North Carolina has long been a national leader in the development and promotion of personalized digital learning in its schools. The state outlined its commitment to this initiative in the State’s Digital Learning Plan in 2015. To date, much of the focus of the State’s Plan has centered on the transition of digital learning in K-12 schools and related professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers. Full implementation of the State’s vision, however, also includes a focus on digital learning within North Carolina’s institutions of higher education.
In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly recognized the need to expand the State’s commitment to digital learning to include a focus on professional development opportunities for faculty at the State’s Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs). In the State’s FY ’18 budget, the legislature provided DPI with funds for a Digital Learning Initiative. DPI subsequently awarded a grant to North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) to spearhead the initiative. NCICU implemented a workgroup with representatives from five of its 31 EPPs and named Denise Adams as workgroup coordinator.
“Given the unique role and significant responsibility of North Carolina EPPs in preparing K-12 teachers in the digital age, it makes sense that the EPP faculty themselves should also be well-versed in digital learning,” Adams explained. “NCICU welcomed the opportunity to be involved in creating a professional development strategy for EPP faculty to help achieve this goal.”
The NCICU Work Group, in collaboration with DPI, the Friday Institute, and the UNC System, collected data from the 31 NCICU, and the 15 UNC EPPs; held a Digital Learning Research Symposium; and met numerous times to discuss solutions. Following 18 months of work, the group has proposed a professional development strategy and digital learning competencies for EPPs, and a final report has been submitted to DPI.
“To fully bring personalized digital age learning to maturity, we must empower teachers,” said Vanessa Wrenn, director of Digital Teaching and Learning at the Department of Public Instruction. “We live in a time where all students have a right to high-quality digital age instruction. The implementation of a professional development strategy for students in educator preparation programs will provide a systematic approach to making sure all teachers are equipped to meet the needs of learners.”
The plan’s digital learning competencies include four areas of focus that mirror the four digital learning competencies in K-12 schools: Leadership, Digital Citizenship, Content & Instruction, and Data & Assessment.
Leadership: EPP faculty will demonstrate leadership in accelerating their integration of digital teaching and learning.
Digital Citizenship: EPP faculty will model and teach digital citizenship by ethical, respectful, and safe use of digital tools and resources that support the creation of a positive digital culture.
Content & Instruction: EPP faculty will know and use appropriate digital tools and resources for instruction.
Data & Assessment: EPP faculty will use technology to make data more accessible, adjust instruction to better meet the needs of a diverse learning
population, and reflect upon their practice through the consistent, effective use of assessment.
EPP faculty can earn digital learning competency badges in any or all of the four areas of focus to add to their professional development portfolio.
“Personalized Learning uses new technology as a tool for students and teachers to allow each student to learn at his or her own pace, to replace high-stakes assessments, and to provide a better picture to teachers of each student’s progress and challenges,” said Mark Johnson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We must continue to empower teachers with these tools to provide the best learning environment for our students.”
The workgroup will present their plan at the fall meeting of the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators. If the strategy is to be implemented, it will require funding by the General Assembly.
“Advances in technology provide outstanding opportunities for enhancing the learning experience,” said NCICU President Hope Williams. “We want to broaden the ways teachers graduating from our Education Preparation Programs can continue to strengthen their knowledge and skills to utilize the most effective teaching tools. The Digital Learning Initiative will increase that skillset through a wide array of options, ensuring that new teachers have every advantage to reach and connect with students.”