Digital Learning & Leading Journey Synthesis

It’s a little crazy to think about how much can change in just 18 months.  18 months ago, I was in my third year of teaching as an Early Childhood/Middle School photography teacher.  I was brand new and excited to be teaching.  While I was still somewhat new to the school and to teaching, I knew that I wanted to be more than a teacher.

I wanted to be a leader.

Now, 18 months later, I’m wrapping up the last course of my graduate studies through Lamar University and getting ready to walk across the stage at graduation!  In this short amount of time, I’ve made some great connections with other educators across the country and have learned so much about what it means to be a great educator, however, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without the help and encouragement of my school administration.  It was through a discussion on personal and professional goals with my Headmaster and Head of EC/Lower School, that I mentioned that I was thinking about going back to school.  I received some great feedback and suggestions from both of them, and had they not pointed me in the right direction, I don’t think I would have gone to grad school as soon as I did, and I’m not entirely sure I would have discovered Lamar University and/or the DLL program.  It’s funny how life plays out.

Throughout the 18 month long journey of the Digital Learning and Leading program, I’ve had some pretty great learning experiences.  While the non traditional COVA approach to learning took a little bit of an adjustment for me, I realize that this is also what empowered me as a learner and educator.  Sure, in the beginning that was a little bit of frustration because I wanted my assignments to have yes or no answers.  Either I got it right or wrong, but there wasn’t any of that.  While teaching and learning based on the COVA model is hard, it’s really an adjustment that needs to be made.  I can see where many schools are not yet ready to embrace COVA- it’s too risky, giving up the control.

We just need to continue to find ways to be facilitators of learning and not dictators.

When I stop and think of the accomplishments I’ve made in the program, I realize that the results are too great.  What this program has done for me goes further than the accomplishments.  Aside from the amounts of work and late hours, I’ve gained even more confidence in myself as an educator and as a leader.  The assignments have definitely been worthwhile and have helped push me into more of a leadership role in my school.  My innovation plan, which has taken up most of my focus during this program hasn’t gone unnoticed by my administration- in fact, they want to see and hear more and have given me opportunities to show what I have learned and try it with my students.  That in itself is a big accomplishment for me.  I know that it’s not that easy for many in this country, and that for many teachers, their voices and proposals go unheard or are given very little thought.  For many in the public school system, there are countless hoops to go through to initiate change.  I realize how difficult it can be, and I’m grateful to be at a school that listens to it’s teachers and allows them to try new approaches and ideas.

Another “tangible” accomplishment that I am proud is this ePortfolio.  Looking back at a year and half’s worth of work all housed in my ePortfolio is pretty amazing to reflect back on.  I had fun giving my ePortfolio a little bit of personality and making it my own, and I also love being able to refer my site to colleagues and other administrators in my organization.  The work speaks for itself.

Take a moment and Sway with me.  Check out the visual presentation below to see what this experience has been like for me.  If you want to further your professional teaching career and are thinking about entering into an online Masters program, look into Lamar University.  This program has taken me to places that weren’t even on my radar 18 months ago.

All of these things helped package the innovation plan quite nicely as I presented it to my administration, and the response that I got from them was receptive as they gave me the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios in my fine art elective class for the 2016-2017 school year.

About six months ago, I revisited the original innovation plan and refined and tweaked some things.  As I was rereading the literature and making adjustments, I realized that this is something that is constantly evolving.  With the help of some of my classmates, we created an updated literature review supporting ePortfolios in the classroom.  As I look back at this timeline of important dates I created, I’m happy to say that we’ve stayed on track for the 2016-2017 school year.  This last year was a pilot year for me, as well as an educational year for my colleagues, as I had the opportunity to lead a year long in-house PLC group with a handful of my colleagues.  During our monthly meetings, we discussed student ePortfolios and the benefits of having them for our 6-8th grade students.  We created a group ePortfolio and had the opportunity to present our findings with the entire school faculty and administration during May inservice.  Below is the Timeline of Important Dates that was created in December 2016.  The text in read are my current reflections and comments of the progress made, what worked and what didn’t work, and what could have been done better.

