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UNC Greensboro Celebrates Continued Funding for Tech-Focused TQP Work

In 2014, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) received a federal Teacher Quality Partnership grant for a proposal called Transforming Teaching through Technology (TTtT), winning Year 1 funding of nearly $1.7 million, renewable for up to 5 years. Now, as the partners move into their fourth year of grant-funded collaboration, I asked Principal Investigator and Project Director Christina O’Connor for an update on their work and what it takes to secure continued funding from the U.S. Department of Education year after year.

The partnership among UNCG, Guilford County Schools, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools aims to prepare 300 teacher candidates per year with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to incorporate technology to promote academic learning for all students. The idea is to produce teachers who can embed technology and hands-on, problem-based instruction across all content areas. By approaching this work through partnerships, O’Connor noted, the strategies and lessons benefit not only preservice teachers but also the school-based educators and UNCG faculty.

The three official goals of TTtT are to revise the curriculum in all 22 initial teacher licensure areas at UNCG; to align clinical experiences with these revised curricula; and to recruit and retain more diverse, high-quality teachers to work in the high-need partner schools and districts. The partners also hope to achieve increased PK-12 student motivation and engagement in learning through innovation, creativity, problem-solving, and entrepreneurship in public school classrooms.

O’Connor speaks to the goals in this video:

One key component of the work to date has been setting up “maker spaces,” modeled on the School of Education’s SELF Design Studio, and on site at each partner school. These spaces include high-tech equipment for students to use, and university students (including graduate students in nanoscience and nanoengineering) serve as content experts to assist teachers in designing and executing lessons using the equipment.

UNCG also hosts summer maker camps for elementary and middle school students, dubbed the “Learning Factory” (see this video from 2016), where both preservice and in-service teachers can try out lessons for later use in their classrooms. In preparation for facilitating the camp sessions, O’Connor explained, instructors receive professional development in maker technology and pedagogy and plan the sessions they would present. After camp is over, they then apply their summer experiences in their own schools, adapting what they learned to focus on the content being taught during the school year. In many cases, O’Connor said, they also support other teachers in their schools to develop their own maker-based instructional units. What’s more, the high school students who serve as camp counselors become part of the recruitment pipeline for future STEM teachers.

As to securing continued federal funding for the program, O’Connor said there are several factors to consider. One is whether funding is available at all, considering the political climate of budget cuts in education. She said AACTE’s advocacy efforts have helped maintain funding for the grants, which were zeroed out in recent presidential budgets but reinstated in congressional funding packages. Another key factor is the performance of the particular program; O’Connor cited the importance of having a focused commitment by the university, being conscientious about the budget, and maintaining close communication with program staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

Perhaps most critical in staying on track with grant funding is keeping the project goals front and center. The reason that projects are funded comes from someone believing in the vision of a proposal, O’Connor said. “As long as your project is making progress towards achieving a vision that the funding agency believes in and values, you are likely to receive continued funding.” Although it can be difficult to maintain focus through the daily operations of a project, she said, all decisions need to be made based on the established goals and vision.

For more information, visit the UNCG Transforming Teaching through Technology website. You can also learn about the project at AACTE’s 70th Annual Meeting, where O’Connor will be presenting “Living the 4 C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity in a University/School Partnership.”

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Jemima Cabedo

AACTE Intern