Using a Snapshot for Curriculum Design

We recently held our first lab to answer the question “How can a visual tool help with curriculum design?” Here, we introduced a tool called the Curriculum Design Snapshot and had a great time chatting to the community about why it’s needed and how it might help.

The Snapshot is a visual tool, inspired by a design thinking approach to learning development. From our perspective it addresses two important needs:

  1. It challenges us to build a working model of our design right out of the gate, helping us to explore high-level conceptualisations of our curricula design without becoming too anchored to any one element. We’ve all been there, right? Hours designing something wasted because we got too focused on a piece of the experience to see that what we’ve created doesn’t meet our stated goals. This tool is here to help us avoid that!
  2. It ensures constructive alignment.

The Snapshot is an invitation to users to play with ideas, explore how these might align, and how they might operate within the contextual boundaries of our brief, client, or institution. All without going too deep on any one element that our sunk cost biases take control. If, during this process, we find that the model doesn’t work, it can be tweaked, iterated, or thrown in the trash. Moreover, the Snapshot can be shared, workshopped, and focus grouped, providing a framework to articulate our ideas to a range of stakeholders, encouraging playful creation among teams.

The core of the Snapshot is grounded in the practice of seeking constructive alignment, the relentless pursuit of which is a key part of our approach. This notion of constructive alignment stems from a belief that the most effective way to facilitate learning is to ensure that outcomes, activities, assessment, and feedback are working together to create an environment in which people can develop. Now we’re by no means the first group to highlight the importance of this model, we don’t claim to be, but by positioning this at the centre of the Snapshot we feel it concentrates attention on this piece of the puzzle, without which, the rest of the picture will always be incomplete.

Now you might ask why is this so important? That’s a fair question. Have you ever experienced a curriculum that felt disconnected, learning activities that didn’t link to the objectives, or assessments that were too difficult? The reason for all these issues is poor constructive alignment. Having worked in education for almost two decades I would suggest that a failure to pursue alignment before creating educational artifacts is one of the most prolific challenges I encounter.

Tips for using the Snapshot

  • Try the google doc version, or Mural (coming soon!) for collaborative or iterative design.
  • Use it to facilitate a conversation. Visuals work great when designing with stakeholders. You can easily point to the triangle to emphasise where better alignment needs to be or to challenge any places where learning objectives are not supported.
  • Consider this tool for an ‘alignment’ check on existing programs. The snapshot isn’t just for designing a program from scratch. If you are redesigning a curriculum, or you ‘inherit’ a program, use it to ensure instructional integrity.

Comments and Feedback

We’ve received some interesting comments on the tool, thanks again to everyone who took part in the lab! Generally, people understood the drive for constructive alignment and how the other contextual elements worked with this to present a rounded overview of the design in development. We received a couple of comments on changes, including strengthening the learner’s voice and the need to explore organisational impact, both things we intend to examine further in future labs.

In closing, I encourage you to take a look at the tool, have a play with it, and let us know what you think by dropping a comment on the replay.

Until next time!



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