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Training Counselors to use computer-assisted career guidance systems more effectively: a model curriculum.

A model graduate training curriculum that emphasizes the counselor's role in assisting clients in the effective use of computer-assisted career guidance (CACG) systems is described. This 4-module graduate training program emphasizes client readiness and exploration using CACG systems, skill building and simulation exercises, and service learning with career clients. The study is evaluated from the perspectives of counselor educators, counselor trainees, and career clients. Findings from 4 institutions support the efficacy of a model curriculum for graduate training and the beneficial outcomes of using CACG systems under appropriate conditions.


There is mounting evidence suggesting increased use of computers for career exploration and planning (Behrens & Altman, 1998; Boyce & Rainie, 2002; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2003). For example, the percentage of high school students using computerized career information sources increased from 27% in 1984 to over 57% in 2002 (NCES, 2003). Furthermore, recent estimates suggest that I out of every 5 Americans has searched online for occupational information and that more than 4 million users do so daily (Boyce & Rainie, 2002). Not surprisingly, a large number of Internet-delivered computer-assisted career guidance (CACG) systems have been developed in the last decade. The increased use and proliferation of CACG systems have led some authors to call for the development of formal, graduate-level training on the selection and implementation of them (Harris-Bowlsbey, 1983; Sampson, 1994). This call is consistent with the development of guidelines and standards that address both the quality of CACG programs and the effective and proper use of these programs by career counselors (American School Counselor Association, 1998; National Board for Certified Counselors and the Center for Credentialing and Education, 2001; National Career Development Association, 1997). Career counselors today need to understand the capabilities, benefits, and shortcomings of CACG systems as well as how to effectively use these systems with their clients. The purpose of this article is to describe a model graduate training curriculum designed to promote "best practices" with CACG systems and to present results from a pilot test of this curriculum.

In developing the model curriculum, we considered literature supporting the efficacy of CACG systems, recommendations for training counselors on the use of these systems, and recently identified critical ingredients that promote the efficacy of career choice interventions. Studies of the effectiveness of CACG systems have generally shown them to be effective in promoting career development and exploration (Fukuyama, Probert, Neimeyer, Nevill, & Metzler, 1988; Luzzo & Pierce, 1996; Peterson, Ryan-Jones, Sampson, Reardon, & Shahnasarian, 1994). Results from a recent meta-analysis (Whiston, Brecheisen, & Stephens, 2003), however, suggest that the effectiveness of computer-guided interventions were improved substantially if client-counselor contact took place during the time that the client was using the computer. Taber and Luzzo (1999) also suggested supplementing the use of CACG systems with individual career counseling. These findings led us to develop a model curriculum that calls for the integration of individual counseling and computer-assisted guidance.

Specific recommendations on how to train counselors to become proficient in the effective use of CACG systems were also incorporated into our model curriculum. For example, Johnson and Sampson (1985) suggested that counselors have hands-on experiences with CACG systems and receive training in how to integrate the use of CACG systems into an ongoing counseling relationship. These authors suggested the use of both didactic and experiential training strategies. McCarthy, Moller, and Beard (2003) further emphasized the importance of providing students with training in the practical and ethical problems that can arise from the use of the Internet in counseling. Our curriculum includes didactic training, practical experience, and an opportunity for graduate students to process their experiences with fellow counselor trainees and counselor educators.

Brown and his colleagues (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Brown et al., 2003) recently identified five critical components integral to the effectiveness of career choice interventions: written exercises, individualized interpretations and feedback from counselors, information on the world of work, modeling, and support building. Brown and colleagues' research strongly suggests that beneficial career counseling outcomes are a function of the extent to which these ingredients are included. Our model curriculum is designed to emphasize the importance of combining individualized assessment feedback and interpretation with computerized exploration of occupational information. Emphasis was also placed on the use of written materials to help clients compare occupations as well as articulate career plans and action steps. In addition, the curriculum promotes ongoing consideration of support networks that may influence clients' career choices. By training counselors to integrate the critical ingredients into their use of CACG systems with career clients, we enhance the efficacy of these systems as career intervention tools.


