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Educator's Review: Instructional Design: Easier with WIDS

Anne Arundel Community College, in Arnold, Md., has many excellent instructional staff and faculty and plenty of technology. But we weren’t sure how to proceed with revamping the college’s developmental reading program.

It was time to change—but how? How do you take two very traditional workbook and worksheet-based developmental reading classes and transform them into a comprehensive program that truly meets the needs of under-prepared students?

Research into best practices, along with one of our mission mandates focusing on learning outcomes, clearly directed the faculty toward a performance-based learning model—one that specifies learning results in advance of instruction. The WIDS (Worldwide Instructional Design System) model, a comprehensive strategic plan for learning and assessment design, fit our goals.

WIDS offers a set of tools to educators to facilitate competency-based curriculum design. These include a curriculum design model, training, and software. WIDS is a division of the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the advancement of vocational, technical, and adult education.

Sometimes it is all too convenient to write a content outline, state a few objectives, identify a textbook, and consider a course developed. Genuine course and program development require a great deal of thought, starting with the end—the outcomes you expect—in mind. WIDS provided a consistent framework and terminology for our curriculum development. It was logical, systematic, and helped us think like experienced instructional designers.

Course and Program Design
The WIDS software served as a tool—not a be all and end all—in our development. The application is a database, and walked us through elements of our course and program design. From the first step—determining what you want the learner to be able to do as a result of the course—through development of specific learning and assessment activities, WIDS helped us think about curriculum and what was being asked of learners. Among the questions raised:

  • Who is the learner?
  • What do you want the learner to be able to do? (competency)
  • What supporting skills, knowledge, and processes d'es the learner need to know in order to do this? (learning objectives)
  • How will you know when the learner has achieved the competency? (performance assessment task)
  • How will the learner go about achieving the competency? (learning activities/ learning plans)

WIDS software is easily navigable with buttons and menus—truly point and click. The program also provides on-screen, step-by-step directions for every aspect of the process. A verb library is provided, for example, with over 600 verbs classified according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Elements of a course can be linked to other elements, such as a competency to a core ability or external national, state, or professional standard (provided in a Standard Library). Each competency is linked to its associated learning objectives, learning activities, performance assessment tasks, criteria and conditions for success, and standards. This allows you to create new courses from existing ones, picking and choosing competencies/associated elements from a Competency Bank.

Occupational Analysis
The DACUM (Developing a Curriculum Module) provides over 60 DACUM charts, and allows you to enter your own. Duties and tasks can then be connected with the rest of the curriculum design process.

As far as output, you can determine what you want included in reports, and how the reports are formatted. A "Course Outcome Summary" is a perfect overview of the course. A "Learning Plan" provides students with the clearest, cleanest, most thorough answer to the perennial question, "Did I miss anything yesterday when I was absent?" A "Performance Assessment Task" shows a student in advance exactly what he or she must do in order to demonstrate mastery—removing subjectivity in grading. A "Syllabus" delineates the course requirements, assignment schedule, instructor and departmental policies, even the ADA statement. Little or no additional input is required to generate these and other customized documents in Microsoft Word and HTML.

Our reading department now has a comprehensive four-course, outcomes-based program.

When a student leaves a course and moves on, the instructor in the next course can be confident that the skills required were learned and mastery has been clearly demonstrated in a measurable way. Part-time instructors have a "standard" course syllabus with well-defined course competencies, linked to our college-wide goals and departmental policies.

All in all, our strategic planning for learning paid off. We continue to meet learning and teaching challenges with the use of WIDS.

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