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.


References

Digital Citizenship thoughts (Part 3)

In my time as a small-time software developer and IT professional, I have a long-standing love for open source software. The term “open source” is often used as a replacement term for “free,” and indeed that is how I became aware of open source. I was just starting out, didn’t have much money, and wanted to use software; I learned that I could often find free software by searching for open source alternatives to popular commercial software packages.

It wasn’t until later that I became aware of the more important sense of free, open source software through the Richard Stallman’s concept of copyleft–“a general method for making a program (or other work) free (in the sense of freedom, not ‘zero price’), and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.”  It is not an exaggeration to say that this concept–perhaps more than any other–has revolutionized the software development world and had a significant influence in other realms as well.

Copyleft uses the structure of the copyright system (a license) to ensure that software can be freely used, studied, distributed, and adapted.  Works in the public domain can be adapted and then released as closed source; however, under copyleft, those modified versions have to remain open source under the terms of the license. If this sounds like to a Creative Commons Share-Alike license, that’s because Lessig based it on the work of Stallman and others in the Free Software Movement and provided a mechanism to apply the concept to other types of works. 

Open source software is incalculable in its effects–the chances are good that the device you are reading this on is built on an open source framework (this includes Chromebook, Android, iOS, macOS). This website, like the vast majority of websites, is hosted on a Linux-based server. It uses an open source content management system, WordPress, which is built using the open source language PHP and open source MySQL database. The ability for software developers to take existing code, take it apart, and then modify it to suit their (personal or commercial) needs is what has built so much of the technology we now enjoy and rely on.

It is this same approach that undergirds the “maker mindset”  and constructionism , which is why copyright and access to information are such an important part of learning in the 21st century. Intrusive controls to copyright such as digital rights management (DRM) threaten that by giving publishers more power to limit how content is used and disallowing them from studying and remixing content to better understand it.   

A proper use of copyright and digital citizenship gives great importance to the author’s ownership of their content and need for attribution but also allows for others to appreciate, learn from, and build on that work to create a more rich learning environment.


References

Growth Mindset and Significant Learning Environments

It is difficult to believe that six months have elapsed since I first wrote about developing a growth mindset plan. Quite a bit has changed since then, but perhaps most notably has been the selection of my innovation plan. When I initially wrote about a growth mindset plan, I was anticipating that my innovation plan would involve working to implement a maker space, collaborative learning spaces, robotics clubs, or something similar. Indeed, I value all of those things and am working on projects in all of those areas. However, somewhere along the line something changed. In retrospect, I see that if I pursued that course of action, I would have been shortchanging myself by spending my whole time in this program in what Briceño calls the “performance zone” instead of engaging in authentic learning . Working toward arranging learning spaces is something that I have expertise and experience doing; it is a project I feel like I can do–a safe project, one where I know I can succeed. I am not sure it was entirely a conscious decision at the time, but the topic I chose is far from safe for me.

That decision has made my studies much more difficult and much more rewarding. It has also affected my approach to individual courses and assignments. For example, when working on the course design assignments, I was certainly tempted to just say that course design isn’t something I’m good at or something I do. Looking at it from a growth mindset perspective though, that is an opportunity and not a hindrance.

I have had opportunities to put growth mindset principles into practice in my department at work as well. Unfortunately, the public nature of this post forces me to omit details, but I have seen repeatedly that trusting employees and nudging them to tackle challenges rather than relying on others. As a result, those employees have performed amazingly well, surprising even themselves with how much they were capable of learning and accomplishing.

As I work toward addressing the developmental education challenge in my college, I will need to incorporate growth mindset principles to encourage learners to continue pursuing college. Many of these students will have had a fixed mindset drilled into them for years and may not believe they have the capability to learn these concepts, which is all too often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I see mindset as the doorway into learning; if the learner believes it is impossible to learn, a constructivist learning philosophy and a significant learning environment will not achieve the results they otherwise could. It is incumbent upon me as the educator, then, to model a growth mindset, seeking new challenges and looking for opportunities to reinforce growth mindset ideas on a regular basis. Changing a mindset takes time, so it is certainly not something that will happen without regular reinforcement and reminders.