Timeline of Important Dates

August 2016-May 2017

Begin implementation of the innovation plan in the 8th Grade Photography elective class. The pilot will last one full school year.  Distribute anonymous surveys to students at the conclusion of the photography elective each quarter.

This year has been an exciting year of experimentation and collaboration.  After much research on student ePortfolios, I decided I was going to pilot ePortfolios in my 8th grade digital photography class.  While the students were very excited to be able to create something that they could add a little personality to, we found that the challenging part was creating it in such a short amount of time.  I found that the students were not able to create and maintain an ePortfolio in only 1 Quarter, as this photography class is a rotating group, with new students each quarter.  Another challenge we ran into was that we were trying to split valuable class time in teaching how to create and maintain an ePortfolio, and actually photographing projects.  Designing and ePortfolio could be a class all on its own!  What I wanted students to get out of the ePortfolio, was to take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on the projects and photographs they created.  The process of self reflection is an important one, and I wanted them to actively reflect on what they were learning.  By piloting the ePortfolios in only photography class, some of them just look like photography websites, instead of an ePortfolio that houses all sorts of thoughts, projects and other artifacts.  If there were a way to begin the ePortfolio process in 6th grade, in a variety of subjects, I believe this could be something powerful that students could take with them and continue to use in high school and college.

January 3, 2017

PLC discoveries and surprises about assessments.  A halfway “checkpoint” in which each PLC group will present to all faculty and staff the findings and surprises they have come across up until this point. Begin collecting and analyzing data.

At this hallway point in the year, our PLC group made a brief presentation of the progress we have made for the first half of the year in our findings for using ePortfolios as an alternative form of assessment.  This was just a mid-year checkpoint as we were looking at the impact ePortfolios could have on our students and teachers.  We discussed how before implementing student ePortfolios, the teachers and educators first had to be familiar with what they were, and how to maintain an ePortfolio ourselves.  We cannot enforce ePortfolios on our learners without having learned how to use them ourselves.  We decided that we would spend the next 5 months making a group ePortfolio to present to the faculty in May.  

May 31, 2017

Collect and analyze the data that has been collected during this pilot year. Share and communicate the results with a group presentation to all faculty and staff during work week.

Once school let out, our PLC group had the opportunity to present our findings of the ePortfolio to the rest of the faculty and staff at our school.  We created https://pseportfolios.wordpress.com as a visual for the rest of the school to see our thoughts and findings of the ePortfolio.  What was challenging here was that we are all fine art teachers and librarians- not your typical core subject teachers in which we might have students post artifacts of their learning, however, we understood that we cannot initiate change without using and being familiar with the process first.  We created the website and divided it into the different subjects that we taught and we each reflected and posted how we (the educators) might use ePortfolios.  The idea was to create a visual for everyone else and to speak of the powerful benefits that this can give our students, especially because we are a PreK-8 school, and as mentioned in the proposal video, the private high school application process in Houston is just as grueling, if not more than college applications.   

May 2017- May 2018

Reflect on the pilot process with the Director of Fine Arts, Headmaster, Head of Middle School and middle school advisories and discuss whether the plan will be extended to other subjects and grade levels.

Extending the plan to all middle school students to have and maintain an ePortfolio will be something we gradually expand over a 2-3 year period.

** This is where were currently are in our student ePortfolio implementation.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts of the ePortfolio with the school and pilot them in my fine art class.  While there are still some kinks to work out (like moving from WordPress to other possible platforms), we have stayed on track for most of the year.  The next step is to sit and discuss if and when we can expand ePortfolio implementation to other grade levels and subjects.  We realize that this is something that will not happen all at once, which is why we’ve given a 2-3 year period for middle school expansion.  There needs to be additional teacher professional learning opportunities in the area of ePortfolios, and more meeting with Covenant, our school’s IT team.  I will be out of school until early- mid November on maternity leave, but plan to continue to check in and help when I can.  If there’s anything I have learned, it is that no change initiative can be effective without the proper support team in place.  I have said all along that I don’t want to inspire teachers and let them fail, I want to be there to help support them along the way, but I realize that I cannot do this on my own.  I need a team to help support middle teachers with trouble shooting and other roadblocks that might pop up along the way.  

