Mastering Choice, Ownership, Voice and Authentic Learning
Part A – COVA at Work
Throughout the Digital Learning and Leading Master’s program at Lamar, we have been immersed in the COVA approach to teaching and learning. This approach is based on the book COVA: Choice, Ownership and Voice through Authentic Learning, in which Harapnuik, Thibodeaux and Cummings thoroughly describe how these elements in a significant learning environment promote deeper and more meaningful learning. The authors bring authenticity and relevance to this approach by relating their examples to personal experiences, as well as describing how they successfully used the approach in the DLL program at Lamar University.
My Authentic Learning
The structure of this program built on the COVA approach opened my mind to new possibilities professionally and absolutely impacted my work as a District Instructional Technologist. Throughout the program, I was able to apply new learning to my daily work from nearly every course. It was clear to me by the end of our first course of the program, EDLD 5305, Disruptive Innovation, that we would have choice and the ability to work on an authentic project throughout the program. I was psyched and eager! However, I carefully considered the first couple of choices we had to make.
We were instructed to:
- Choose a tool for the e-portfolio
- Decide on a topic for an Innovation plan.
For my ePortfolio, I considered 4 possibilities:
- Adobe Spark Page – I had started a page in Adobe Spark (now known as Adobe Creative Cloud Express). After viewing the portfolios of other EDLD students, I realized I would need a tool that was more robust. This tool is amazing, but did not have the versatility I needed to carry me through the entire program. Also, I would have built it in the domain of my previous district, and would have needed to find a way to move it.
- Google Sites – I had tried Google sites a little and didn’t pick it up super quickly. Plus I really wanted a domain name for my site. Currently I maintain a school portal which is built in Google Sites, so I am now learning how to use it!
- Wix – I can’t remember why, but it wasn’t the right fit for me.
- WordPress – I had used WordPress previously just a little bit. I had two other pages set up from when I dabbled with it before. My tiny bit of experience with WordPress and having the option to buy a domain name was probably why I chose it. I am very glad that I decided to set up the site with a navigation page early in the program. After that, setting up for each course began to feel routine. Looking back, I do wish that I had taken more time to shop around for a little more modern them, but I am happy with what I have.
I was thrilled with the idea of having the freedom to choose a project that I could apply to my daily work. The job I was doing as District Instructional Technologist at that time was quite busy, so the idea of earning my degree while also tackling work tasks was appealing. However, I didn’t have the confidence that I could choose something that was truly innovative. Upon reflection, I realize that I was fortunate to work in a district that embraced innovation in many ways. The work I was doing was already somewhat innovative.
I reached out to Dr. Thibodeaux with five potential ideas for my Innovation Plan and she helped me narrow it down to the STREAM Camp. What fun it was to dig out that original email to remind me of some ideas I had forgotten that I can still pursue!
- STREAM Camp with virtual option – I chose this one and somewhat connected it to the 2nd choice in this list.
- Elementary MakerSpace upgrade – I was able to procure 3D printers for the elementary libraries and designed the online course for librarians and teachers in EDLD 5318.
- Virtual Professional Learning Academy – I can start on this in my new role!
- Blended Learning Framework – In my new role, they have recently developed a Blended Learning Framework, so I will follow through with this.
- Micro-credential Initiative – I didn’t choose this one, but I’m glad it’s on a project wish list.
Adapting the Innovation Plan
After I chose an idea for an innovation plan and submitted all assignments for EDLD 5305, Disruptive Innovation in Education, I felt very comfortable with the notion of pursuing the plan and documenting that in an ePortfolio. I was not completely sure that the innovation plan would carry me throughout the entire program. The STREAM camp would be done by the end of June 2021. So what would I innovate (and write about) after that? As the program progressed and the goals of each EDLD course revealed themselves, I was able to adapt my innovation plan and mold my coursework to fit with the overarching concepts. While every topic that I addressed was not directly related to STREAM camp, I generally focused on the realm of these topics:
My learning was indeed authentic, and the COVA approach aligned with my beliefs and learning philosophy. I believe in these teaching & learning theories:
- Constructivism – Based on the notion that learners construct new knowledge and ideas based on previous knowledge and experiences
- Behaviorism – Theorists and researchers such as BF Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, and E.L. Thorndike were proponents of behaviorism and believed that a change in behavior by a student demonstrated learning.