References:

Stager on Papert

A colleague of mine, upon discovering my interest in maker education, directed me toward Gary Stager and Seymour Papert (creator of Logo among others). I learned to program a little in Logo on an Apple IIe, so my interest was immediately piqued. Later that night, then, Dr. Harapnuik directed our class to an article quoting Papert.

Little did I know that Scratch (which I recently introduced to my kids) was based on Logo, or how direct the connection was to math education. Here’s a video by Stager detailing some of Papert’s contributions to education. I have a feeling that I’ll be coming back to Papert, especially as I continue to develop my innovation plan.


Play for Learning Environments

In The New Culture of Learning, Thomas and Brown make the case that we have entered a new paradigm in learning. I differ with the authors that the “new culture” is really all that new. For example, comparing Encyclopaedia Brittanica to Wikipedia, they opine that “making knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game”  and that encyclopedias are “a good example of the ongoing effort to preserve knowledge in a fixed form,”  as though encyclopedias are published once and not updated regularly. What has changed, however, is the speed, democratization, and transparency afforded by the medium and metadata .

What is Old is New Again

Similarly, the promise of the late-aughts that blogs would usher in a golden age of collaboration and break the publisher-consumer model  has, at best, migrated over to social media . Some new media empires have been created, some old media empires have adapted, but the blog as it was has all but disappeared. Years of blogging even caused Andrew Sullivan of “The Daily Dish” to “yearn for other, older forms.” 

All this is not to discredit the book’s main points about learning but rather to show that King Solomon was correct, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, English Standard Version). What the World Wide Web has done is less about something new and more about undoing, albeit in a different form, some of the effects of industrialization. So too, what is old is new again in learning methods.

Thomas and Brown reference play as an essential part of the “new” culture, but watching a young child learning the world will demonstrate that nothing is as natural as learning through play. In fact, Stuart Brown notes that the propensity to play well in adulthood sets us apart from animals .

Incorporating Play in Developmental Education

How, then, can I incorporate meaningful play into developmental education? Math, being so concrete, seemed particularly challenging. Sure, plenty of math games have been written, but the vast majority amount to flash cards dressed up with fun graphics. How can the play be more meaningful? Thomas and Brown’s definition of play, “the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules” , provides the framework. To create a meaningful play environment, then, one needs to create the structure in a way that allows freedom for the learner to explore within.

In discussing developmental math with one of the professors here at Sauk, he noted that many math students have learned a foundational principal foundation incorrectly which causes them to struggle in math for years. He suggested that what many students need is “math therapy,” where an instructor could find the source(s) of the error and then work on correcting that root problem.

One possibility might be to have different types of math problems, give the student the answer, and then have work toward that answer. Once the student has a solution, they can then be shown other similar problems and answers to test their solution (of course, demonstrations of the “right” way to solve the problem could be provided as well). By presenting it as a challenge in this way, I think it could help the student understand there could be other ways to get to an answer and open them up to learning a better way than what they may have learned earlier.

This is, of course, just one possible example. This way of thinking about play, though, provides a for how to develop learning environments that provide enough structure and “rules” to challenge the student, but enough flexibility to make the learning environment meaningful for the student.

 


Scratch-ing the Itch to Program

scratch programming blocks photo
Photo by andresmh

I’m late to the party, I realize. I’ve seen the user- and kid-friendly programming blocks before. In fact, I’ve even used a version of them when learning to develop mobile apps. But what spurred me to introduce my kids to the Scratch platform was when I learned about the user community and that all projects are open-source and remixable.

My kids have–like most kids–been developing in Minecraft, so I was looking for a next step for them to extend those skills. Scratch is the perfect fit. They have complete creative freedom. My oldest’s first project is a lab building game, my younger son’s has growing and shrinking dragons and robots, and my daughter’s is a “beautiful ballerina.”

