Playing with curriculum visualizations: SFU Biology course connections

Coming to a shiny new department, I’ve been trying to see how the biology courses here fit together.

Laura Hilton wrote a really nice (internal) report with lots of great information and data, and it got me thinking about ways to visually lay out the curriculum.  It’s pretty interesting to see what course depends on what, and to try to clarify the connections and dependencies.  So, I made some pictures.

Based on what I found in the course calendar, looking specifically at Biological Sciences (“BISC”) courses, here’s the best I could come up with:

course connections.png

The diagram is bolded for Biology 101, since that’s what I’ll be teaching in the summer. Please point out any mistakes, if you see them – These are a bit of a hack, made in powerpoint, so there are bound to be some arrows that got lost in the shuffle, and I haven’t had time to do a thorough double-check.  Data vis friends, don’t judge me for using ppt for this — if you’ve got ideas about how to do it in tableau or something else reasonably easy, I’m all ears!  Thanks Emilia for the help as well!

There’s a lot of line crossings and overlap!  Just goes to show how interconnected and nonlinear our program/discipline is – and there are lots of dependencies on non-BISC courses as well.

To clean it up, I tried organizing this in a couple different formats, but it didn’t help much.  You can judge for yourself:

The diagram on the right does show how much of the interconnectedness comes from the 3rd year courses being dependent on both 100- and 200-level core courses.  I just haven’t found a way to clean up the line crossings to make it clearer.  Maybe a more dynamic representation would be better — clicking on a course and its inter-dependencies are brought to the forefront?

Other resources?

I’m not too familiar with actual specialized software (or a server) that can do a good job of looking at curricula.  A quick google gave me a link to my trusty pals at UBC doing Learning Analytics in Arts (and more broadly).  There’s also an awesome group that has gone through a series of names (currently Tools for Evidence Based Action) that uses Ribbon diagrams (specialized versions of Sankey diagrams) to track student progression through courses.  They also use similar tools for tracking retention and attrition, which is pretty interesting.  Also, SFU’s Teaching & Learning Centre has a page about curriculum planning, but the link seems to be broken at the moment.

Part 2: What does this look like to a student?

As an instructor, it’s also pretty easy to forget the rest of a student’s courseload!   So it’s interesting to look at a student perspective, and to consider the progression of a degree – where they are busiest (e.g. semesters with heavy lab loads) and what the rest of their time looks like.

Here’s the course progression for full-time BISC majors students, separated by stream (Cells/Molecules/Physiology; Evolution/Ecology/Conservation, and Open):

Colours are consistent with the figure above.  Borders of the BISC courses indicates lab/field or lecture-only. Dashed lines are lab or field courses; partially dashed lines are around sets of courses, some of which are lab or field.  I didn’t display anything for courses with or without tutorials, and also didn’t look at the possibilities of labs in their non-BISC courses.  And, this doesn’t show course connections / pre-requisites at all – it’s really just a guess of what I thought would fit in a given year.

There are lots of required courses from outside our home department.  And, from a curriculum or new-course-development perspective, it looks there is a bit of room at the 2nd/3rd year level for wiggling courses in and out, depending on what kinds of minors people want to take.  As a new person looking at this kind of diagram, I wonder what other 2nd year courses students tend to take?  Are they doing some of the 300-level courses early?  Working on a minor?

So far, this has been a useful exercise to try to understand my new curriculum.  Am happy to have feedback on mistakes or formatting, or ideas for other things I could try to visualize!


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