Nationally, distance is a barrier to traditional in-person training opportunities for teachers and administrators in many rural areas. Four years ago, the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) decided to “flip the script” on professional learning and use micro-credentials to benefit its educators in small remote rural schools scattered throughout the mountains of southeastern Kentucky.

Rather than asking educators to spend their limited time and money traveling great distances for professional learning, we chose to use technology as a tool for overcoming distance. We began developing our own personalized, competency-based micro-credentials to connect our educators with new opportunities to improve their teaching and advance in their careers.

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They’re also addressing unique challenges faced by students living in our region – a high-poverty, isolated area larger than the state of Connecticut.

KVEC is an education service agency serving 23 school districts in the mountains, hills, and hollers of Appalachia. KVEC provides professional learning for more than 3,000 teachers and its staff members are very familiar with the challenges facing rural districts, schools, and teachers seeking high-quality professional learning.

Some of those challenges include:

• Distance: Conferences and other professional learning opportunities can be four to six hours away from some of our schools and districts, requiring overnight lodging and other travel issues.
• Logistics: Teacher and substitute shortages make it impossible for individual or groups of teachers to attend a training or be out for multiple days.
• Personalization: Professional learning needs to meet the needs of the individual teacher or administrator and with professional learning not being funded in state budgets, there is little opportunity to provide for individualized learning for educators.
• Quality: Rural districts, due to funding and other constraints, tend to resort to sit-and-get PD that often doesn’t prove effective or provide time for implementation and reflection.
KVEC works with teacher practitioners and other experts to develop micro-credentials relevant to their classrooms and communities. Micro-credentials are digital representations of educational achievements. Just like medals earned for skills training, micro-credentials represent the completion of requirements set by the organization issuing the credentials.

Credentials earned by teachers at the beginning of their careers are often referred to as certifications, awarded in a particular area of instruction. Micro-credentials represent smaller, bite-size learning, mastery of skills, and are awarded for the demonstration of very specific competencies. A micro-credential is not represented by a certificate or a diploma—instead, badges are awarded for demonstrating mastery. Badges can be displayed on social media accounts, in a digital portfolio or “backpack,” or even in an email signature.

Micro-credentials are clinical. Educators engage in learning “on demand.” They can access the learning at school during their planning times, at home, waiting in a doctor’s office or anywhere they would like to spend time learning. Micro-credentials are housed on an online platform.

Educators apply the learning in the context of their work — in their classroom, school, and district – to gather evidence and artifacts of the learning within their practice. Artifacts might include video, student work, lesson plans, written reflection, pictures, or any other evidence of professional practice and/or student outcomes.

KVEC’s micro-credentials are available to anyone, anywhere, anytime with an internet connection to the Digital Promise platform (https://microcredentials.digitalpromise.org/). KVEC works extensively with its partner school districts in Kentucky and throughout the nation to help create systems of personalized, competency-based professional learning, which include micro-credentials.

The next exciting phase of work around digital professional learning engages special education teachers, practitioners, and experts as micro-credential developers. There is a shortage of special education teachers in our region, state, and nationally, particularly in rural areas. Many special education teachers in our region are working with alternative certifications, which means they have little or no pre-service education.

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KVEC is building the capacity of special education teachers to curate their knowledge and expertise by engaging experienced faculty in identifying the skills and competencies needed by all special educators, and teaming them with KVEC staff experienced in developing micro-credentials.

Through this collaborative project, KVEC is strengthening the skills of experienced teachers while providing personalized professional learning for new and inexperienced teachers who otherwise may not have access to additional training specific to special education.

Other micro-credentials are being developed to include: Teaching Rural Students From Poverty, Progress Monitoring, Curriculum-Based Measurement, Eliciting Student Responses, Adapting Math Lessons for Students with Disabilities, and Co-Teaching Between Special Education and Regular Education Teachers.

KVEC expects to release a stack of 12 co-developed micro-credentials by early spring 2020 and continue this model of empowering and building the capacity of educators and administrators to develop micro-credentials as a high-quality, clinical, personalized form of competency-based professional learning.

Professional development is often lacking in rural schools and education funding isn’t always equitably distributed to support teacher training in our state and nationally. For these reasons, rural school leaders and educators are innovative out of necessity.

We are using technology to create new tools for overcoming persistent challenges, creating new opportunities for learning, and ensuring geography doesn’t determine destiny for our students and communities.

About the Author:

Jennifer Carroll and Robert Brown lead the micro-credentialing work for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC). For more information about KVEC and the work with micro-credentials, contact Jennifer Carroll at jennifer.carroll@wolfe.kyschools.us or robert.brown@hazard.kyschools.us.


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