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.
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.
Dougherty, D. (2013). The maker mindset. In Design, make, play growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 7–16). Routledge.