Creation and Implementation of a Taxonomy for Educational Activities: A Common Vocabulary to Guide Curriculum Mapping

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Abstract

Problem

Undergraduate medical education (UME) has trended toward outcomes-based education, unveiling new issues for UME program organization and leadership. Using a common language for categorizing and linking all program components is essential. The Emory Curriculum Alignment Taxonomy (ECAT) was designed as a common vocabulary for curriculum mapping in the outcomes-based environment of the Emory University School of Medicine.

Approach

The ECAT, developed in 2016, uses a set of 291 controlled identifiers, or “tags,” to describe every educational activity’s content, instruction, assessment, and outcomes, and thereby to align teaching inputs with student outcomes. Tags were drawn from external frameworks or developed by local stakeholders. A key feature is the arrangement of tags into eight categories, with the aim of balancing specificity and parsimony. Tags from multiple categories can be combined using Boolean operators to search for specific topics across the curriculum.

Outcomes

In 2016–2017, all educational activities were tagged, including classroom events, workplace learning, mentored research, and student assessments. Tagging was done by two assistant deans and course/clerkship directors, which reinforced the importance of aligning instruction with assessment and aligning both of these with student outcomes.

Next Steps

Using the ECAT tags has linked instruction with achievement of student outcomes, has shown the compromises between specificity and parsimony were workable, and has facilitated comprehensive program management and evaluation. As the ECAT tags can be modified, other programs could adapt this approach to suit their context. Next steps will include aggregating data into a centralized repository to support reporting and research.

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