As I begin a class on significant learning environments, it’s helpful to see such a great example of one in action. It’s also a perfect encapsulation of the COVA model. Since they have complete creative control, they eagerly take ownership of learning the platform, use and develop their own voice, and create projects that are authentic to them.

Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Literature Review

UPDATE: Much of this has been included in a newer literature review.

Developmental Education

The typical model for college placement, and the model employed at Sauk Valley Community College, is that the prospective student takes a placement test to determine if they can meet the required level and, if they do not, is placed in a developmental course of study to be completed prior to college-level work. However, many concerns have been raised as to the impact of this model on student success.

Scott-Clayton found that placement exams are better at predicting which students will succeed in college than who would fail and that multiple methods of placement would be more effective and could help more students be successful. Once a student has been placed into a developmental course, Park, Woods, Richard, Tandberg, Hu, and Jones found that taking developmental education classes has a significant impact on degree and career completion and many students simply do not ever take the core classes. In fact, less than half of the students complete their developmental education series of courses and nearly one third simply do not take the developmental education course . According to Hu, Park, Woods, Tandberg, Richard, Hankerson, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast (ED), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (ED), and Florida State University , “the logical extension is that developmental education…was more of a barrier than a support in the aggregate.”   Nunez found this to be true at Sauk Valley Community College as well; fewer than half of students are successful in developmental education courses the first time, and only half will continue as students past the first year. He concludes, “It is pretty clear that if we are going to admit students to developmental courses, then we must do a better job at helping these students be successful the first time.”

There is, however, much promising study in this area as well to give hope. Hodara, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest (ED), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (ED), and Education Northwest found that, since academic preparation during high school years predicts college success better than than socioeconomic or demographic factors, it is important to target students for remediation prior to enrolling in college. Even new first year experience courses were found to not help students move through developmental education faster or improve academic achievement . Further, after Florida disallowed requiring placement tests and developmental education classes, Hu et al. found that fewer students took developmental education courses but more passed them and that while more students both took and failed gateway courses, the ratio of all first-time college students who passed gateway courses increased. Finally, Booth, Capraro, Capraro, Chaudhuri, Dyer, and Marchbanks found that developmental education students reported being more successful as a result of being placed in a common cohort for collaboration.

Maker Education

Schank describes goal-oriented learning and learning by doing as methods to motivate learners. According to his model , learning involves having a goal and some obstacle, something to help you overcome the obstacle and accomplish the goal so you know how to do it next time; technology’s role can be to help provide the means to overcome the obstacle. This learning process will be most effective when the goal is an authentic one, one with real-world implications to the learner .

The Maker Movement exemplifies this approach by allowing learners to identify their own authentic goals and access to the means to reach those goals. Martin identified three key elements of the Maker Movement that can be readily applied to education: embrace of digital tools, community involvement and collaboration, and Dougherty’s  maker mindset, “a can-do attitude that can be summarized as ‘what can you do with what you know?’”  In many ways, this is nothing new; Viviano  observes that “This community that Martin speaks of exists right inside the walls of [Career and Technical Centers] and nothing exemplifies the maker movement more than Project-based Learning (PBL).”  However, in reality, high-stakes standardized testing often crowds out PBL efforts, as PBL takes longer in the short-term and teachers feel pressure to ensure that students perform well on annual standardized tests .

Conclusion

The preceding evidence suggest that an online, collaborative college preparatory program modeled around maker principles and made available to high school students could help students succeed in—or even bypass—developmental education courses and be more successful in their academic or career endeavors.


Learning Should Be:

From the moment we’re born, and even before , we are learning. Why then do so many of our kids learn to hate school? As an educator, I do not believe it has to be this way. I do believe that approaching instruction with a “Theory Y” approach , trusting that students have existing motivations to learn, can make learning environments more effective by making them:
Engaging, Challenging, Personal, Available, and Continuing.

