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Using Online Competency-Based Programming to Create Pathways for Lateral Entry Employees

The EvoLLLution | Using Online Competency-Based Programming to Create Pathways for Lateral Entry Employees
In North Carolina, an online, competency-based program designed for second- and third-career individuals who want to teach is providing a model for licensure programs that could serve lateral-entry workers in many industries.

The nature of the labor market today is immensely different from any time in the past. Where individuals used to stay in one industry through their entire careers, perhaps moving to a few different companies along the way, folks today traverse numerous jobs in numerous industries across the course of their lives. For higher education institutions, it represents a new challenge in finding ways to ensure people have the skills and credentials necessary to succeed in these new spaces. In this interview, Alison Winzeler discusses the Pathway to Practice North Carolina (P2PNC) program, a competency-based program designed to help lateral-entry teachers hired by North Carolina schools earn their teaching certifications.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why did you and your colleagues launch the P2PNC program?

Alison Winzeler (AW): We launched P2PNC for two reasons. The first reason was the high number of lateral-entry teachers in the state because North Carolina is in a teaching shortage. We have a significant number of people who are second- or third-career professionals and have backgrounds in their subject areas but don’t have the teaching credential. There aren’t enough programs in the state to train all of them so we decided to develop an online, self-paced lateral-entry program.

The second reason was the program that we wanted to offer these teachers needed to be something that fit in their schedules. If these students are transferring careers they’re going to be a little bit older, they’re going to have a number of other responsibilities in their lives other than school, and that meant we needed to create a flexible, self-paced learning environment. The competency-based structure is conducive to that.

Evo: With what’s happening at Western Governors University do you expect to see the push towards competency-based education start to taper off?

AW: Nationally I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but we have been very specific in terms of what we want to do in this program. The conversations I’ve had have been focused on where in that report the US Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found fault with WGU, and it was in direct instruction—who in the faculty is working with these students and how they account for it. Within our program what we want to do is address program quality. There is that ability for a competency-based program to go on autopilot, but I don’t think we would allow that to happen.

Competency-based education at the national level might take a hit, but that would just be a challenge for us to really explore the benefits of CBE and why we’re doing it. We’re not doing it to be “degree mill” that some people use as a criticism, but we’re using it to really help people who are mostly adult learners enter a second or a third career.

Evo: What were the biggest challenges in getting P2PNC off the ground, and what did you do to overcome them?

AW: There are a lot of challenges with any new program but the biggest issue when I was thinking about it  was curriculum—getting granular with the competencies. We know what our philosophical ideas are about what makes a good teaching program, but how do we take those ideas and translate them into actions and competencies that the students have to know? I think shifting that thinking was very difficult, as was getting down to the actual planning part of it. It was a huge challenge to shift that frame of reference to CBE from a general semester-based curriculum. I would also say that a huge challenge but a welcome challenge was integrating the new LMS and learning it. We work with D2L so we’re doing something different with our curriculum and our format, and we’re also seeing everything that D2L has to offer. There are lots of little things you have to learn along the way with a new LMS, and that has made it tricky but also extremely rewarding because of the benefits. Once we learned what was possible, that really helped us envision a different type of program.

Evo: How do you go about managing so many different students who are all in the program as individuals progressing towards a sub-baccalaureate credential on their own terms?

AW: Going forward we are going to use a lot of what the LMS has to offer in terms of being able to see and track student progress. Students might enter the program on October 28th at many different points in the curriculum. We have four graduate students split across the different groups, and they’ll be monitoring how students are dealing with the curriculum and the assignments, and answering questions much like a professor.

In terms of the bigger picture of where are people in the program, who has fallen behind, who needs to make sure they go ahead and finish to clear their license, that’s going to be more of an administrative job. The students will get the professor relationship and the coaching relationship but they’ll also get an advising administrator relationship with someone like me or my support staff. I think those are the things that are going to be important with a license given the many deadlines and different parties involved.

Evo: Strategically speaking, how do you expect to see P2PNC evolve over the next five years?

AW: I would love to see it grow in numbers. We’re hoping through the spring admissions that we’ll get up to 50 and then grow so that at any one time we could have hundreds of students. We know there is a need for licenced teachers in the state, so we want to be able to accept as many people as we can and help get them through so they can get their full license.

Next year another goal is to add additional subject areas, including special education because special education is a little trickier with the content and the curriculum. It’s very specialized so that’s why we didn’t want to tackle that one this year, but there are a high number of lateral-entry teachers in special education across the state, and I think that we can really meet a lot of need in a lot of counties. Within 5 years, we could perhaps add other programs, but I think we will be more focused on getting enrollment in the thousands if there are that many lateral-entry teachers.

Evo: Looking outside the education industry itself, do you see any other industries where there could be a need for competency-based licensure programs for lateral entry employees?

AW: Competency-based programs would be helpful for absolutely anything that deals with licensing or a certificate issue because it keeps students on track and accountable. It can also generate data for employers and make them feel good that their employee is going to complete whatever certification they need. Nursing uses similar programs, and I would love to hear more about other programs that are out there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.