Map making for virtual learning

I love a good map, I really do. A map is our ticket to an unknown future – our way of envisioning the possibilities and of imagining what is yet unseen. And a map is a leap of faith: it requires us to believe the mapmaker who says “trust me, there is some great stuff way over there”. A map helps us know where we are at, where we are going, and how far we’ve come. And a map helps us when we are lost and confused, needing to safely return to our home in order to regroup or restart.

Map making has been an enormous help to me in the development of an effective and meaningful online learning experience as well. After all, what is “online learning” if not an enormous leap of faith? My students haven’t met me, can’t gauge how things are going or when we’re going to land at our final destination, and have no real idea of their speed or distance traveled. I began experimenting with making learning maps during my time at the University of Calgary, and I’ve found it to be a critical tool in both curriculum design, pedagogical preparation, and learning delivery in my online teaching spaces and my face to face learning communities. In fact, I’d be in favour of ditching the syllabus and swapping it out for a map any old time – goodness knows students don’t read that contractual and uninspiring document in the best of times.

This is an example of a learning map for an interdisciplinary, online and inquiry based course proposal that I put together at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. The course changed radically after this iteration of the curriculum design, but the model of the map has stuck with me in my practice ever since then. I use it today for all my classes, and I design my learning management system to mimic the structure of the map sent to students a week before class as well. The map also forms the first slide of all of my online micro lectures and learning activities, just so that we can all see how far we’ve come and where we are headed.

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