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Pathways Made Easy

Pathways Made Easy

The College of Lake County (CLC) in Illinois recently implemented a collaborative curriculum development project focused on career pathways.  Perkins V ushered in a new way of thinking about career and technical education (CTE) by expanding the definition of career pathways.  In Perkins V, career pathways reflect a system that provides students with education, training, work experience, and other supports to advance within a career ladder.  CLC elected to use this expanded definition to help them design new pathways.  In a relatively short period of time, CLC designed pathways for eight programs of study.

Partnering With WIDS

As part of Perkins V, CLC completed a comprehensive local needs assessment and identified programs for pathway development.   With faculty and administrators already stretched to capacity, CLC turned to WIDS for assistance.   “ICCB was hosting webinars on how to do the work.  It was discouraging.  We realized we didn’t have the capacity with our current staff to do it” says Jesse Morales, CLC Project Manager. 

WIDS (Worldwide Instructional Design System) a nonprofit organization that provides curriculum design software, consulting, and training services was ready to help.  WIDS had a long history of consulting with the Wisconsin Technical Colleges on program design: aligning over twenty programs across multiple colleges and assisting faculty with creating Technical Skill Attainments (TSAs).

Morales continued, “Once we had WIDS on board, our cloud dispersed!  We knew we had a plan for moving forward.”

Developing a Process

WIDS laid out a process programs could use to meet the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) criteria for a Program of Study.  “There were a lot of moving parts and components.  We wanted to make sure we had a solid plan before starting,” says Terri Johnson, WIDS Associate Director.   The plan would include WIDS consultants to work side-by-side with CLC program chairs to review their current program and make any necessary changes to meet the ICCB criteria.  In addition, CLC purchased the WIDS Instructional Design Software.  The software provided a tool for developing the pathways and created a consistent structure across multiple programs.

Dr. Richard Ammon, Dean of Engineering, Mathematics, and Physical Science says, “We wanted a methodology that would help us adopt best practices for Career and Technical Education programs going forward.  We were reassessing our processes and practices to reach a higher level of community impact for our community.  The elegance of the WIDS system provided the opportunity for that.”

Faculty Engagement

To begin the process, a team of key CLC players was identified for each program of study including the faculty program chair, the program dean and/or associate dean, the project manager, and the WIDS consultant.  WIDS provided an overview to all teams of the process and planned results.

Some faculty were skeptical.  Would a consultant try to tell them how to redesign their program?  According to Karsten Illg, Welding Department Chair, “Admittedly, I was very apprehensive about working with an outside consultant. However, it became apparent early on that WIDS was not here to dictate what we did but efficiently and professionally organize the process providing unbiased opinion and suggestions.” 

Ammon agreed, “WIDS had the approach and the right people.  And we had the right people on our end too.  We got a lot of faculty buy in with this project. The WIDS approach felt different for faculty because they were a key part of it.” 

Employer Involvement

To fully understand workforce needs, WIDS facilitated a DACUM (Developing a CurriculUM) for each program of study.  DACUMs engage employers in validating job tasks and identifying industry credentials.  

The DACUM process is the gold standard for job skill analysis.  This effective, low-cost method uses high performers within an occupation working with a facilitator in a focus group process.  Traditional DACUMs require 1-2 days of face-to-face meeting with employers.  WIDS knew that workforce shortages and travel restrictions would make that difficult for many employers during the project.  

As a result, WIDS pivoted the practice. They innovated a Rapid DACUM approach that would be doable in a three-hour virtual session with user friendly online tools.  “We thought it would work,” indicated Johnson.  “But we were amazed at the engagement we got from employers.  They were as engaged online as they would have been in-person.”

The DACUM helped identify competencies needed in the program of study as well as potential entry and exit points. 

“We took our credibility with advisory committees to another level when we invited them to participate in the DACUM ,” says Ammon.  “They were part of the process in an important way and that made them feel connected to the outcomes and the college.”

Looking for Gaps

Faculty then worked with WIDS consultants to map DACUM tasks to existing college curriculum.  Several questions were considered using the map:

  • Were some employer-identified tasks absent from the curriculum?
  • Was there unnecessary content in the curriculum?
  • Was there redundancy?

Using the DACUM as a starting point, the program teams met to plan the pathway.  Entry and exit points were evaluated against the DACUM.  Dual credit courses were identified and validated with high school partners.  Industry credentials and potential work-based learning opportunities were defined. “We got to think deeper about what is and what could be,” says Dr. Diane Schael, Early Childhood Program Director. “WIDS asked the hard questions.”

WIDS Software

CLC used the Pathway module in the WIDS software to build and document the work.  Once the course information was imported to WIDS, the program was created and courses linked.  Seeing how courses are embedded across certificates into the degree was a valuable tool for faculty discussions. 

Looking at a graphic representation of the pathway using the software tools was an efficient approach for considering how students would move through the pathway.  “WIDS helps you see how your short-term stackable credentials lead to a degree.  It also helps you see where things might be out of alignment,” says Johnson.  “Well-planned and deliberate curriculum development is central to pathway design.”

Ammon spoke highly of the WIDS software, “The discipline of the WIDS product makes faculty think through the whole curriculum development process from beginning to end.  It allowed our faculty to see the big picture and then tweak the curriculum to achieve the career pathways industry was asking for. It was an educational process for faculty.  It gave them a better understanding of the interconnectedness of pieces of the curriculum in the program.”

Once the pathway was designed, faculty worked in WIDS to write program outcomes and create curriculum maps—mapping program outcomes, college-wide outcomes, and industry standards.  “WIDS curriculum maps are a very visual way for faculty to see how they are meeting outcomes across courses in a program,” says Johnson. “And they are easy to create in WIDS.  Faculty like that they can control the curriculum in WIDS and make changes going forward.”


Ammon reflects, “WIDS helped us speed to launch curricular changes.” In less than six months CLC:

  • designed fourteen new certificates
  • revised ten certificates
  • modified six associate degree plans
  • designed one new associate degree.

Eight programs will result in a cost savings for students because the certificates include fewer credits.  It’s a win for the college too. Overall, CLC projects the program changes will increase revenue by over $300,000. 

Ammon concludes, “We are in a different place than we were a year ago. We have reinvigorated programs.  Faculty engagement is increased. We have strengthened our partnerships with industry and K12.  And the whole process was most important for the student.  They are the big winners.  They are able to ladder in and out of their academic programs.  Programs now include short-term credentials so students can leverage them to become a preferred candidate for a job.” 

Morales agrees, “Our college leadership is endorsing this process as the type of work all programs should complete.  It was intentional and purposeful.  All of this works to help support our student success initiative.”

Be sure to check out our free download Program of Study Checklist. It's a great tool when meeting with faculty to help them begin the process.

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