Guided Pathways Example – UCM Compass

What is the technique?

University College Maastricht (UCM) has an open curriculum where students are able to select among 150 different courses to build their own personal curriculum. Such openness in curriculum building also provides a plethora of master's programs that students might be able to select from after UCM. Providing guidance in terms of selecting a program after UCM is what the UCM Compass tool aims to achieve.

UCM Compass consists of  a database of alumni data and course information from all departments of Maastricht University that is accessible to UCM students. By using the online portal to select the courses that students have taken while studying at UCM, and by requesting a recommendation, Compass provides students with information about where alumni with a similar curriculum went to study and work after UCM. Suggestions are based on available data from UCM alumni, and function as a first step that students can take while thinking about their future beyond UCM.

The tool is always available to students from the start of their studies. As they complete courses, they can fill in this information and assess what has changed in terms of the recommendations they get. The more information the student enters into Compass, the more accurately the tool is able to match their curriculum with alumni’s curricula.

Besides providing suggestions for master programs, Compass helps students assess if they fulfill the graduation requirements as they have a visual matrix to fill out with their courses. In case they do not fulfill the graduation requirements, it is possible for them to visually understand what is missing, for example, one out of the four advanced level courses that is part of the graduation requirement.

Compass also allows for creating an overview of the student's curriculum which can be downloaded as a PDF and sent to e.g. their academic advisor and peer advisors to discuss course registration and curriculum planning, the Board of Examiners to inform them as part of requests and proposals and the International Relations Office to inform them as part of semester abroad applications.

Which learning objectives or competencies does it support, and how?

Compass is able to assist students in achieving different learning objectives and competencies. Besides being critical about the academic material that they engage with, students should also think critically about their path at university and beyond. In order to do so, they need to have access to as much information as possible in a format that enables them to think about what they have done, what they need to do and what they can choose from. Compass asks students to actively engage with the tool as it provides information about how to navigate the program while they study at UCM, and suggestions for possible paths to follow. The critical thinking aspect of finding more information about the requirements that still need to be fulfilled --as well as if they align with the requirements of a specific master’s program-- is still left to the student.

As the tool is available to students to use during their studies, it provides them with a reflection tool and an active engagement with their aspirations. For instance, a student might see that an alumnus’s curriculum closely matches with the courses s/he has taken so far, and look at the recommendation that Compass provides. With this information at hand, the student is then able to assess if the suggestions do fit with his/her interests. In case the suggestions align or partially align with the student’s aspiration, s/he can now check the information as well as the requirements for the programs that have been suggested. This process invites students to think about what they might still need to do at UCM, in case they are missing some requirements for the program that they wish to pursue.

How can this tool be implemented?

Compass is available on a website and is based on information about the courses available at UCM as well as Maastricht University. Hence, the tool relies on a database with all the courses available at the institution as well as the level of courses to enable students to fill in their matrices.

Information about alumni needs to be collected in order to match the information between current students’ interests and the master’s program chosen by alumni. Information provided by alumni can be anonymized before being used for Compass as current students do not need to know who the person is. However, another option could be to provide information with approval by the alumnus. This is relevant if students would like to contact a graduate to obtain additional information on for example master’s programs and job opportunities.

The majority of the content can be managed through a Content Management System (CMS). However, the application does not need CMS to work. The current version of the tool used at UCM Wordpress is built as a CMS.