 

 

What does COVA and CSLE mean anyway?

It’s been 17 months since I started my journey in pursuing a Masters of Education with Lamar University.  While at times, it felt like I was buried with work, my kid’s schedules, and grad work, it really has flown by.  As I reflect on what this program has done for me, professionally, I am more and more convinced that I made the right decision in choosing Lamar University and the Digital Learning and Leading program for my Masters studies.  It’s quite nice to have started the program with the same two professors that I am now ending with in my final capstone course.

I realized pretty early on in the program that this journey was going to be “different”.  What the professors in this program embraced was the COVA approach to learning, which embodies these important learning principles: choice, ownership and voice through authentic learning.

I remember chatting with some of my classmates in a Google Hangouts sessions during one of our very first courses to go over our newly created ePortfolios.  Back then, a lot of us were just getting to familiarize ourselves with the different ePortfolio platforms and programs, and there were a lot of comments from others like “well, I don’t really know what they want…” or “I wish they’d just be clear on what they want to see…”.  This, for us, was new.  A lot of us were looking for “yes or no” answers to our work.  Black or white. Either it’s right or it’s wrong. What was this “make it your own” stuff?  I can’t say enough, how my views on learning and education have shifted just from being apart of this COVA approach to learning.  I quickly learned that our professors were not looking for “the right” answer in our assignments, but they wanted us dig deep and elaborate- to take ownership of our work and to voice our opinions, reflections and view points through authentic learning assignments.  As I continued through the program, I began to realize that almost everyone in the program was working on something different than what I was working on, and that’s what I’ve loved.  I’ve loved seeing everyone take their ideas and initiatives and run with them into their schools/districts and organizations.  Not one person’s assignment has been the same as someone else’s, because we have been given the freedom to choose what to focus on and how to present our assignments to our professors, and ultimately, our administrators.

When I started this program, I was about 2 1/2 years into teaching.  I was brand new, which I think helped me because I wasn’t stuck in the fixed mindset of “this is how I’ve been teaching and this is what’s worked for me”.  I find the quote in Dr. Harapnuik’s CSLE video to be very true in that

“Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change.”  

That statement cannot be true enough, because as we can probably all relate on some level, either personal or professional, we do not like change.  We are built to follow a routine from the moment we are infants.  As soon as we bring home a brand new baby, the first thing we try to do is put them on a schedule, and when that schedule is interrupted, it shakes up everybody’s day, right?  So I can completely understand that the hard part for many educators, in creating significant learning environments, is breaking out of their comfort zone and switching up the way we are teaching our kids.

I have said from the beginning to some of my colleagues at work that this program is right up our school’s alley.  We are a 1:1 iPad school with museum partnerships as we are located in the museum district.  Our headmaster, who has been our headmaster for 8 years now, knows very well the direction our school needs to go in to give our students the best learning experience.  Many of the books that I’ve read during my studies are some that he has suggested to our faculty and staff already, but what this has done for me is allowed me the opportunity to really focus on an innovation project, which for me was student ePortfolios in middle school.  Had it not been for the DLL program and COVA, I don’t think I would have ever put so much effort into something like this, and then actually approach my administration about making it apart of our middle school curriculum.  Once I did that, my administration really looked to me as a leader.  My innovation plan wasn’t just something that I thought of to get me through the program, but something that I really believe in AND that I believe will help our students stand out in the high school application process as we are a private K-8 school.  The application process for these kids getting into other Houston area private schools is just insane and probably just as grueling as the college and university application process.  The video that I created to accompany my initiative proposal was a big seller for my administration, and once everything was presented, I was given the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios this last school year, as well as lead a PLC group in my school for the year, which we just wrapped up and presented to the entire school a few weeks ago.  I don’t think it couldn’t have gone better.

