What Have We Learned? DLL Program Reflection

Just for fun: a word cloud of my portfolio website.
Created using www.wordclouds.com

Looking Back

As I looked back through my portfolio website and the courses in the DLL program, I found it interesting the reaction they evoked in me. And maybe I was just hungry at the time, but it made me think of how different kinds of food make me feel. Some topics were like comfort food—parts of the program that I knew were a good fit for me and I was right. Others were like a new cuisine I’d been wanting to try—I knew they would be a stretch for me but I knew I had something I wanted to learn. Yet others were more serendipitous, they weren’t really even on my radar, but when I came across them I discovered something I didn’t know I was missing (these ended up being my favorites).

Comfort Food

bacon and panko crusted ridiculously rich mac 'n' cheese
Bacon Mac & Cheese
Photo by gail_thepinkpeppercorn on Flickr)

One of the things that drew me to the DLL program was the idea of a self-directed program. Once I got into the program, though, I discovered just how self-directed it was. Even more importantly, I learned about the innovation plan, which allowed me to learn the way I learn best–by thinking about a topic and applying it to a real-world situation. School has never come easy for me, but I got into computer programming without taking any formal computer classes because I had a real problem to solve. Once I learned that this was the approach of this program, I knew this was going to work well for me, and it absolutely did.

Organizational change was another topic that I thought would be an enjoyable topic, and I found that it absolutely was. One of the draws for me of moving up into administration (I know, I know, the dreaded “A” word…) has been the ability to see a need and have a real, noticeable, immediate impact. Well, not always as immediate or noticeable as I’d like, but having a leadership position allows me the ability to push for change without needing to push through quite as many layers of opposition above me. The “Influencer” model helped me to think through how to do this in a way that encourages the team that is under my care to lead rather than demoralizing them.

New Cuisine

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Wild rice and ratatouille....
Chicken Cordon Bleu with Ratatouille
Photo by swisschef on Flickr

Another of my goals for getting a M.Ed. was to understand the instructional side of the college a little better. Though I have worked in higher education for about 13 years, I have been almost exclusively on the operational side. When I moved into an administrative role in my college’s IT department, I wanted more context. That is, I wanted to understand the more about instruction and learning theory to be able to more effectively run an IT department that supports the college’s educational mission and instructors. 

Courses that dealt with learning theory, course design, online/blended learning, and creating significant learning environments were definitely a challenge for me. That challenge was exactly what I needed and was looking for, and I find it much easier now to discuss learning environments with instructors and I have a much better understanding of how I can support them and students with technology.

New Discoveries

Indian Food in Tokyo
An Indian food spread
Photo by dannychoo on Flickr

The first time I tried Indian food was because we just happened to drive by an Indian restaurant and thought it seemed interesting. Perhaps part of what made it so enjoyable was the unexpectedness of finding something so enjoyable almost by accident. 

In this same way, perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for me was how much I enjoyed the research and literature reviews. Reviewing the research and conducting some original research. Reading the research completely changed my perspective on developmental education (the subject of my innovation plan), and that has become something I’m passionate about. I’ve been working already to make some changes and implement some new technology to help bridge the gap and empower our academic advisors to help developmental students.


It was great to see my progression through the program and what some of my main takeaways were from each course. In the timeline below I share a little bit of how each course contributed to my learning process; you can click through to see each individual course reflection. A course and assignment index is also available for more detail.

The Bottom Line

I am grateful for what I have been able to accomplish and for the growth I’ve seen in myself over the past two years. I came into this course a technology professional, and I feel that I have emerged an educator, and a stronger leader. Learning COVA and CSLE by being steeped in that type of environment and by practically working through concepts by developing an innovation plan has given me the tools to lead and empower others to help create the next generation of learners and change the world the only way we can—one learner at a time.

Innovation Plan: Reflection & Status Update


My innovation plan has gone through such a change from when I started that there’s really not very much left that looks like the original. The situation I am working to improve is developmental education–students who arrive at college but aren’t ready for college-level work (typically in English and/or math). My initial plan was to develop some remedial online courses that could be available to high school students as “college preparedness” classes (to remove some of the stigma and be forward-looking). This morphed into modular mini-courses for remediation and refreshers as necessary. Now it is more about the academic advising and planning process and more specifically about providing relevant, accurate information to administrators, advising staff, and faculty so they can make the decisions necessary to help students succeed–particularly developmental students. 

Following the research from the various literature reviews and attending workshops/webinars on developmental education have given me a much different picture of what works and what doesn’t, but being in a position at the College where I don’t deal directly with students makes it difficult to develop and carry through on a plan to apply an instructional technique. However, some of the research I followed related to artificial intelligence and machine learning points to a real synergy between the work that computers can do for us really well (finding information and pointing out anomalies)  and the work that humans are really good at (creativity and problem-solving).  Finding this approach has been invigorating for me, as I can make it a mission to employ technology to do its job (getting the data to humans) and empower the College’s employees to do their job more effectively (help students overcome obstacles to learning). It gets to the heart of why I wanted to work in education in the first place.

The primary output of this project so far is the research I performed this past fall. I analyzed a change that my college tried in 2014, changing some of the structure of English developmental education courses as well as some of the prerequisite requirements.  This change hadn’t been studied to see whether it was successful, though, so I analyzed some of the data to evaluate it. I plan to present it this spring to faculty and staff and to submit it for journal publication (so I can’t publish it on this site yet). After reviewing the results with faculty and staff, I would like to see the College employ some similar approaches for developmental math, study them to see if they were effective, and then plan future changes. 

