Michigan Community Colleges: Colleges Coalesce Around eLearning Platform

A group of Michigan community colleges has launched a major initiative focusing on learner-centered outcomes and standards, with the help of WIDS software, training, and design models. WIDS, or Worldwide Instructional Design System, is a set of software and training tools developed by the Wisconsin Technical College System. It is an approach to teaching, assessment, and outcomes measurement that is now in place in 300 schools and school systems in the United States and abroad.

Michigan’s Department of Career Development partnered with WIDS last year to support curriculum development and advance a competency-based curriculum. Says Jim Folkening, director of the department’s Office of Postsecondary Services: “Michigan community colleges have always had a commitment to academic quality. Recently, though, because of initiatives such as (Academic Quality Improvement Project) and others, we’ve begun offering incentives to the various campuses to implement specific programs. Academic improvement is the goal. WIDS is the technological platform many of the schools are using to reach it.”

The software, now in its seventh version, allows educators to build courses online or offline, and produce outcome summaries, reports, syllabi, teaching plans, and performance assessment reports. The new software is faster, more functional, and more Web-friendly than its predecessors. Users can now generate work directly to HTML, for instance. The software features wizards that simplify document creation. It also allows more experienced users to forego the wizards in favor of customized output.

WIDS has been implemented by 26 of Michigan’s 28 community colleges. Since the adoption of the statewide contract, over 300 instructors have completed the basic WIDS training. Many have gone on to create learner-centered courses and programs using the WIDS model. The community college system now has 50 coach trainers who will work as assistant trainers teaching new faculty initiates. Folkening notes that there is interest in WIDS across the board. “Enthusiasm for WIDS depends on the personality of the instructor,” he says, not on the discipline from which he or she comes.

Distance learning is a major application of WIDS. The ability to take documents directly into HTML and WIDS’ compatibility with Blackboard, the platform in place at Michigan community colleges, makes it a natural choice for developing online courses. At Muskegon Community College, for instance, faculty are building distance learning courses from scratch using WIDS.

Although the implementation of WIDS statewide is relatively new, some Michigan schools had individual WIDS licenses long before the state contract was put into place. Mott Community College, for instance, has worked with WIDS for seven years. Over 100 of its instructors have completed basic WIDS training. Seven Mott faculty members have completed trainer-level preparation and now work with onsite faculty who need support implementing WIDS techniques. At Mott, WIDS is used for any course that is modularized—that is, any course that is developed in components—as well as many standard courses.

According to Lynn Thigpen, an instructor in Mott’s Communications Technology program, WIDS has been a great boon to their campus. “Mott has always been a leader in providing distance education, first via videotape and now via both videotape and some online courses,” says Thigpen. “WIDS has given us a better instructional design model for distance education courses.”

Thigpen believes that WIDS has given teachers a better tool for working with student performance. “It helps instructors work with students to solve problems,” she says. Also, from a faculty development standpoint, WIDS has made a significant contribution by getting all faculty members on the same page, pedagogically and structurally. “Using the same system gets everyone talking a common language.”

Folkening expects the focus on outcomes to continue, with WIDS being part of the picture. Their three-year contract is designed to give the community colleges time to train plenty of coach trainers who will then carry on the WIDS mission. At the moment there is no shortage of interest among faculty who want to learn the WIDS system. “Success breeds success,” says Folkening.

For more information visit www.wids.org or contact Robin Soine, WIDS, at (800) 821-6313 or soiner@wids.org.

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