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Building a Curriculum Inventory: Keywords

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Using keywords to tag content within your CI can help you search your curriculum through queries and produce targeted reports. Your technical platform may have additional methods by which you can tag and search your CI, but the use of keywords is one approach that is both within the CI standards and is shared back with your school in your Verification Report.

Reasons and goals for tagging keywords

There are multiple ways you might use the results from a search using keywords. Thinking about the purpose of your keywords, and how you want to use the results, may drive your choices in which keywords you use, and how you apply them. Perhaps you wish to generate reports for your curriculum committee, prepare for an accreditation site visit, inform students where content relevant to a licensing exam is in your curriculum, etc.

Some schools use a very detailed approach, such that there are thousands of terms in their customized keyword list. Other schools use a very high-level approach with fewer terms in their keyword list. Other schools may do both, with a very high-level but also a very detailed, hierarchical keyword list. The approach you choose should align with your goals for how you plan to use your keyword list results.

It is important to prioritize what you and your faculty and staff will have time to maintain. For every element you tag in your CI in detail, it creates a field which must be regularly monitored and updated. It may be that a keyword list of thousands of terms is your first choice, but a shorter keyword list is more feasible given your school’s resources and ability to maintain your CI data from year to year.

Task #1

Determine your school’s goals for use of keyword-tagged CI data and consider what your school has the resources to maintain from year-to-year.

Your school’s implementation plan

Who is going to do your keyword tagging? With some other aspects of your CI, you may be able to delegate the data collection to your staff. For example, curriculum coordinators may be the most knowledgeable about student classroom time.

However, with keywords, a certain amount of content expertise is required, which may mean involving different faculty members per content area. At the same time, you will want to have a consistent approach so that your reports are reliable; recall Chapter 6’s content on a centralized versus decentralized process for collecting and vetting your CI data. For example, what “counts” as interpersonal and communication skills, and therefore warrants a keyword tag in this area – is it if there is discussion during class, if “communication” is in the event title, if the learning objectives focus on the development of communication skills explicitly, etc.? If the faculty are very generous with what “counts” as interpersonal and communication skills content, and thus over-tag with keywords, the resulting search queries and reports may be difficult to use.

Access past chapters of the Building a Curriculum Inventory Guidebook

Task #2

Determine who at your school will do the keyword tagging, how thresholds will be set to prevent over or under-tagging, and how you will ensure consistency in approach across potentially multiple keyword taggers.

AAMC CI standardized keyword list

The CI recommended approach is to use the AAMC Curriculum Inventory keywords. This high-level keyword list is relatively short (i.e., fewer than 100 terms), and provides instructions regarding how to set a threshold for what content warrants a keyword tag. The approach taken to create the keyword list, as well as what it is and is not intended for, is further detailed on the standardized keywords document.

This keyword list is informed by the literature and considered several data sources. However, the use of this standardized keyword list is optional; you may use additional or alternate terms as you desire. Your technical platform may allow you to tag keywords at various levels (program, course, event) of the curriculum, but for AAMC CI purposes, please tag at the event level.

It may be helpful to review the AAMC CI standardized keyword list instructions together with your faculty to help ensure consistency. Just as you would gather your faculty to confirm understanding before implementing an assessment rating scale, faculty can similarly be brought together to ensure common understanding of the keyword implementation.

Task #3

Review the AAMC CI standardized list of keywords and implementation guidelines.

Either you choose to create your own keyword list, or have each faculty member choose any keywords they would like, there may be some issues to resolve:

  • What degree of detail do we want to drill down to for our keywords? Is a high-level list sufficient?
  • What data sources will we use for our keywords?
  • How can we define each of our keywords?
  • At what level will we tag our keywords (e.g., event, course)?
  • What thresholds will we set so that keywords are tagged consistently across content?
  • How will we control for terms with the same meaning (e.g., hypertension vs. high blood pressure) and synonyms?
  • How will we control for capitalization, plurals, and spelling (e.g., Knee, knees, kneees)?
  • How will we maintain our keyword list from year-to-year?

Task #4

Determine your keyword list approach (again the recommended approach is to use the AAMC CI standardized keyword list) and tag each event within your CI.

Key questions

  1. What are our schools’ goals for the use of our CI data once we have tagged with keywords? What kinds of reports do we want to be able to create, and for what purpose?
  2. Who will do our keyword tagging? How will we include our content experts, but also have a centralized process to ensure the accuracy of our keyword tags?
  3. Will we use the AAMC CI standardized keywords? If we are using additional words, how will we choose those terms and execute them?
  4. What kind of faculty and staff development can we provide to ensure our keyword tagging is consistent across content areas?
  5. How will we maintain our keyword accuracy from year-to-year? Be sure this element of your CI data is included in your maintenance plans.

Additional resources

Log in to the Curriculum Community for additional resources, peer-to-peer conversations, and get your questions answered.

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Access past chapters of the Building a Curriculum Inventory Guidebook

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