December 3, 2017 by Rhonda Kinstner
As an art teacher, choice, ownership, voice and authentic learning were always a primary focus in my classroom. While I’d not heard of COVA as a concept until years later, I knew that the relevance and personalization of an artist’s works are what makes them successful. Art is a form of self-expression and that makes the concept of COVA an obvious one where art instruction is concerned. As I grew to become a technology teacher, that concept carried into my technology-based lesson designs. In my mind, there’s no reason for learning anything unless it’s for authentic purposes. It was important to me for students to know when to use what technology tools to complete a task or solve a problem.
COVA typically eliminates right and wrong answers, so my assignments have always been rubric-based and focused on a clear and strategically placed set of objectives. The creation of meaningful COVA based projects could be time consuming. Giving student projects the time and attention they deserved required a serious time investment as well. Choice, ownership, voice and authentic learning allowed me to learn about not only what my students understood, but their interests and philosophies as well. It allowed me to personalize the learning experience and get to know my students as individuals rather than consumers of information. That’s something that worksheets and handouts just don’t do.
The fact that I was a self-taught user of technology inspired me to encourage my students to become self-learners as well. I can’t remember the first time I was given the freedom and responsibility to take ownership of my learning. But I can remember being intimidated by it for the first time in my college art course. I didn’t know what my professor expected of me, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But I became so comfortable with my own ideas and processes, because I was in an area where my choices weren’t judged. I enjoyed learning that way. And it prepared me for learning about technology. At the time computers were becoming readily available in schools and homes, there wasn’t anyone around to show me how to use one. So I taught myself how to do what I needed to do. I wasn’t afraid to try anything on a computer. And I think that’s what made technology so fun for me. I was learning how to do things that applied to me, and that helped me accomplish personal goals and solve real problems. I became an advanced user of Adobe Creative Suite with no training, and taught it in a course I created on my own. I became a certified Microsoft expert, without having taken one technology course. My love and enthusiasm for technology is what led me to Lamar’s ETL program, and now my second master’s degree. And honestly, if my online courses didn’t encourage COVA, I would have dropped the program(s) a long time ago.
I enjoy pushing the boundaries of technology, and decided in 2011 that I wanted to promote change in education. I completed Lamar’s ETL program, and earned my general administration certification, with a Technology Specialist endorsement. Throughout this program, I’ve learned a lot more about how social influence and ongoing support can make a difference in creating the change we need. I created an innovation plan inspired by problems I’ve seen in my public-school district, which include technology-based decision making by administrators who don’t have experience in educational technology. I was determined to influence my co-workers to create significant learning environments that employ technology and blend traditional learning strategies with more innovative ones. My goal was to officially roll out my innovation plan this fall, at which time I would model the use of iPad apps as interdisciplinary learning tools and push in to classrooms to assist in creating blended learning. The kink that stopped me was another frustrating district decision – that building technology specialists would no longer have the power to manage iPads or apps in our buildings. It was a surprise to all of us when we arrived in August and were blocked out of using Jamf, our remote management system. Instead, the role was given to our district IT department, requiring classroom teachers to submit “HELP TICKETS” to get the apps they want on the iPads they want. This was a huge step backward for all of us, adding yet another responsibility to our teachers’ already overworked schedules.
My review of literature throughout this program has taught me that the biggest hurdle to a teacher’s innovative development is time, and sadly, our district chose to raise that hurdle. As a result of the decision, the iPads are considered by many teachers to be more trouble than they’re worth. If the expertise of the educational technologists in our district were considered in the technology decisions being made, I can’t help but believe we’d be much more effective educators as a district.
I still try to push the limits of technology in my technology lessons. I’m constantly reminding my students that there’s more than one way to accomplish anything on a computer, and I encourage them to figure out which way works best for them. My projects engage them, while requiring them to think. We spent our class time just before Thanksgiving playing a game that required them to locate and view Plymouth Rock using Google (satellite, street view). It required students to understand where the pilgrims landed in America as they sailed from Plymouth, New England on the Mayflower. I rewarded the first student to find it with a set of earbuds. Then, I challenged the group a second time to find the statue of William Bradford in Plymouth. They learned about why he was significant to the pilgrims by zooming in on the plaque under his statue. The experience was one in which I facilitated independent learning instead of giving them the information I wanted them to know. I consider my lab a significant learning environment because I provide my students with opportunities to discover things for themselves, using digital tools. I hope that I can influence other educators to do the same.