Managing Curriculum Development in New Model Education


Over the last year, my team and I have created a single-source-of-truth accounting for the Software Engineering program at The Flatiron School built on AirTable. I believe this system offers a superior means for managing curriculum development, documentation, and collaboration.

I’ve written a series of posts documenting this solution that starts here.

The audience for the full series is fellow-educators or content-production pipeline managers. In this post, I’ll provide an introduction to the problem at hand.


Let me express thanks to our executive sponsor, my boss, Brian Tobal as well as my staff: Jen, Maxwell, Mohawk, our previous collaborators Jason and Daniel. Let me also thank the countless issue-reporters or pull-request authors that helped along the way. It was Brian’s faith in the idea of “modular” curriculum and support for it at the organizational level when the ROI was murky that gave us the time to prove the payoff to our convictions.

I believe that the secret to designing thoughtful educational experiences as well as teams that design them is building a robust artifact that I call an accounting.

“The Accounting

An “accounting” can be grasped by this graphic:

Knowledge Graph Accounting Italian Cooking Italian Cooking Pasta Pasta Italian Cooking->Pasta Meats Meats Italian Cooking->Meats Pasta Foundations Pasta Foundations Pasta->Pasta Foundations Sauce Foundations Sauce Foundations Pasta->Sauce Foundations ... ... Meats->... How to boil water How to boil water Pasta Foundations->How to boil water How to drain water How to drain water Pasta Foundations->How to drain water How to assess pasta readiness How to assess pasta readiness Pasta Foundations->How to assess pasta readiness

To translate into words, the accounting:

  1. documents the binding between atomic student capabilities ("Learning Goals") and macro-objects ("Lessons") or nth-order macro-objects (e.g. "Unit", "Modules", or "Products"), and
  2. calculates the chain of dependencies for any given capability that includes its recursive dependencies back to first principles (i.e. transitive dependencies)

In a textual format, this graphical accounting above might be rendered as:

Textual description of an **accounting**
  • "Italian Cooking" would contain "Pasta Foundations" and "Sauce Foundations"
    • "Pasta Foundations" would itself contain:
      • "How to boil water"
      • "How to drain water"
      • "How to assess pasta readiness"
    • "Sauce Foundations"
      • etc.

In more technical language, the accounting is the directed graph of the “Learning Goals” based on a recursive descent from the highest containing macro-object.

Why Generate An Accounting?

Creation of an accounting is a non-trivial draw on resources. Depending on technical and operational expertise of the team, it could be quite costly. Nevertheless, I believe the conversations it occasions are worth the investment. Two powerful applications are discussed below:

  1. Facilitation of Educational Dialogue
  2. Team Management

To Facilitate Educational Dialogue

The accounting gives the organization better tools for communication and collaboration.

Students might ask: “Why must I repeat ‘Pasta Foundations’?”

Advisors could say: “Because you could not ‘boil water,’ you could not demonstrate mastery of the other two criteria. You should focus there. Let’s look at your performance on the ‘Practice Boiling Water 1’ challenge and your scores on the ‘Boiling Water Assessment.'”

Conversely, an oversight organization could ask: “What skills must be mastered to pass ‘Italian Cooking?'” This answer could be calculated programmatically to build out the set of most-atomic competencies, or learning goals.

To Manage Production Teams at Scale

Not only does an accounting fulfill the needs of accounting for Learning Goals and their containing objects within an educational context, it also:

  • organizes the writing team’s effort
  • scaffolds quality-assurance processes
  • provides transparent status to role-adjacent stakeholders with little/no marginal work
  • generates artifacts required by licensing bodies instantly
  • provides a menu of our current offerings for new customers

That is, it helps authors to create, managers to manage, and teams to collaborate.


If you’d like to learn more about accountings of learning goals, peruse the paper.