Innovative education program to train 5,000 K-12 educators in rural Appalachian communities


Radford University’s Innovative Mobile Personalized Accelerated Competency Training (IMPACT) program was awarded a historic three-year, $13.8 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education’s Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) Grant Program. The grant began on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2020 and is the largest grant in the history of Radford University and boosts Radford’s annual grant funding by more than 50 percent in the first fiscal year.

The SEED grant will expand IMPACT to include Appalachian Support for Specialized Education Training (ASSET), which includes the development, implementation and evaluation of online, self-paced, competency-based education (CBE) training designed to increase teacher effectiveness and workforce capacity in underserved rural communities in Appalachia.

ASSET will serve 5,000 K-12 educators, with the primary goal of increasing the number of highly effective educators in K-12 high-need schools in rural Appalachia, including Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia by building educators’ knowledge and skills in evidence-based practices through CBE learning models.

All CBE content and experiences will incorporate simSchool simulations based on the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guides that increase teacher effectiveness. The ASSET program will increase the number of highly effective teachers in rural Appalachian communities by providing micro-credentials in WWC-approved evidence-based practices. The program will also develop a unique set of five micro-credentials in high demand areas such as inclusive literacy instruction for elementary and secondary general curriculum classrooms, inclusive math instruction for elementary and secondary general curriculum classrooms, and inclusive problem solving for high need secondary students.

“Since our founding more than 100 years ago, Radford University has a long and distinguished record of training educators,” Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill said. “With this historic grant, we can continue our tradition of excellence in training teachers in a new way that reinforces the fact that Radford is at the forefront of teacher education and will serve to make a difference in the future of our communities. I commend the work of Drs. Matt Dunleavy, Brooke Blanks, Kenna Colley, Amanda Bozack and Greg Sherman in making this goal a reality.”

Dunleavy, executive director of IMPACT and project director of ASSET, said that the IMPACT program at Radford University is in the process of rapidly developing the Commonwealth’s workforce in cybersecurity and geospatial intelligence, and that the same model will be used to address other critical shortage areas in special education.

“We are thrilled to receive this funding from the U.S. Department of Education, and we are committed to extending the IMPACT Lab’s competency-based approach to serve high need classrooms throughout rural Appalachia through the ASSET program,” Dunleavy said.

CBE is a training approach that focuses on teaching specific, job-related skills that are needed to perform critical tasks within a workplace context. CBE decouples learning from traditional time-based models and forgoes the traditional course format to empower working adults with career advancing skills through self-paced online instruction.

As part of the CBE framework, the working professional is able to go at their own pace through a structured program and use their pre-existing knowledge to go through sections about which they already have a sound understanding by demonstrating proficiency in the courses.

“ASSET is innovative, optimistic and practical,” said Blanks, associate professor of Special Education. “Nationally, we have a persistent and critical shortage of teachers, particularly in rural schools. ASSET is a model of solution orientation. Our focus is on maximizing the resources we currently have, namely building instructional capacity among our highly committed, long-term teachers working in our rural Appalachian schools. IMPACT’s CBE approach within the ASSET program allows us to give them the knowledge and skills they want, without ever having to leave their local communities.”

The ASSET CBE teacher-training program will serve as a national dissemination platform for the IES WWC practice guides, while the ASSET program will develop a replicable and scalable national model for CBE-enabled teacher effectiveness training in critical shortage areas. The ASSET program will be one of the first self-paced, competency-based teacher effectiveness training programs to embed learning science, analytics, simulation-based learning and gamification principles into every aspect of the CBE instructional design.

“The ASSET grant is a game-changer for professional development for all teachers in rural Appalachia,” said Colley, dean of the College of Education and Human Development. “The professional development format is accessible, provides research-based interventions that can be easily replicated in classrooms and they will be expertly delivered by our faculty in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL). What an amazing accomplishment for all of us at Radford University.”

The design will integrate culturally-responsive, place-based strategies grounded in real challenges and educational barriers that exist in rural Appalachia today while establishing evidence for replicable practices to inform future CBE models. Findings from the research and program evaluations will be disseminated among K-12 and higher education practitioners, researchers and administrators to inform policy, research and practices related to teacher training and development.

“We are excited that the ASSET program builds on the strengths of the traditional programs offered in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership,” said Bozack, director of STEL. “We have a strong reputation for producing high-quality inclusive educators and with the help of our collaborators at the Virginia and Tennessee Departments of Education, SimSchool, HumRRO and SRI, we believe that we can make an immediate impact in classrooms across the Appalachian region. Together, we will provide practicing teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to serve students in their classrooms the next day, while also ensuring that the methods we use are effective and create positive changes for students.”

—Sherry Wallace

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