Treatment Facilitators and Participants

Five experienced counselor educators (three women, two men; some of whom are also among the authors of this article) from four higher education institutions (two midwestern, two northeastern) agreed to incorporate the model training into their graduate career counseling courses. These educators enrolled 81 graduate-level counselor trainees in their courses during the semester this study was conducted. Sixty-three of these counselor trainees (48 women, 15 men) volunteered to participate in this study. The participants recruited 76 volunteer career clients (33 girls or women, 43 boys or men). These career clients were 55 high school students and 21 college students.


A model graduate training curriculum was designed to promote CACG systems "best practices" by enhancing counselor trainees' understanding of CACG systems and by providing trainees with strategies for using these systems effectively with clients presenting a variety of needs. The goals for the curriculum are (a) to provide accurate and relevant information about CACG systems, (b) to provide a practice component in the form of a simulation, and (c) to provide an opportunity for counselor trainees to apply their knowledge and skills in working with secondary and/or postsecondary students. The curriculum includes both guided-study and experiential elements and involves two 2-hour class periods and one to two on-site field experiences. Table 1 provides an overview of the four components of the graduate curriculum. A more detailed description can be obtained from the first author.

Component 1: The Role of CACG Systems and Professional Standards

The first component involves guided study in four topical areas: (a) the context of CACG systems and their uses, (b) ethical issues, (c) selecting a guidance system to use with clients, and (d) factors that may either enable or hinder a client's use of CACG systems. Guided study familiarizes counselor trainees with practical issues that they are likely to confront when selecting or using CACG systems. For example, it is important for counselor trainees to know that it is difficult to maintain client/student confidentiality in an Internet environment. In addition, some Internet-based career systems do not provide data on the reliability and validity of their assessments or the credentials of authors of Web sites. Furthermore, most CACG systems do not screen users for decision-making readiness, which can negatively affect clients who are not prepared to make career decisions.

Component 2: Mastering a CACG System

The second component of the curriculum is designed to orient counselor trainees to a specific CACG system. For this study, we used the Internet version of DISCOVER (ACT, 2003), because it provides a comprehensive database of information on occupations, schools, and majors and helps clients organize this information using the World-of-Work Map. Counselors can use this program, with its companion "tool kit," to assist clients with career exploration and decision making. This tool kit includes exercises and curricular elements that enhance the process of comparing occupations and future career planning. The tool kit includes career tools (off-line exercises to help clients identify needs, goals, barriers, and enablers as well as develop a career plan, select schools, and evaluate a job offer) and materials designed to assist counselors who see clients with a variety of career planning needs. The career materials in this kit complement the online features provided by the Internet program so they can be used together for more comprehensive and effective career guidance.

Component 3: Skill Building

The third component involves a simulation and subsequent discussion. Counselor trainees work in pairs to carry out a simulation using the Internet career guidance program. One individual adopts the role of counselor while the other one adopts the role of client. The client describes a specific career-related need to the counselor (referring to the tool kit for help in identifying different needs). These needs correspond to common career planning steps: self-exploration, exploring educational or career options, specifying a choice, making plans, and taking action. The counselor trainee must then determine which exercises may be useful and which parts of the program to use. Once completed, the trainee and client critique the process. As a pair, they consider what worked well during the simulated counseling experience, what presented difficulties, and what issues arose that may influence the client-counselor relationship.

Component 4: Service Learning

The fourth component involves a field experience during which counselor trainees apply what they have learned as they provide individual counseling and guidance to high school or college student career clients. This component provides the counselor trainees with an opportunity to further refine their skills in a supervised environment. Counselor trainees work to develop rapport with their clients, obtain background information, determine client needs, and set counseling goals. Using client information, the counselor trainee determines which interventions and CACG system components will most likely meet clients' needs. Counselor trainees supervise their clients as they use DISCOVER and answer questions as needed. At the end of the counseling session, counselor trainees and clients discuss what goals were accomplished, next steps, and possible follow-up with the counselor trainee or a referral to a school counselor. Counselor trainees are required to write case summaries after completing their field experience.

