Tuesday, January 31, 2017

COVA and Creating Significant Learning Environments

Being a part of the Digital Leading and Learning program at Lamar University over the last 16 months has been a very unique and enjoyable journey in achieving my Master’s in Education. This program has allowed me to grow my leadership skills, cultivate the importance of effective digital learning, and develop a heart for leading educational change. From the beginning moments of this experience, our learning environment has been authentic to our situations. We have been challenged to develop mastery and critical thinking. Our culture and circumstances have been leading the way throughout each course, which are key components of Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE) (Harapnuik, 2015).
In addition to developing this significant learning environment, a learner centered approach has always been the environment we have operated in, through the COVA approach. COVA stands for the following:

Choice: freedom to organize and present our evidence of learning as we see fit.
Ownership: personal responsibility of our own learning
Voice: opportunities to reflect learning and share knowledge publicly
Authentic experiences: the ability to cause change in our own educational workplaces.

(Cummings, Harapnuik, & Thibodeaux, 2017, p. 6)

From the beginning of the program I have been able to have choice, ownership and voice through my personal educational lens. Since I became an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2015, I was able to submit a portfolio of work to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes of the first two courses in the program. I had choice and a reflective voice of how to display mastery and accomplishments by publishing my work as a digital portfolio. I have appreciated and enjoyed the ability to take ownership through each authentic project. As a teacher in my own classroom, this is the type of learning I have strived for. Having it modeled for me as a student has confirmed who I am as a learner. I have pride in what I have learned and developed in this program and I took each assignment seriously because the learning was designed for us to make an impact in our educational corners of the world.

Adjusting to this learning was not difficult at all. It was actually a breath of fresh air compared to most professional development that is “sit-and-get.” Active learning is just that--it is much more active, but because the work I have done in this program has been authentic and fit to my needs, it has been enjoyable and rewarding. Adjusting to the COVA method meant that I had to keep an open mind as a learner and that I had to give myself permission to grow as an educator. Just as our professors gave us freedom to show our understanding, I had to give myself the freedom to think outside the box of my own creativity to grow.

One of the more difficult adjustments may have been taking control of my own voice as a change-agent for my organization rather than a voice of self-reflection. I have had this blog for about five years that I began my first year as a teacher. It was a place for self-reflection and getting things off of my mind. Through this program, I have learned to utilize it more as a portfolio of work, which has been specific to the needs I see around my educational environment. I have consistently looked at the learning experiences through the filter of my own lens (my organization), which has guided my own learning outcomes in each course.

My innovation plan grew out of a need for just having a plan in general for K-12 1:1 iPad initiative. In my experiences, there was no specific plan. So I used the resources learned within the first few courses to build a plan that could provide immediately support. I felt that it was authentic, but still felt disconnected from it because of my position as a teacher, rather than an administrator or technology integration specialist. However, over time as we learned more about learning philosophies, learning environments, and professional development deficiencies and needs, I began to realize that the need for my innovation plan was deeper than just the iPad. The support that teachers need to implement iPads into their classrooms is the main focus now, and I have a more authentic grasp on my innovation plan and organizational change I think needs to happen.

Throughout developing this plan and my leadership skills, promoting change at my organization has become a desire of mine, but my attitude toward leading change has gone from huge optimism and dream-like ideas to reality: I’m still optimistic, but I do see that leading change from the bottom-up is not easy. One of the most important things I can do as a classroom teacher trying to spark change is to model innovative strategies and significant learning environments, and not preach and lecture about them. This type of action will make what I am doing stand out among the routine. I recognize that I do get anxious about leading change, but I know that my vision and what I have learned in the last year in this program are so desperately needed in education that I have to continue to lead and model, no matter what position I am in.

As I move forward developing my own significant learning environments for students and colleagues (when given the opportunity to), the COVA approach is something I definitely will consider, because it is something I have already been using. To highlight how this would work, the following infographic outlines what this can look like and how I have used the COVA method in hind sight:

The COVA and CSLE methods directly align with my learning philosophy and support what I have been trying to achieve in the last few years as a teacher. In fact, these methods have helped me to develop a deeper understanding of my constructivist learning philosophy. Constructing meaning by having choice, ownership, voice, and authentic experiences and applications seems to be the foundation of creating significant learning environments. COVA considers the needs of the learner: learning outcomes provide ownership, learning activities can have choice and voice, and learning assessments can be authentic and engaging.


Cummings, C., Harapnuik, D., & Thibodeaux, C. (2017). Factors that contribute to ePortfolio persistence. (In Press) - ePortfolios_COVA_IJeP_Final In Press Draft.pdf
Harapnuik, D. (2015, May 8). Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ-c7rz7eT4

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