Addressing College-wide Outcomes in Curriculum
Community and technical colleges are integrating “lifelong learning skills” that go beyond specific knowledge or occupational areas. These transferable skills are essential to an individual's intellectual, physical, and emotional success regardless of occupational or life role. In Silva's 2008 "Measuring Skills for the 21st Century" report, she says "decades of research reveal that there is, in fact, no reason to separate the acquisition of learning core content and basic skills from more advanced analytical and thinking skills." In the WIDS model, these skills are often called organization or college-wide outcomes.
The Curriculum Challenge
The challenge to include college-wide outcomes is that there is no exact formula for incorporating them into the curriculum. The first step, Healy notes, is to banish these outcomes as "invisible curriculum" and explicitly name and post them. Healy describes these types of skills as critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration, and community contribution. The fact that these skills can sometimes seem ambiguous, abstract, and even controversial adds to the challenge of getting them into the curriculum.
Many colleges currently promote lifelong learning as a core value in their mission statements. Few colleges consider these skills as unimportant, even in relationship to academics. Colleges are perfect arenas for social interaction and fertile ground for the development of skills useable outside a discipline or classroom. Typically, however, lifelong learning skills are not stated at the course level and therefore, not planned into the curriculum. A traditional curricular format has no vehicle for explicitly stating and assessing these skills. As a result, life long learning skills have been over-shadowed by content-specific competencies.
WIDS: Define, Link, Assess, Integrate, Document
WIDS software and consultants help educators specify and integrate these skills into the curriculum in a systematic way. By designing, linking, and assessing them at the course level, teachers can bring the broad goals of the mission to the frontlines of the classroom -- where learners can apply them in a variety of contexts. For example, students involved in group work address the skill of "work cooperatively." Students practice working together to achieve a goal, and they might be evaluated on their ability to work as team members in addition to their academic or technical skill. They can "learn effectively" by seeking and interpreting information rather than relying on information the teacher provides. Students could also self-assess, using a rubric designed in WIDS, as to how well they have demonstrated these skills throughout the course. They could provide feedback about the skills to one another and reflect.
WIDS software addresses integration of organization outcomes in a variety of ways. The software comes pre-loaded with a library of common organization outcomes, each containing example performance criteria. Educators can browse the WIDS Academic or Employability Skills Library, choosing and linking these skills to programs, courses, and competencies. They can develop or import their own organization outcomes too. The skills can be incorporated into performance assessment, by adding the indicators to a rubric or checklist. Learner behavior is then observed and evidence of an outcomes, such as "communicate clearly", is documented.