Counselor educators implemented the curriculum by delivering it as documented in the curriculum manual. The counselor trainees met with their respective career client(s) one or more times at local high schools or colleges, and they developed individualized treatment plans to assist clients with their career planning needs. Feedback from the counselor educators, counselor trainees, and career clients was obtained through open-ended questions, online computer records, counselor observations, case scenario essays, and case summaries.


Counselor Educators

The response from counselor educators to the four components of the graduate training curriculum model was overwhelmingly positive. They considered the curriculum content contemporary, well organized, and complete, with broad coverage of assessment/appraisal and information/intervention functions. The sequence of hands-on experience with DISCOVER followed by a field experience was considered a sound learning sequence. One educator was surprised and impressed that the counselor trainees seemed naturally motivated to creatively integrate the materials into their practice without needing direction. Another educator indicated that the program was versatile, stating that it was "appropriate to a wide range of transitions and students' presenting concerns." In contrast, counselor educators identified one major limitation: Given the many topics typically covered in career development classes, counselor educators in the present study suggested it would be difficult to devote two class periods exclusively to the CACG curriculum.

Counselor Trainees

The counselor trainees explored many sections in DISCOVER, most frequently visiting inventories, occupations, schools, and majors. On average, they spent approximately 1 hour in the program. Eighty-nine percent of counselor trainees reported that they liked the program, indicating that it was user-friendly, informative, and helpful for exploring and narrowing career options. Sixty-three percent of them thought career clients might have difficulty with the program. For example, the counselor trainees thought that clients might have difficulty understanding assessment results or narrowing options on their own. The majority (83%) of counselor trainees considered the curriculum materials helpful, and many noted that the materials contained relevant information for understanding and using DISCOVER and its tool kit.

Seventy-two percent of counselor trainees indicated they increased their knowledge of CACG systems and career-related information. More than one third of them learned to approach career planning in a more systematic and logical way through using DISCOVER and the tool kit. Furthermore, most of the counselor trainees reported learning new counseling skills as they worked with clients. Thirty-four percent of counselor trainees reported that the experience encouraged them to reflect on their role as counselor. One concern expressed by some trainees was how to provide clients with guidance without making their decisions for them, especially when working with undecided clients. Another concern was how to appropriately assess client needs (e.g., degree of readiness, level of anxiety) in order to use the program more effectively to help clients. A number of counselor trainees reported having more confidence in their ability to work effectively with clients using CACG systems after taking part in this study.

Upon completion of the components of the curriculum, counselor trainees submitted case scenario essays that were designed to evaluate their mastery of the knowledge and skills considered essential in using technology to assist clients with career planning. Two trained experts, using a scoring rubric, rated the essays, determining whether a trainee passed (received a score at or above 80% of the total number of possible points) or did not pass. Interrater reliability was calculated for the ratings assigned by the experts. The percentage of agreement was 89, and the kappa was .70. On the basis of the results of the essay ratings, 75% of counselor trainees mastered the essay, indicating that they were able to apply the knowledge and skills needed to use CACG systems when assisting individuals with career planning.

Career Clients

The counselor trainees spent an average of 2.7 hours with each career client. Clients' needs ranged from selecting schools, majors, and occupations to determining options to making a career choice. The career clients visited a variety of sections in the DISCOVER program, with inventories, occupations, schools, and majors being the most popular. On average, the clients spent 1 hour using DISCOVER and engaging in career-planning activities. More than 50% of clients reported that they learned more about themselves (52%) and the world of work (55%) from their counseling experiences. Thirty-two percent of clients reported learning more about prospective schools. Twenty-three percent of clients said they gained an understanding of how their personal characteristics could inform their career choices.

