Understanding milestones

So far in our explanation of Compass’ curriculum design theory, we’ve got as far as defining trajectories: strands of student development which have starting and ending points defined according to their sophistication (through Bloom’s taxonomy) and complexity (through an adapted SOLO taxonomy known as STRIP).

Graduate attributes and programme goal statements might be perfectly sculpted ideals, but they’re also big, fluffy, and difficult for the practical teacher to pin down.  Our day-to-day, week-to-week teaching practices are small, concrete, and specific.  The trouble with even great curriculum designs is that there’s been no way to link the overall, fluffy goals with the discrete, contained, specific teaching practices.

Milestones lie between the start and end points of a trajectory and serve as extra points of reference along the way.  They are way-points, markers, further levels of refinement.  Milestones have coordinates of sophistication (Bloom’s) and complexity (STRIP) in the same way as the trajectory’s start and end points do, but also have a description, and – later, when the design of the curriculum is final – are associated with a paper.

In the previous article we drew a diagram with axes of Bloom’s taxonomy and the STRIP taxonomy, and used it to explain the idea of trajectories.  Now we add to that diagram and define milestones along those trajectories, as the yellow points in the diagram below.

The milestones have a location on the diagram, so are associated with their own levels of sophistication and complexity according to our taxonomies, giving us the ability to see how development or progression happens.  Babies go from nothing, to rocking on their hands, to crawling, to toddling, to walking, to running, and each of these steps works best when it is developed in the right order.  To understand something, you need knowledge about it.  In order to apply something, it’s best if you understand it first.  You get the idea.

Actions for programme planners: 1 
Use the trajectories you created earlier and define some sensible stages for the student progression.  These will have skills and complexities which are intermediate to the start and end points of the trajectory, and will encourage students to walk before they run.  For information on how to enter these into Compass, please see the information about creating a new milestone  Note:  If you are designing a new programme from scratch, don’t think about these milestones in terms of papers just yet, only in broad terms of developmental stages.  In this way, the definition of a paper becomes something with true significance to the students’ development, rather than an arbitrary unit of teaching.  Once you have all the milestones for all the trajectories defined, we can them assemble them into the new paper definitions.

The third dimension …

Milestones become more than just a point on the map when we use them to add a third dimension: practicality.  The first reason to use Bloom’s and STRIP to show trajectories and milestones is because they are handy ways for the programme planners to describe the stages of students’ development.  But in order for them to be truly practicable, their information must be shown to the teachers as well.  Milestones have two important pieces of information to share with teachers: coordinates and context.

  • First, the coordinates of the milestone define – using the taxonomies – the kinds of activities (assessments, class work, etc) which will most help the students’ cognitive development at that point in time.  This is the equivalent of bouncing a crawling baby on their feet to strengthen their legs, so that later they can walk; there would be no point in encouraging them to leap hurdles while they’re still crawling, or to teach them to crawl when they can already run.  Milestones can thus help inform appropriate assessments and activities at their Bloom’s and STRIP coordinate levels.
  • Milestones also contain notes from the programme planner to the teacher of the paper which give extra context, background, design notes, and explanations of the expectations which the programme has from that paper.  Where a paper serves as a milestone in multiple programmes (for example, engineering students from all nine engineering programmes share common maths classes), the paper’s teachers can then see better how to balance between everyone’s needs and expectations.

In the above diagram, the yellow dot on the mathematics trajectory has coordinates of application and multi-structural.  Of course, the teacher may interpret these as she or he chooses, but Compass also uses these coordinates to filter a database of assessment types which are categorised by their Bloom’s and STRIP levels. The assessments are linked in turn to appropriate learning activities, and both sets are linked to the access skills on which they depend.  These are explained in the next chapter, where we look at the three A’s of paper planning: Assessment, activities, and access skills and how they’re used to give practical help to teachers.

Actions for planners: 2
If you are designing a programme from scratch, you can now begin to assemble the milestone definitions from all your trajectories into sensible groups. These groups should ideally use similar levels of sophistication and complexity, as well as having topic areas or contexts which can work well together. Use the milestone page to create them and drag and drop as needed.  Later, these will be pinned to papers.  These combined definitions become the outline for your paper instances. When these groups are defined, you can create new papersets and paper instances for your programme before going on with the next steps.
If you are working with an existing group of papers, or have created new ones as above, you can create your milestones in the papers to which they best correspond or simply create your milestones now, and pin them to papers later on.