After learning about and being apart of this COVA approach, I plan on creating the same sort of learning environment for my middle school students, and what’s great is that many of the middle school teachers have seen my journey and are on board with my innovation project as well.  I think the challenges that I face with this initiative is that I am not a full time middle school teacher.  I am primarily an Early Childhood teacher that happens to teach one middle school photography class.  While my plan focuses on middle school, I spend most of my days in the EC classroom, so it is crucial that I have a permanent support system or group of people to be readily available for any issues or support that will be needed from other middle school teachers.  I don’t want this to be something that inspires everyone, but doesn’t work out because of lack of support.  Also, life through another curve ball at me and I’m due in early August with my third baby, so I will be out the classroom for first part of the year and won’t be returning until early November.  I don’t want to loose any momentum on the progress that I’ve been able to make so far, so I’m a little nervous about missing the first few months of the new school year.

So, having been apart of this program, how do I plan on using the COVA approach to create significant learning environments in my own school? Well, I plan go over with my students the course goals and expectations before we dive in completely and embrace COVA.  We won’t just cover the “what you will have learned through this course”, but really go over what COVA is so that my students can know what to expect.  The “freedom” that comes with the COVA approach could definitely be interpreted differently to a middle schooler, but at the same time, I want them to know that they have choice, ownership and voice through authentic learning assignments, and that, coupled with the regular use of their ePortfolios will certainly aide in their learning going forward.

Footprints & Technology

I found this week’s readings, videos and topics in my Digital Citizenship course to be so interesting because we are all forced to evaluate ourselves and think about something that we love, something that has become so second nature to us and yes, something that we are addicted to- Technology.  We are also forced to think about the affect it has on ourselves, our students and our own children.  I do happen to remember a time of no cell phones and I remember writing papers in early middle school on a typewriter instead of a computer.  After finally getting a family computer, I remember having to print out directions on MapQuest before we went any where new.. I mean, the thought of no GPS on my phone or no Waze is frightening to me now! I also remember my mom always having her nose in the encyclopedia trying to answer my many questions throughout the day.

Technology has made our lives much more convenient, but has it made us dumber?

For some reason, this thought always pops into my head, because I have those memories of my mom.  When we didn’t know something, we turned to a book to find out.  Now, we just google it on our smart phones or ask Alexa. When I think about my own kids (and my very young students) and the access they all have now to digital technology, the only thing that I can try my best to do is to be sure that there is a balance with the amount of screen time they get, whether it be on the T.V., iPad or phone, and allowing them to discover the world in an adventurous, hands-on sort of way.  What I do not want to happen is for the technology use to take away from the opportunity for gross motor learning and discovery.  I work with 3 and 4 year olds on a daily basis and I’ve seen kids that know exactly what to do with an iPad or phone… what those devices have become to them are an extension of their own bodies, and while they have all this tech knowledge at such a young age, what they need to be doing more of is playing with play-doh, or digging in the dirt, ripping some paper and building with blocks.  These activities will help their gross motor skills and core development.  We still need to discover ways in which we can continue to explore this big world we live in and I just don’t want to see technology take away from that.

As we get older and we continue to grow up in a digital world, we begin to leave traces of who we are and where we’ve been.  A digital footprint/tattoo refers to the information that can be found online about a person based on their online activity (Common Sense Education, 2013).  What we search for and what we post on our social media accounts are all bits of information that can be gathered about us, whether they be intentional or not.  I think, whether a person’s social media accounts are private or not, they need to be conscious of the things they post, and even the things others post about or with them.  While photos and words are only snippets of a person’s life, it doesn’t take much else to use these things to form opinions of a person’s character.  It’s important to teach our children to have an awareness of how the information they post online can affect their personal, educational and ultimately, professional lives.  By building this awareness, students can have some control over the digital footprint they leave behind.  Student ePortfolios are a great way for them to be deliberate in how they portray themselves, in that there are plenty of opportunities for self reflection.  An ePortfolio can act as an electronic resume by letting a person know who you are, what your interests are, where you have been, what you have done and where you are going.

