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SOE faculty aim to improve partnerships with new grant

Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Spence are part of a three-year, multi-university grant to improve partnerships between schools, families, and communities.

By Sara BurnsHeadshots of Dr. Adria Hoffman and Dr. Christine Spence of the VCU School of Education. [View Image] [View Image]From left: Adria Hoffman, Ph.D. and Christine Spence, Ph.D.

Two VCU School of Education professors are collaborating with professors from the University of Virginia and James Madison University to develop a suite of interactive module-based resources to support teacher preparation focusing on partnerships among educators, families, and communities.

Adria Hoffman, Ph.D., Anna Lou Schaberg Professor of Practice in the Department of Teaching and Learning, and Christine Spence, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, began working together just after arriving at VCU in August 2019. They soon noticed that they both taught in fields that focus on family and community partnerships.

“We also wanted to focus on communities in Virginia and help future practicing teachers be better at developing partnerships with families,” Hoffman said. “A great deal of research tells us that when that happens, student learning is increased.”

The Spring 2020 cycle of the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) Open Course Grants included a call for proposals to develop open access materials – that is, materials that are free and openly accessed – for required courses in teacher preparation. Hoffman and Spence collaborated with professors from the University of Virginia and James Madison University on the winning proposal.

The result is a three-year project called Creating an Interactive Family and Community Engagement OER for Future and Novice Teachers, which centers on partnerships between families, educators and communities. In addition to Hoffman and Spence, Judy Paulick, Ph.D., assistant professor (UVA), and Maryam S. Sharifian, Ph.D., assistant professor (JMU) are collaborating on the work. They are more than a year into their development of resources that use microlearning performance supports, which are relatively small learning units that have been shown to make learning more efficient. Case studies and simulations are focused on helping educators engage with families from birth through grade 12.

“We wanted to focus on communities in Virginia and help future practicing teachers be better at developing partnerships with families. A great deal of research tells us that when that happens, student learning is increased.”

Hoffman noted that the open access resources they are developing could have an expanded benefit in Virginia. “Not only are there few open access resources available for teacher preparation in Virginia, but these resources could help reduce the financial barriers to preparing and training educators, which would be of great use given the current educator shortage,” she said.

So far, the team has gathered data on what resources are currently used in teacher preparation classes, and examined how these methods could be adapted or enhanced through the new open resources strategy. The multi-university team has commitments to work with community colleges and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) as they create new strategies and microlearning tools.

Spence said that there have been challenges this past year getting this data from educators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Thankfully, the grant is for three years, allowing us time to lay down a firm foundation before moving into the more interactive portion of the project,” she said.

Hoffman said that collaboration with families has been even more necessary since the majority of Virginia public school students have been learning remotely. “We're thrilled to be developing resources to better prepare future educators and strengthen the skills of new teachers as they develop family-school partnerships in ways that look different than anything we've experienced before,” she said.

The VIVA Open Course Grants are designed to empower Virginia faculty with the resources and time they need to redesign courses by swapping textbooks and other expensive course materials for open, no cost, or library options. The program awards grants from $1,000 to $30,000 to assist faculty in transitioning to course materials available at no cost to students, such as open educational textbooks and/or library resources.

More information about this particular grant can be found here.

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