- Cognitivism – This theory is centered around thinking and what occurs in the learner’s mind during the learning process.
- Connectivism – This relatively recent theory by George Siemens proposes that because information is so readily available and constantly changing, the concepts around accessing information and learning should be updated.
Part B – Creating Significant Learning Environments
I appreciated the opportunity to examine those beliefs in EDLD 5313, Creating Significant Learning Environments. Throughout the work in that course, I came to understand that what preservice teachers learn in college as best practices and what actually occurs in schools can be starkly contrasted. There may be several causes for this. State and school district leaders feel pressure to find ways to ensure that all students make measurable educational gains on standardized tests. This is particularly true most recently. According to the report by Hanover Research, 2022 Trends in K-12 Education, US schools are faced with record-high teacher turnover and students continue to struggle with trauma and learning loss. Therefore, school leaders may choose to infuse classrooms with a strict curriculum to follow, and frequently use formal assessments and data to monitor progress.
Support or Autonomy
In some cases, overwhelmed teachers may even request that pre-designed lessons be made available. Other teachers prefer more autonomy, and the ability to creatively design learning experiences for students. If teachers have this autonomy, they are able to create significant learning environments using the COVA framework.
Resistance to Innovation
I recently changed school districts, and I observed the effects of what some teachers perceive to be constrictive curriculum in both school districts. In my previous district, I had become reticent about disruptive change after hitting a couple of walls. In my new district, I am still developing relationships, identifying needs and learning about applications that we support. Tiny seeds of discouragement were beginning to take root as I began to encounter those familiar walls.
The idea of implementing wide-spread innovation and change can feel overwhelming and daunting. How is an innovation leader supposed to maintain a harmonious balance and alliance with leadership, while still working to create positive change?
Thankfully, I was recently reminded about how to remain hopeful and envision multiple opportunities and possibilities for innovation, including using the COVA approach.
In EDLD 5313, Creating Significant Learning in Environments, we read New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. This book bolstered thoughts of possibility and decreased the overwhelm of disruptive innovation. The authors propose that teachers return to the more naturalistic perspective of learning, as children are born explorers and learners. “In the new culture we describe, learning thus becomes a lifelong interest that is renewed and redefined on a continual basis. Furthermore, everything—and everyone—around us can be seen as resources for learning.” They go on to propose that current learning environments are not “broken” and that “the new culture of learning will augment—rather than replace—traditional educational venues.” This is a hopeful proposal.
Earlier this week, I had the amazing privilege of participating in a meeting called the Innovator’s Lounge, hosted by authors Dr. Matthew X. Joseph and Brian Aspinall of CodeBreakerEdu. At first, I felt as though I had little to offer the conversation as I listened to a small group of authors and thought leaders describe ways they are innovating. I was asked what I am doing to create change and innovate in my district. Basically my response was, “Nothing yet.” That answer did not satisfy me, but as the conversation progressed, I began to feel an increased sense of hope. It occurred to me that it IS within my power to inspire and drive innovation in small incremental ways that can have a ripple effect. I may not be successful at every single attempt, but there is power in modeling. Also, leadership is also very often about taking risks. If someone with the word “Innovation” in her title is not able to take risks, then who is?
Incorporating Innovation & the COVA Approach
Here are a few ways that I can remain vigilant in my quest for innovation in my school district:
Professional Learning – I have recently launched a survey for all teachers and staff in which they have the opportunity to share what professional learning they prefer. This includes topics and format. When we design these learning opportunities for teachers, we can base some of them on the COVA approach by building in opportunities for participants to apply that learning authentically in their classroom. In EDLD 5389, Developing Effective Professional Learning, we learned about Allison Gulamhussein’s 5 Principles of Effective Professional Development. One of those principles states that, “The duration of professional learning must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem.” The COVA approach is best implemented in longer professional learning designs in which teachers have opportunities to make connections with their new learning, use it authentically and reflect upon it. Currently 32% of our survey respondents have indicated cohort style as a learning preference. That is hopeful!