The career counseling experience also influenced clients' confidence in their ability to make informed career decisions. More than 58% of clients reported increased levels of confidence after their counseling experience, and many reported that the experience with a CACG program guided them in a positive direction. Of the 10% of clients who reported a decreased level of confidence after using the program, most expressed being overwhelmed and confused by what was available in the program. Eighty-four percent of clients expressed intent to engage in additional career-related activities after their counseling experience. Many planned to visit, apply to, or seek additional information about colleges. Other frequently reported plans included speaking with parents and/or career counselors, searching for additional information about occupations, pursuing internship opportunities and job shadowing, and speaking with people employed in occupations of interest to the clients.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The model curriculum described in this study represents an important first step in ensuring that career counselors are prepared both to properly select CACG systems and to use them with their clients. As the number of career-related Web products and services grows, counselors will increasingly face the challenge of identifying quality sites and using those sites in ways that serve the unique needs of each individual client.

In this study, counselor trainees were prepared to use CACG systems effectively in counseling high school and college clients in their career planning. The counselor trainees enhanced their knowledge and skills related to CACG systems and better understood issues (e.g., client lack of motivation, foreclosure of options) that can influence career counseling. They gained valuable experience in assessing clients' needs and developing intervention experiences that address those needs. Clients expanded their knowledge of self and the world of work, were motivated to engage in future career exploration activities, and felt more confident in their ability to make career decisions after their counseling experience with a CACG program.

Given the increased and varied uses of CACG systems and the development and implementation of a formal training curriculum on the use of CACG systems, continued research that compares the use and effectiveness of CACG systems with and without the use of a structured curriculum is warranted. There is also a need for more rigorous research designs to determine the extent to which CACG-system training is effective. Such research must be methodologically sound and use psychometrically supportable outcome assessments. In this study, there was no random sample or control group, and established instruments were not used to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. Furthermore, there may not have been sufficient instructional consistency due to the flexible nature of the curriculum and differences in the way that the counselor educators used it. The short duration of client treatment also limits the ability to evaluate the potential long-term effectiveness of integrating an Internet career guidance program into the career counseling process. More systematic studies with larger and more diverse samples over longer periods of time can provide results that are generalizable and that include more detail on the beneficial outcomes of CACG programs and this curriculum for clients who access such programs. Through this type of research, counselors can make informed decisions about their use of CACG systems to help them provide effective career interventions.
TABLE 1 Components of Career Guidance Graduate Training Curriculum

Component Description

Role of CACG Systems Topic 1: CACG Systems Context--opportunities
 and Professional available in using CACG systems, main
 Standards: Minilecture functions of CACG systems, and comparison of
 Topics available computer-based career guidance
 Topic 2: Ethical Issues--research-based
 assessments, user readiness,
 confidentiality, and the process of career
 decision making
 Topic 3: Selecting a CACG System--
 organizational guidelines, standards, and
 goals; career guidance theory; and guiding
 questions for choosing a CACG system
 Topic 4: Enablers and Barriers--demographic
 issues, motivation, self-regulation, and
 other factors as they relate to career
 guidance systems
 Materials that counselors can use to carry out
Mastering a CACG career exercises with clients, flowcharts to
 System: DISCOVER assist counselors in guiding users through
 Tool Kit DISCOVER, and information that describes how
 the program may be used with individuals and
 Using the Internet-based version of DISCOVER
Skill Building: Graduate with the DISCOVER tool kit, pairs of
 Student Simulation students role-play as counselors and clients
 throughout the career exercise. Graduate
 students process the experience from
 different perspectives and consider what
 worked well, what presented difficulties,
 and potential implications.
 As an extension of the classroom experience,
Service Learning: Field graduate students (using content and
 Experience practice components) carry out an
 experiential exercise with secondary or
 postsecondary individuals using DISCOVER.
 The field experience encourages the
 application of classroom material in
 authentic settings.


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Becky L. Bobek, Steven B. Robbins, and Paul A. Gore Jr., ACT, Iowa City, Iowa; JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, Education, School Counseling Department, Loyola College, Maryland; Richard T. Lapan, Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology Department, University of Missouri-Columbia; Carol A. Dahir, Department of Education, New York Institute of Technology; David A. Jepsen, Counselor Education, Division of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development, The University of Iowa. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the National Career Development Association, Boulder, Colorado. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Becky L. Bobek, ACT, Inc., 500 ACT Drive, PO Box 168, Iowa City, IA 52243-0168 (
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Title Annotation:computer-assisted career guidance
Author:Jepsen, David A.
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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