Learning Should be Engaging

I use the term “engaging” hesitantly because I fear it is too often associated with gimmicks or strategies to trick the learner into learning. At best, this approach will yield only short-term results.

baby food photo
Photo by sully213

Many parents have seen the limitations of this approach when feeding a young child. If the child spits out or refuses to eat their peas, what is a parent to do but attempt to hide the pea in the child’s applesauce? If this works, it is easy to think the problem is solved–the child is eating their peas! But what has the child actually learned? For some, just repackaging the pea in with something they like may be enough to get past the initial resistance to change and help them to like–or at least tolerate–peas. However, for others, what the pea-in-applesauce approach teaches is that peas are so gross they need to be hidden. Then, as more vegetables are hidden, the child may learn that in fact all vegetables are gross. Or perhaps the child will learn that applesauce can no longer be trusted.  Do we not often see the same with, for instance, math?

Just like all children are motivated to eat–if only what they view as the “good stuff”–so all students are motivated to learn. They’re motivated to learn Minecraft, to ride a bike, to build a go-kart, to bake a cake. Armed with this knowledge, a teacher can use the pea-in-applesauce method and swap in a Minecraft example into a math story problem. For a few, this might help them make the connection between something they love and something they don’t understand. However, for others, it can just further reinforce the perception that math is hard or something they just cannot understand even if it is adapted to them.

I believe it is more effective to look for–or guide the student look for–connections to build on to what they already know . While it can look similar at first glance, finding authentic connections–for example,

  • pointing out to a student playing Minecraft that they are using a graph,
  • explaining that how center of gravity makes it possible to ride a bike,
  • taking measurements and drawing up plans for a go-kart, or
  • scaling recipe measurements to make twice as much cake–

will build on the student’s existing knowledge to help them gain understanding of the topic. This of course does not replace pedagogy, but it can certainly enhance pedagogy and make it more effective.

Learning Should be Challenging

Just as believing students are motivated to learn leads to making learning engaging, so believing students are capable of learning leads to challenging them. Dweck calls this the growth vs. the fixed mindset . If we know that students are able to learn, we can and should teach so that students are being stretched enough that authentic learning is happening but not so much that it is demoralizing.

Caution must be exercised here, though; challenging the student continually without recognizing and celebrating achievement can also lead toward a fixed mindset. I believe the best outcome is one where the student needs to work hard to succeed, does succeed, and then is empowered and encouraged to continue working hard and succeeding.

Learning Should be Personal

While I would not advocate abolishing all educational goals and standards, our current education practices and systems often seem to be better designed to produce robots than humans . Perhaps the prime example of this, standardized testing has risen dramatically in recent years, particularly since the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act, even though studies have shown the negative effects, including reductions in subjects taught, quality of education, and even  increased segregation based on ethnicity and income .

Rather than celebrating diversity in learning styles and bents, our system still has arbitrarily determined standards and labels anyone who dares deviate:

  • Can’t sit still and focus on school for 6 hours? ADHD
  • Too focused on one or a few things but not others? Autism
  • Ethnic minority? Low income? At risk

While I don’t discount that there are real mental health issues–in fact, I am in treatment for some now–many of these classifications are used as ways to separate out segments for treatment rather than changing how we educate. We know more than ever about different learning styles and approaches, yet the overwhelming majority of students are still educated the same way.

It was for this reason primarily that my wife and I chose to home school our children. This allows for learning to be more personal, more effective, and more interactive. Obviously, home schooling is not practical for every family, but we need to reversing the trend for education decisions to be made at higher and higher levels of government will allow instruction to be more tailored to a state’s/community’s/classroom’s/student’s specific needs rather than completing a federal government spreadsheet.

Learning Should be Available

Also, as control has moved more national, opportunities for the most advantaged continue to increase combined with small increases for the lowest income brackets, while opportunities for those in between have decreased . Ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented as well; for example in Illinois, black men in 1999 were about seven times more likely to be released for prison for drug offenses than to earn a bachelor’s degree (Alexander, p. 190). I believe moving control more local will also help decision makers to more easily identify and address problems with educational access.

Further, I believe that technology is changing and will continue to change the paradigms. Never in history have we had access to as much information in as many different formats as we do today. Anyone can watch a how-to video, take an online course, or ask a digital assistant for a trivia answer. The role of teacher as a gatekeeper of information may eventually go away, but the role of coach for how to seek, process, and analyze that information will grow more vital. This also “evens the playing field,” giving low-income and minority easier access to information that had previously may have been only available to the more privileged.

