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Building Community and Curriculum in a 21st Century Liberal Arts Major

Curriculum Mapping in Sociology as a Means to Collaborate and Innovate

Assessing and expanding compliance to recommendations is complex. To address this need, Ferguson and Sweet (2016) developed the Curriculum Mapping Tool for Sociology (CMTS), an instrument that systematically guides program reviews. The CMTS also generates customized reports that clearly identify program strengths and weaknesses. The information generated by the CMTS provides data needed by departments to understand how their programs potentially should change and why.

The proposed project will field the CMTS at ACM sociology programs, generating detailed portraits of program design elements including courses that advance essential concepts and skills as taught at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. By creating curriculum maps, participants can compose reports that benchmark program designs within the undergraduate sociology major and illustrate diverse approaches that departments can use to address expectations articulated in the ASA report.

At minimum, this proposed project will create a stronger community between sociology programs at ACM schools. This workshop can lead to additional discussions about sharing syllabi and pedagogical tools that bolster sociology learning in a liberal arts context. Future iterations can be done at CIC campuses.

Note: Content adapted from original project proposal.


Financial Implications

A persistent concern in undergraduate education is inefficiency. Without a larger conversation concerning how courses link together, students can receive redundant content between courses, or content can be neglected altogether. Importantly, disjointed curricula fail to effectively reconcile program offerings with program needs, which in turn adversely impacts institutional costs, prospects for timely graduation, and institutional reputation. Our experience as program consultants is that curriculum conversations rarely occur and, when they do occur, few changes usually result.

The proposed project is designed to foster data-driven conversations that have the potential to lead to more effective (and efficient) programming. One way the CMTS does this is by providing visual displays that show whether a department is providing sufficient learning encounters at the introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. Program participants will be coached to guide their departments according to the data generated.

Drawing on institutional theory as applied to curricular initiatives (Sweet, et al. 2014), the encounters at Grinnell College will guide participants to consider approaches that have proven successful elsewhere in reformulating their own programs.


Updated Jun 16, 2017

Project Goal

The goals of this project are as follows:

  1. Engage all ACM sociology programs with SLF/ASA recommendations and to provide access to the CMTS via a video conference.
  2. Provide all interested sociology programs in the ACM a customized report that benchmarks the extent of compliance to SLF/ASA recommendations and assessment of program strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Engage representatives from 7 ACM sociology programs in a conference at Grinnell College to identify strategies to use the CMTS information to move their home programs to greater compliance.
  4. Use ACM curriculum maps to advance the application of the CMTS at the national level, positioning the ACM as a leader in curriculum revision.

Campus Goals

First and foremost, this project advances the goal of increasing community among the ACM campuses.

Second, the CMTS operates by considering the recommendations of the ASA and the SLF, and provides a framework for careful revision of the guiding statements of majors. Producing these in a collaborative environment will help faculty get work done for their home departments in an informed, comparative context.

The ASA report recognizes that how individual programs respond to recommendations might depend on a variety of contextual concerns (such as size and staffing resources). By gathering ACM sociology departments together, our project enables representatives to develop strategies informed by programs that cohere on different metrics of similarity.

Our experience in performing program reviews informs the understanding that departments develop their own cultures. These cultures can be sources of strength, but also can impede inclinations to innovate. The CMTS is designed to focus discussions on areas of weakness and guide participants to identify such areas as needing potential change.

Application of the CMTS also can provide data-driven analyses that potentially assist departments in stating how staffing resources might need to change.


Updated Jun 16, 2017

June 2017 | Videoconference (Activity 1)

We will hold a videoconference with ACM participants with instructions on how to complete CMTS. We want everyone to come to the on-site conference in Grinnell with their homework done.

Late June 2017 | CMTS Reports

Generate CMTS Reports for each participating sociology program that summarizes and reviews their curriculum.

July 2017 | Onsite Conference at Grinnell College (Activity 2)

We will host a 1.5 day conference that will engage seven participants to:

  • Share observations of their program’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Learn of sociology program designs at other ACM institutions
  • Engage in discussions of how to mobilize curriculum revision in participants’ own programs

Sept 2017 | Exit Survey

Analysis of Exit Survey from Sociology Curricular Conference in Grinnell.

Dec 2017 | Follow Up

Formal follow-up with ACM participants about curricular discussions and work in home departments.

March 2018 | Regional Sociology Conference

ACM participants present findings on ACM colleges so that we can disseminate findings to other schools in the Midwest.

June 2018 | Final Report of Grant Activities and Findings (Activity 3)

Summer 2018 | Article Submission

Ferguson, Sweet, and ACM participants submit an article for Teaching Sociology and other venues.

August 2018 | American Sociological Association

ACM participants disseminate findings at national meetings.

Dissemination Strategies

We will share curriculum maps generated through the project, as well as a report summarizing commonalities and differences to all sociology programs in the ACM. After the summer conference, participants will be encouraged to take the curricular lessons back to their home campuses for further dissemination and to engage colleagues in consideration of program strengths and weaknesses.

Curricular revision work by ACM sociology programs also will form the basis of a Teaching Sociology research article, which can disseminate the application and program designs of the new curricular benchmarks in sociology to a larger national audience. The findings of this project will be of great interest to sociologists at regional and national meetings as well as to measurement science and assessment meetings such as those at the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education.

Outcomes and Significance

Our goal is to have the following products and outcomes created from this project:

Engagement with the CMTS will generate program reviews for several ACM institutions, and we already have commitments from 7 of the sociology programs. We will keep recruiting additional ACM sociology programs to participate, and will share our findings with all schools.

Each department representative will receive a customized report summarizing program strengths and weaknesses, as well as written guidance from the project leaders on aspects of their programs that might be in need of improvement.

The ACM sociology program representatives that participate in an onsite conference at Grinnell College will share perspectives on strategies of transforming their own sociology program and other programs in the ACM. We will gauge the effectiveness of this conference with an exit survey. ACM participants will write a report summarizing all of the contributing ACM sociology programs, identifying commonalities and differences. The report will be presented at regional and national sociology conferences to generate interest in the Curriculum Mapping Tool in Sociology.

Our hope is that the ACM sociology programs will build stronger relationships around curriculum discussions, programming, and assessment. We have much to gain by working as a community of scholars engaged in the common enterprise of educating 21st century liberal arts students in the essential knowledge and skills of sociology.

Collaborating partner(s)
Susan Ferguson
Professor, Grinnell College
David Boden
Associate Professor, Lake Forest College
Sociology, Anthropology
Erin Davis
Professor, Cornell College
Charlotte Kunkel
Professor, Luther College
Erik Larson
Professor, Macalester College
Kate Linnenberg
Associate Professor, Beloit College
Wade Roberts
Associate Professor, Colorado College
ACM Program Funding
Funding Cycle
Project Duration
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