undergraduate work should achieve higher order thinking).
  • Are designed in the medium(s) appropriate for the discipline or GE area (paper, presentation, project, portfolio, performance, internship, activity, skill demonstration, or product). 
  • Make worthwhile use of students’ learning time.
  • Consider breaking a large assignment into smaller assignments (with clear, concrete prompts) that are due at different times. This provides students more opportunities to improve skills and confidence by receiving faculty feedback before final work is due.  This approach also reduces panic, last minute work, and plagiarism and helps faculty target feedback to students in high priority areas.   

Consider Using Signature Assignments: In courses where mastery is assessed – such as a Capstone course, a signature assignment may be appropriate. This is a single assignment used in each of the course sections that is clearly aligned with learning outcomes, and well designed - often as a collaborative venture by faculty (to get the full perspective).  Signature assignments also enable faculty to collect common data across course sections for program and ILO review.

Use Rubrics: A rubric is a faculty-developed scoring guide for use in assessing student work along specific dimensions.  Rubrics can be developed and applied to virtually any student work such as a paper, portfolio performance, or multimedia product, and can make grading more consistent, accurate, and unbiased. Rubrics help students to better understand faculty expectations, inspire better performance, provide a clearer picture of strengths and weaknesses, and reduce arguments about grading practices.

Below is the critical thinking rubric developed, piloted, and finalized by cross-disciplinary University faculty.   A number of University rubrics for faculty to use as-is or to modify to fit their needs are available. The rubrics can be downloaded into a Blackboard course or placed in a syllabus. This includes the ILO rubrics for Written Communication, Diversity and Social Justice, and Critical Thinking.

What is going on with ILO assessment at the university level and how does that affect our program?

A plan for assessing how well we are doing as a university in supporting our students to attain the ILOs upon graduation was developed by the ILO sub-committee, endorsed by CIC and adopted by the Senate (May, 2015). This Senate policy calls for each program to align its PLOs to a minimum of two ILOs. The PLOs must have individual senior-level course assignments, called key assignments. Student work will be made available for secondary scoring by the faculty of either the ILO Sub-Committee or the GE Sub-Committee, using a rubric developed by university-wide faculty for that ILO.

The secondary review process is conducted by the faculty committee members using the Outcomes feature of Blackboard. The system randomly selects a small percentage of student assignments and distributes them to the faculty reviewers for rating, using the faculty-approved university rubric. Assignments can be writing, photographs, video clips, etc., but must be submitted by the students to Blackboard as assignments. Results of this process are used for the faculty to determine how well our students are doing overall at attaining the ILOs by graduation so that we can continually improve our curriculum and instruction.

As you create your program’s Curriculum Map #1 (described in a following section), program faculty should think about which of the courses will contain a key assignment for assessing the two ILOs with which the program is choosing to align. 

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