Much of the attention in the K-12 edtech space is placed on making sure that students have access to technology and curricula designed to improve their learning outcomes and prepare them for a changing employment market.
Less attention is given to what it takes for teachers to be able to attend workshops and training where they can acquire new skills and certifications that help them capitalize on the potential of that technology. For teachers in rural communities, facing the same resource and access challenges as their students, that burden is magnified.
A network of 22 small rural school districts in Kentucky’s Appalachian region is tackling the problem through a virtual professional learning community called Activating Catalytic Transformation.
Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), said the area covered by ACT member schools is about the size of Connecticut. There is no interstate highway running through the area, and there are no public colleges or universities, just one small private college.
“Given this landscape, there’s little to no money for professional development,” said Jennifer Carroll, who leads ACT for KVEC. Through ACT and The Holler, a social learning network developed by KVEC, rural teachers can enhance their professional learning without having to travel outside the region. They simply go online.
ACT has a contract with the nonprofit Digital Promise to create and host a number of microcredentialing programs online, Carroll said. For instance, “we have a lot of new teachers who don’t have a lot of knowledge about [student] assessments, so we have a microcredential in assessment literacy,” she said.
Too often, continuing professional learning consists of “six hours sitting in a chair listening to somebody else,” Hawkins said, “generally consist[ing] of buying a vendor’s product — often just a three-ring binder … This microcredentialing fits well into teachers becoming makers of new learning, [and] by connecting to The Holler, they share their new learning with a whole host of other folks out there.”
Carroll said ACT provides the microcredentialing free of charge, and ACT professionals assess teachers’ performance, rather than issuing a computer-generated grade. “They get actual feedback … It’s a very budget-friendly way, but it’s also the most powerful form of professional development,” she said.
“We believe microcredentials are legitimately what’s around the next curve in the road for professional learning,” she added. “It’s a growing opportunity for folks that’s being recognized in multiple places around the country … It’s such a much more compelling way for educators to learn. It makes them a maker of content, a maker of solutions in their classroom.”