BOONE, N.C. — Appalachian State University’s College Access Partnerships has been awarded nearly $12 million in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to implement its Empowering Teacher Learning (ETL) project — a virtual, teacher-directed professional learning program designed to add flexibility to recertification and state licensure renewals for Western North Carolina educators.
The App State awardees of the five-year Education Research and Innovation (EIR) grant, which covers 2021–25, are Dr. James Beeler, director of College Access Partnerships; and Corinne Smith, director of Appalachian GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) — a College Access Partnerships program.
“We are excited to work with the state’s Department of Public Instruction and school districts across Western North Carolina to offer options for self-directed professional learning to middle school educators,” Beeler said. “The Empowering Teacher Learning program will promote teacher voice and choice, and leverage new tools in educator teaching and learning.”
According to College Access Partnerships, App State’s ETL project will impact 500 teachers and approximately 10,000 middle school students at 20 schools across Western North Carolina. College Access Partnerships will begin recruiting partner schools in early 2021.
Beeler explained that App State’s ETL program will supplement the traditional professional development model of in-seat class time with a micro-credentialing model — one that allows regional educators to learn at their own pace, with the content and resources they choose, and be recognized for their efforts.
Doug Thompson, assistant director of curriculum and instructional design in College Access Partnerships, explained the micro-credentialing model: “An educator can access a micro-credential provider’s catalog, identify the skill they would like to develop or the content they would like to learn, complete that micro-credential and demonstrate their competency. Upon successful assessment of the competency, they receive a digital badge that acknowledges their newly acquired skills or understanding.”
With this ETL model of professional learning, Thompson said “teachers can learn new content at any point in their day. The accessibility of online learning empowers educators to be productive professionals on their own schedule and promotes a sense of lifelong learning.”
Additionally, the ETL model, according to Thompson, can reduce costs associated with teacher professional learning by eliminating the need for dedicated professional development days and the subsequent costs of hiring a substitute teacher.
App State is among 28 institutions of higher education, school districts and nonprofit organizations across the nation awarded $185 million in grant funding through the federal EIR program, which is overseen by the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Early Learning Programs.
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About College Access Partnerships
Appalachian State University’s College Access Partnerships supports students from the Appalachian region of North Carolina in finding their own distinct path to postsecondary education. This is accomplished by supporting the work of teachers, counselors and educators, along with providing direct services to students. College Access Partnerships offers the Upward Bound and GEAR UP programs, as well as additional resources for students, families and educators. Learn more at https://gocollege.appstate.edu.