Elementary Summer Coding Camp – In my current district, we are fortunate to have a DoDEA grant that provides funds for STEM education and coding specifically for our junior high students. This provides multiple opportunities for innovation. The challenge is cultivating interest in some events, such as our recent Together We Code Event. The grant also provides for a junior high STEM camp in which students spend two weeks inventing. This is based on a purchased program. For elementary students, we are planning a district-designed summer coding camp. I am looking forward to following the guidance of these authors and thought leaders who advocate for and clearly define the many benefits of coding as a new form of literacy for young learners:
This two-week camp will absolutely include elements of Choice, Ownership, Voice and Authentic Learning. Additionally, it will tap into that natural desire for learning that students are born with!
Share the COVA Method relentlessly – In professional learning settings, I intend to share the concepts behind the COVA framework. When faced with the inevitable question, “How can we do this when we have a scripted curriculum?” My responses will be simple:
- District leadership has stated the elementary & junior high math curriculum are able to be supplemented with additional activities.
- Self-contained elementary teachers are also responsible for science and social studies. Those subjects made for authentic learning opportunities!
- As a professional, you know what is best for your students. Build in opportunities for them to rediscover the joy in learning.
Continue Blended Learning Cohorts – Our junior high math teachers are currently in a blended learning cohort that spans the entire school year, courtesy of a state funded grant. This purchased program this year does not explicitly espouse the COVA approach, however, it does provide for most elements of the framework.
- Choice – the teachers can choose which digital tools or skills to include in their course for students
- Ownership – they are able to design their LMS math course to fit the needs of their students
- Voice – I have heard the concerns they have voiced about the difficulty they encounter learning new skills and tools, and the disparity of being able to implement those with limited constraints. I intend to work closely with the presenters to customize the program for next year to lessen the teachers’ perception that they have to expend a huge extra effort to implement blended learning. In fact, if they use blended learning and the COVA framework as intended, they may find themselves doing less work.
- Authentic learning – the learning is authentic as teachers take their new skills and instantly apply it to their LMS course.
Support Library Transformation – Our librarians are already doing amazing work! I want to determine ways to highlight this and continue to build their capacity to provide and support makerspace opportunities and digital citizenship education. If we are creative together, the librarians and I will surely discover and design opportunities for COVA learning!
I am very grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my learning experiences throughout the Digital Learning and Leading program. Each class meeting, discussion post, visit with cohort members and assignment build connections. This current reflection has brought about a renewed inspiration for the abilities I have to make a difference with all teachers, students, staff members and parents in my school district.
- B. F. Skinner Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/b_f_skinner_393571
- Brene Brown Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/brene_brown_553057
- Einstein, A. (0AD). “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Quotenova.net. https://images.app.goo.gl/U7MP4ovXKrSvp1sm8.
- Gulamhussein, A. (2013, September) Teaching_Effective_Professional_Developmt.pdf. Dropbox. https://www.dropbox.com/s/j13c5mk092kmqv9/Teaching_Effective_Professional_Developmt.pdf?dl=0
- Harapnuik, D., Thibodeaux , T., & Cummings, C. (2018). Cova: Choice, Ownership and Voice through Authentic Learning (Vol. .9). Creative Commons.
- Steve Jobs Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/steve_jobs_173474
- Thibodeaux, T. Learner’s Mindset….. Learners Mindset. http://tilisathibodeaux.com/wordpress/?page_id=538.
- Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Trends in K-12 education – insights.hanoverresearch.com. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://insights.hanoverresearch.com/hubfs/2021-Trends-in-K-12-Education.pdf
- When it comes to innovation an ounce of execution is worth more than a ton of theory. The Innovators Community. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.theinnovators.community/posts/when-it-comes-to-innovation-an-ounce-of-execution-is-worth-more-than-a-ton-of-theory
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