While technology and internet access have for sure made our lives much more convenient, I do believe that we are where we are now because of the incredible minds and hard work of many people before us.  We just need to be sure to teach our kids, from an early age, on what a healthy balance of screen time might look like and as they get older, how to problem solve on their own.  While technology has made our lives much more convenient, I think it’s important to still teach traditional life lessons like how to use a dictionary and how to look up other useful information without a tablet or smart phone.

References

Common Sense Education. (2013, August 12). What’s In Your Digital Footprint? [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_gj3oRn8s

Applicable Resources

Boyle, J. (2014, March 8). 11 Tips for Students to Manage Their Digital Footprint. Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/digital-citizenship-the-future-of-learning/11-tips-for-students-tomanage-their-digital-footprints/

Common Sense Education. (2013, August 12). What’s In Your Digital Footprint? [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_gj3oRn8s

Internet Society. (2016, January 12). Four Reasons to Care About Your Digital Footprint. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro_LlRg8rGg

Pfeffer, J. (2014, August 21). Your Digital Footprint: What is it & How Can You Manage it? Retrieved from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/main/your-digital-footprint/

Sheninger, E. (2016, January 8). Your Digital Footprint Matters. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-sheninger/your-digital-footprint-ma_b_8930874.html

Converting Courses to an LMS Platform

I’ve worked endlessly the last 4 weeks on creating an online course for a fun collaboration project between my 8th Grade photography students and my Betas.  I’ve been SO pleased with the outcome, and I’m ecstatic that my idea for this has been accepted by my department heads.  I’ll be starting this course THIS week in my fine art elective class!

The process of creating this online course has gotten my wheels turning.  I’m beginning to see the potential and the convenience an online course can bring for our students and even teachers and faculty in my school.  I’ve mentioned before that this year, Presbyterian School is focusing on looking at our assessments.  Is the way we are currently assessing our students in the classroom effective?  Are there alternative forms of assessment we should be looking at?  Throughout this year, PLC groups have been meeting monthly to brainstorm, research and present different ways we can be assessing in the classroom.  There’s a mathematical mindset, EC assessment, creative writing and ePortfolio group, just to name a few.  At the end of the school year, once school has let out, there will be a large group, professional learning meeting in which each group will have the opportunity to present their findings to all of the faculty.  I’ve started to think- What if we somehow created an all online PL course in which each of these “assessment groups” have a designated unit in the course so that teachers and faculty can access and complete the course on their own time?  I obviously haven’t worked out all the details yet, but I think it would be great to enter in all of this great information into Schoology, or another LMS and have teachers join the course on their own time, instead of losing valuable time in the classroom.  I think it’s something worth looking into!

Another idea I’ve had recently is to create an online course for middle school students as they prepare to begin creating their own ePortfolios.  I’ve had the opportunity to pilot ePortfolios in my 8th grade fine art elective, however the goal is to have all middle school students in grades 6-8 to have an ePortfolio.  One that they can use to house important artifacts and projects for their school work.  In discussing this with my supervisors, we realize that we do not necessarily want them to use a school template, or to create the ePortfolio through their school email, because we want our students to continue to use the ePortfolios in high school and college.  Trying to teach students how to create and maintain an ePortfolio during normal class time is challenging, because there is so much information to relay, and while I want to cover that information, I cannot afford to loose too much of my class time for ePortfolios and not be able to cover the class information I need to be teaching.  I’ve already said, teaching students about ePortfolios and helping them in creating one is another class entirely, and well, why not create an online course on ePortfolios?  I can break down the course in different units, and post all materials and assignments in Schoology.  I think something like this would be so beneficial for our students, and will not take away valuable class time from teachers.

There are just a couple ideas I’ve had since starting the process of designing an online class.  The possibility are endless!

An Action Research Plan

In my most recent graduate course, I’ve been able to refine and tweak things in my innovation plan.  I’ve revisited the literature, and with the help of a few of my classmates, have worked on a collaborative literature review in which we take an in depth look at what a student ePortfolio is, how they can be of benefit to the student, and how maintaining an ePortfolio can boost student engagement in class.  This has been a year long project for me, and every time I think I am happy with it, I realize that this isn’t something that is every going to be complete.  My plan is constantly evolving, just as technology is constantly evolving around us.  

With help of my classmates, colleagues and professors, I’ve developed this Action Research Plan, in which I address my topic of research, the focus of the research (my research question), and my collaborative literature review, among other things.  This has been a long, but worthwhile journey. Thanks for joining me on this ride.

 

The topic of the action research

As is the norm in middle and high school elective courses, students may elect 2-3 courses offered that might be of interest to them. This doesn’t always mean that student schedules reflect what they picked. Often times, students are put into electives that are of no interest to them, which then presents its challenges in seeing meaningful, conceptual work from the student. How might the use of the student ePortfolios enhance student engagement?

The purpose of the study

If one were to think about what it means to enhance student engagement in an art course, what is really sought after is an increase in student ownership. The idea is to have students involved in the discussion of art and passionate about the art that they create, readily available to support their art in writings and discussion. For many students, there is a lack of generated interest in the electives they choose, which in turn affects the effort they put forth in creating art.

The fundamental research question

What impact will the regular posting of photographs, artifacts and student reflections through an ePortfolio have on student engagement in the 8th grade photography elective?

The research design and research methods

The mixed-method approach will be used to gather the necessary data in this action research study.

The type of data to be collected

The data collected from the mixed-method approach will provide a supportive balance between qualitative and quantitative data. While the voices and opinions of students recorded through interviews and reflections are of great value, so is the data collected from pre/post student surveys. Ongoing observations and documentation of student engagement and work ethic will also be taking place.

The measurement instruments that will be used

Data will be collected in a variety of ways.  I will continue to use my personal observations of my students throughout the elective course, along with individual interviews during and after the course has been completed.  Students will be able to compete surveys anonymously to protect their identities and keep their information private.

Literature review

The literature review provides an in depth at ICT in schools while also providing an understanding of what an ePortfolio is, how they can be beneficial for students, and challenges that might arise in implementation of ePortfolios in schools.

The literature review also focuses on the effects ePortfolios have on student engagement, specifically in fine art electives in the middle school level.

Timeline of Important Dates

August 2016-May 2017

Begin implementation of the innovation plan in the 8th Grade Photography elective class. The pilot will last one full school year.  Distribute anonymous surveys to students at the conclusion of the photography elective each quarter.

January 3, 2017

PLC discoveries and surprises about assessments.  A halfway “checkpoint” in which each PLC group will present to all faculty and staff the findings and surprises they have come across up until this point. Begin collecting and analyzing data.

May 31, 2017

Collect and analyze the data that has been collected during this pilot year. Share and communicate the results with a group presentation to all faculty and staff during work week.

May 2017- May 2018

Reflect on the pilot process with the Director of Fine Arts, Headmaster, Head of Middle School and middle school advisories and discuss whether the plan will be extended to other subjects and grade levels.

Extending the plan to all middle school students to have and maintain an ePortfolio will be something we gradually expand over a 2-3 year period

 

 

A Call to Action!

As learners we are continuously learning from our own mistakes.

Yes, we are educators, but we aren’t perfect, and we don’t always get it right the first time.

With any sort of change initiative, especially on the grand scale of school or district wide change, our efforts don’t always go as planned… which is why I’m pushing for a call to action!

Many of you have been on this journey with me of implementing ePortfolios in my 8th grade photography class.  Currently I’m piloting my plan… and I’m learning.  It hasn’t been “a walk in the park” implementation, and I knew it wouldn’t be.  Luckily, I have the support of my Director of Fine Arts and I’ve been able to have some great discussions of what we could do to make this work.  I’ve created the attached outline in which I address the reasons behind this action research study, what I plan to measure and how I plan to measure them.  Click on the link (or the photo below) to take a look at the plan and give me feedback.  We’re all in this together, right?

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