Learning Should be Continuing

If learning is engaging, challenging, and personal, and available, I believe it follows that learning will be continuing as well. When we assume that students want to learn and focus on removing roadblocks to learning, the result will be a continual cycle of learning; it will just become a way of life because, well, it’s fun!


References:

COVA and Maker Mindset at Google

Brian Basgen of Emerson College sparked a great discussion on of one of my learning networks (Educause CIO Constituent Listserv) about what people are reading , and Luke Fernandez’s response really got me thinking. He recommended The History of Google from the Internet History Podcast , which is a terrific exploration of the origins and history of the internet behemoth Google. As I read it, I picked up on a lot of themes related to the maker mindset  and the COVA (choice, ownership, voice, authenticity) model .

Because Larry and Sergey were given choice in their authentic learning experiences, they took ownership of their ideas and created a company imbued with their unique voice. They are icons of the maker mindset and as a result were able to make an impact by building arguably the most influential internet company of all time.

Following are a few selected quotations from the article, but it’s well worth a full read (or listen):

Authenticity:

Larry and Sergey both grew up to respect research, academic study, mathematics and, especially, computers. And it turned out they both had inquisitive minds that believed in the power of knowledge to overcome any obstacle, intellectual or practical. Each had been inculcated into this spirit of intellectual fearlessness at a young age.

Choice:

“You can’t understand Google,” early Google employee Marissa Mayer has insisted, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids. It’s really ingrained in their personalities. To ask their own questions, do their own things. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In a Montessori school, you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking, why should it be like that? It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.”

Ownership:

“It wasn’t that they [Page and Brin] sat down and said, ‘Let’s build the next great search engine,’” said Rajeev Motwani, who was Brin’s academic advisor. “They were trying to solve interesting problems and stumbled upon some neat ideas.”

Voice:

Part of this was simple frugality, a habit that would serve them well when the dotcom bubble burst in a few short years. But a lot of it was Page and Brin’s ingrained Montessori philosophy: they never met an engineering problem they couldn’t solve themselves. Google didn’t take pages from the established Silicon Valley playbook because, in a way, they had never bought into it. They didn’t try to Get Big Fast. Instead, Page and Brin were almost manically focused on endlessly iterating and improving upon their Big Idea, making sure it was the most comprehensive, reliable and—most importantly—speedy search engine in the world. 


References:

ePortfolio

Based on the amount of growth I have observed in myself thus far in the Digital Learning & Leading (DLL) program, I am very excited to see what is coming in the rest of the program.

Teaching and learning must start with an attitude conducive to learning. Studying the growth mindset and developing a growth mindset plan serves as a persistent reminder to focus on the learning process and making sure it it meaningful. Developing this plan also led me to see the connection between the growth mindset and the maker movement . I intend to use making as a basis for my innovation project, so its focus on the process and allowing failure to be a catalyst for learning.

Making also values creative problem-solving, teamwork, and other “soft skills” which are increasingly important, yet undervalued in our society . Creating a learning manifesto helped me to focus on the issues that are important to me in education both broadly and in my own context that and what I can do about them. This has been, and will continue to be, tremendously valuable for me, as I had to formulate and articulate my “why,” the guiding principles for my learning and my impact going forward .

Finally, collaboration–another core value of the maker community–is vital to fostering creativity and valuing diversity. Researching and joining new learning networks will help me to connect with peers who have different perspectives on some of the same problems my institution faces and open me up to new solutions.

Underlying all this is the COVA learning  approach . The choice I have been afforded in this course has allowed me to take ownership of the learning process in a way I had not before. Having taken ownership, I am beginning to develop a voice–my unique perspective on the topics we are discussing in the program–that will carry forward as I develop my ePortfolio. Since the ePortfolio will be authentic to my specific context and in my own voice, it will be useful outside and beyond the DLL program.


References: