My COVA + CSLE Design Work

The Digital Learning & Leading Program at Lamar has ignited my passion for creative design in a way I never thought I would find this level of excitement — creating digital learning environments.  This program has taught me to look back in history at learning philosophies that have worked throughout time, study those philosophies, and to apply digital teaching and learning to our own teaching and learning philosophy, rather than applying technology for technology’s sake.  As one of my professors, Dr. Dwayne Harapnuik, often says (in fact, it’s the title of his blog), “It’s about learning.”  Though this quote is very simple, it’s also very powerful, because in such a changing landscape as education in 2018, it is easy to lose sight of the one real goal we have that supersedes all others — we want our students to learn.

The COVA + CSLE model is a model designed by Drs. Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, and Cummings, and is an innovative design because it works with any subject, grade level, or level of technology integration.  The COVA part is similar to other constructivist learning models in that the teacher provides opportunities for students to have more autonomy in their learning, and in creating of products of their learning.  COVA stands for Choice, Ownership, Voice, and Authentic learning.  In a COVA model, students learn through authentic learning experiences, where they have the ability to choose what they want to pursue, how they want to pursue it, and how they want to demonstrate their knowledge of their work to others.  The really exciting part of COVA is “ownership,” and in my experience, it is the one part that makes the biggest difference in learning.  Students own every part of their work, from the choices of what to study to the result of all their work.  In Lamar’s Digital Learning and Leading program, we had to create e-Portfolios (you’re looking at mine) to share our work with our professors and with the greater public, but in the end, this portfolio belongs to me, and it will still be relevant when I graduate from this program.

In my COVA art classroom, my students also made choices about which artists they wanted to learn about, which art media and techniques they wanted to learn, what kind of art they wanted to create, and how they wanted to share it with the world.  My students created e-portfolios using the Bulb app, and they will use these portfolios to represent their work to colleges, scholarship committees, potential employers, or to anyone.  Because my students got to choose which artists they wanted to learn about, their art was much more relevant than art created in the more traditional “follow the leader” style art lessons where all artwork emanates from the teacher’s example.  In the latter example, the work would be the teacher’s artistic voice, not the student’s, and the students would not feel true ownership of the work.

I also promoted student voice by turning the grading of projects over to the students through Peergrade, an online application which allows students to provide anonymous feedback based on a rubric designed by a teacher.  One thing I noticed is that, even though the feedback from peers was similar to what I would say, students valued feedback from their peers much more, and spreading out the feedback among multiple students gave artists a bigger picture of their work than simply receiving feedback from a teacher.  Democratizing feedback (and the grading process) was a huge win in my COVA classroom!

The feedback about my COVA classroom model was overwhelmingly positive:

“I really liked COVA because I guided my own future in a way because I chose everything I wanted. From the artist to the medium, to what type of art I wanted, to what I put in my portfolio. I had liberty and I didn’t feel pressured to have to follow certain instrutions as how teachers usually give to the students. COVA encourages students to want to study deeper into their studies and actually focus becuase they choose to learn what is more interesting to them and they are not forced to learn about something they don’t want to learn about. I wish we did this in other classes, like choosing the book we want to read because this way I am more willing to read the book and I am not just bored trying not to sleep while I read it. It feels as a weight lifted off our shoulders because it makes learning for us much more fun, interesting, and engaging.”

“One thing that I liked about COVA was that we all got to do what we wanted, and we enjoyed learning what we are intrigued by .”

“COVA was pretty Lit at times but not when I had to decide what to do because that’s the only hard part since in our super fun school(sarcasm) we don’t get to choose what we do in other classes but overall was fun to have that freedom.”

“I really enjoyed COVA. I thought it was a really good way for students to express themselves by finding what they like and doing a project on that said thing. For example, I got to choose an artist that I really really love to do a project on and honestly, I really enjoyed it.”

Almost all of the 135 responses I got on my survey pointed to Choice as being the element of COVA that brought with it the most significant change in learning for my students.  Likewise, “Voice” and “Ownership” were two elements that my students found challenging because they were not used to having either in relation to learning.  Many students also felt challenged by Authentic learning because it involved knowing their chosen artist or media goals well enough to design their own artwork around what they had learned, and that was harder than responding to a teacher prompt like, “paint a landscape in the style of Van Gogh.”

The CSLE part of the COVA + CSLE model is Creating a Significant Learning Environment, which encourages collaborative learning and empowers students through the COVA model.  This kind of learning environment is one in which students can work at their own pace, and make choices that drive their learning experience.  I found this aspect of my innovation project to be the most problematic, because we were required to use Google Classroom.  I like Google Classroom as a learning tool, but its design is linear and sort of like a Facebook profile, so it is difficult for kids to find things from the past.  It is clearly designed for daily deadlines.  In retrospect, I would like to use a different LMS like Canvas or Blackboard, and I think the functionality would better support a modular program with a lot of student choice.  I did design a Digital Citizenship training module for my school to use next year, and I used Schoology for the platform.  I like the visual setup of this LMS much better, because it allows students to see all the course materials at once and choose the order in which they want to move through the program.  This course is designed to be asynchronous, so students can complete it on their own time, in order to secure a “trust card” which will give them certain digital privileges.

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Click to enlarge

What I’ve learned this year is that both teachers and students love to be empowered, to have choice, and voice, and ownership of their work.  Also, both love doing work that is meaningful to them.  One of the challenges that I see right now is that the hyper-focus on standardized testing and data-driven education really makes it hard to sell COVA + CSLE to administrators, but it is also something that is sorely needed by teachers and students alike.  My challenge, going forward, is to promote this model using my research data and examples from my own practice to demonstrate its effectiveness in creating independent, engaged, and empowered learners through the COVA + CSLE models.  I am not really sure where this challenge will take me, but would love to design learning at a whole-school level.


Harapnuik, D, Thibodeaux, T., & Cummings, C. (2018). Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic Learning. Downloaded from on 2/2/18.

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