Updates & Next Steps

I honestly don’t believe this project will ever be “done,” there will always be another way to improve and drive the process forward. However, I believe there are three primary areas of focus, each with a distinct milestone or deliverable.

1. Study Results of “Bridge to Success” Program

“Bridge to Success” (BTS) was a program introduced in 2014 that made substantial research-based changes to developmental English at SVCC. It is important to study the results of this program on student success. Based on those results, then, further research-based changes can be implemented and studied. 

The initial study is completed and show that the BTS program has indeed had a positive impact on student success. I plan to present the results at a faculty meeting this spring. In addition, after I have run some more advanced statistical analysis, I plan to submit the study for journal publication. 

2. Implement Advanced Analytics

One thing that my research has made abundantly clear is that modern analytics–including or at least laying the groundwork for AI analytics–need to be a part of the College’s solution to the challenge of developmental education. During my time as an administrator in IT, I have been able to advocate and plan for bringing in some tool or tools that will provide easier access to data. We have evaluated a couple tools and, while we are still looking for the right one, there is good support for the idea so it is quite likely that we will be able to implement a program like this possibly as early as the next fiscal year.

3. Champion Further Developmental Education Changes

This, given my role at the College, may be the most difficult, since I do not have the authority to just “make it happen.” However, it is my hope that presenting the BTS results will provide an opportunity to open a dialog with faculty and the Developmental Education Committee about some new options, for example, applying some of the same BTS changes that worked in the developmental English area to the developmental math area. Or perhaps the discussion will tend toward some other approach. Having studied the research, I (and others at SVCC) will have the tools to guide the discussion toward approaches that work.


Boden, M. A. (2003). The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms (2nd edition). Routledge.
Eichman, A., Hamilton, J., Matheney, J., Pfeifer, A., & Tavitas, L. (2013). ELA bridge to success: English language arts taskforce report (p. 17) [Internal Task Force Report]. Sauk Valley Community College.
Aoun, J. E. (2017). Robot-proof: Higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. The MIT Press.

COVA and CSLE through the DLL Program

As I near the end of my journey in the Digital Learning & Leading (DLL) program, it’s helpful to reflect on some of the overarching themes throughout the program. The two most common acronyms that have come up are COVA (Choice, Ownership, and Voice in Authentic learning opportunities)  and CSLE (Creating Significant Learning Environments) . These themes, both in practice and in course content, are woven into the very fabric of the DLL program.

This can of course be an adjustment when one is accustomed to–for lack of a better word–traditional educational environments. I remember struggling in the first course or two in the program, not because the assignments were too hard, but because they didn’t seem like much of a challenge. I’d skated through high school and college (a disturbingly long time ago) on doing what I needed to do to get by. When I got to these courses, I immediately dropped back into those patterns. What I quickly learned was that the assignments weren’t going to challenge me, but that they were going to make it apparent whether I was challenging myself.

By the time I felt like I was hitting my stride in the program, I discovered that there was often not a lot of direct relation between the assignments themselves and what I was actually learning. Rather, they gave me enough structure to force me to work on it (instead of watching Netflix reruns again) but enough freedom to dig in deep where it was most meaningful to my circumstances.

My innovation project, the central point of the DLL program, changed a lot throughout the program too. At first, I was focused on using makerspaces and the maker mindset  to create learning environments. This would have been a fun, exciting project to work on, but as I looked more at my college, it was clear that this type of project wasn’t solving a problem pertinent to my role and institution. I finally settled on a project to help with developmental education, a perennial problem in higher education in general and community colleges in specific. Even after settling on that as a focus, though, the research and the various courses took the project in very different direction. In one particular course, the assignments just didn’t seem to fit with the direction I had been heading, so I focused on the academic advising aspect and things started to fall into place a little better. This was the biggest single shift to my innovation project, but each of the courses allowed me to change direction a little bit at a time.

What I’ve described above is the COVA model at work. By giving me real choice, I was able to take ownership of my learning. The authentic assignments gave me more choices and allowed me to develop and use my voice in my own real-world environment. What has really been exciting about the COVA approach is how cyclical it is. Each choice I make, each authentic assignment I complete, causes greater ownership and more opportunities to make choices and develop deeper authenticity and voice.

Even though I am not a classroom teacher, I do not see that as an impediment to implementing COVA in my day-to-day work. As a leader in my institution, I have begun looking for more opportunities to give up a measure of control and let others develop ownership in their areas by giving them choice. While my management mantra has long been to “hire good people and then get out of their way” (I don’t know where I got this, but some variation has been attributed to Steve Jobs, Lee Iacocca, Ronald Reagan, and many others), this program has helped me to be more intentional about giving choices and thinking through how to influence others in my organization—whether I’m in a position of leadership or not .

Another way I will be able to promote COVA and CSLE in my organization is by making sure the college has the infrastructure for CSLE both in online and face-to-face environments. We have a good environment (Instructure’s Canvas) for online classes, and as part of the Online Learning Committee at SVCC, I am able to help set up the structure and policies to ensure quality online learning environments. I also am able to make sure that classrooms and instructors have the technology they need to reinforce COVA and CSLE in our classes.


Harapnuik, D. (2010, May 10). CSLE [Blog]. It’s About Learning. http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=849
Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.
Harapnuik, D., Cummings, C., & Thibodeaux, T. (2016, September 30). COVA model. It’s About Learning. http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=6615
Dougherty, D. (2013). The maker mindset. In Design, make, play growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 7–16). Routledge.