The Story of Innovation in Education

The MY Story of Innovation

This is a story about how I got to “this place” in education. It is a beautiful adventure of growth, frustration, and teamwork. During the past months, I’ve been learned the strategic steps and theory of human nature. It’s helped me devise an innovation plan to change the culture at my school. The story begins with understanding why people hold on to their comforts, and end with letting go of the past for a new culture of learning. Here’s is a look at my innovation journey.

I’ve always been curious about the mind.

My parents taught me all about what I would come to understand is a learning theory. My coursework at Lamar University showed me what to do with it.  I became fixated on bringing my school into the 21st century using the tools I was learning each week. The Lamar program is a model of a significant learning environment, which I wanted to share with my coworkers.  It wasn’t my job exactly, but I led, and others followed.

I devised a plan to help them prepare for teaching differently.  I used in combination, a three-year technology integration plan to intentionally bring tech into teaching, with an implementation plan to help teachers get started.  The plan (a technology integration professional learning plan) began with a reminder of what we were trying to achieve as teachers.

The Origin of Changing Culture

The plan to integrate technology into classroom teaching had a history. It was what motivated my work in the school for nearly five years. As the technology director, I built an infrastructure that could support the needs of 21st-century learners when they finally arrived.  The plan was heavy in Constructivist theory and backed by research about trends in education. It was designed using the COVA learning approach, on the heels of a successful blended learning project – a German class, using the same design.

The course served as a testing ground for my first significant learning environment. I believe the environment in which we learn is as important as what we learn. Since that test, the entire Foreign Language department has been restructured to offer four languages in digitally, in addition to a traditional Spanish course. I call that success.

Learning through the Lamar Masters program (Digital Learning and Leading – DLL) gave shape to what I believed – my personal learning philosophy. I gathered more research to support my plan, which boosted my confidence. To that knowledge, I added big scary goals and tools.

The experience of creating a blended learning course introduced me to backward design, where the endgame is the beginning of the plan.  Using that approach, I imagined a school where kids wanted to learn and took command of the process. If I could get teachers comfortable with using technology, then show them how to teach with it, they could step away from the front of the classroom and let the students take ownership of their learning.  It was a lofty goal.


brain-2146167__340Through many videos, books, conversations, and assignments, I learned that to change a culture, the behavior must change. To change behavior, hearts must change. To change hearts, I had to create something my co-workers connected with, that led them back to why they became teachers. To do that, I had to help them see how the world had changed.

Learning about how people think, their mindset was the first of many pearls of wisdom that guided my plan design. I learned the value of support. Through partnerships with other Lamar students and support from people at work – my plan grew. But a great plan is nothing but an idea unless it’s implemented.

hearts 3

I learned about strategic design tools that helped plant my ideas firmly in executable order, complete with measurable actions and outcomes. I organized ideas in a 3 column table and used the principles of “understanding by design.”  Most important was defining motivators in the 4DX model, which is the basis of the Three Year Plan.  I revisited these motivators time and again, hoping I had reached my teachers’ hearts. This became my Achilles heel.

Swept up by the whirlwind – no, the firestorm – that stole my focus, at times I lost touch with what I now know is the most critical part of the plan, the “why.” With practice, I will do better. From my efforts, I’ve learned these tools are the insights to human behavior. To master them is to change a culture.

Changing Culture

At times I struggle with communicating my ideas.  I think everyone does. My innovation plan was tangible, it was straightforward professional learning, delivered in a new way. It’s tough to get a message across when so many ideologies exist. The apparent purpose was to help teachers gain some skills. I found it hard to get some people to slow down and listen to the reason it mattered.  But I kept trying.  I made time to listen to them and understand their needs.

The plan was executed as designed. Feedback was positive and more action research is pending. I have developed several online classes for new employees. I am hopeful the trend will continue as new teachers join us with expectations like my own.

Cultures evolve slowly. Surprisingly, everything will have changed one day. Five years ago my vision began, and today teachers are teaching with technology. Some have given their students freedom to learn. Many teachers are modeling what I know will help our school survive its growing pains.

In the image of Lamar’s graduate program, my innovation plan was designed with choice, ownership, voice, and authenticity. Just as I wanted to make my work responsibilities the foundation of my coursework, so too, did teachers as they learned to use technology in their own classrooms.  Through the technology PL plan (my innovation plan) I created a significant learning environment (CSLE) for our staff to model to their students.

I have to admit, during my time in the DLL program my other responsibilities occasionally overwhelmed me. I fell short of what I hoped to do personally to garner support for my plan, but in spite of that, the plan was very successful. My communication efforts were weaker than intended, and my follow-through was less formal than what it deserved – lessons from which I have learned. But I know how much teachers learned and appreciated having the opportunity to grow in skills. If I could change anything, it would have been my own focus. Unfortunately, my work is not entirely under my control. As the Director of Technology, I must prioritize, as does every employee. Over time, I believe professional development will become as important as the work we do as teachers.

Sometimes I encountered gatekeepers, people who rallied to keep the old world alive and well. It reminded me that cultural change must happen naturally. So I set my targets on those willing to look ahead. I see small victories in the classrooms; teachers using new tools and taking risks – some even letting students lead the way. These moments are what I bring to mind when I doubt the value of my hard work. The proof lies in the change that I can now see, months later, when every teacher, even the apprehensive learners from a year ago, are integrating technology into teaching. I call that success.

Will this story have a sequel?

I’ve taken everything I’ve learned at Lamar University and applied it in my own school. The lines are blurred between courses, and I can’t distinguish one class as having more influence than another. I’ve stretched myself out of my comfort zone to the point of no return. My innovation plan, blended learning course, and online classes are examples of my leadership.  I will persevere, calm my whirlwind, and focus. I intend to continue pushing forward the agenda to change how we teach, so Generation Z, and all who come after, can successfully learn in 21st-century style. Successful salespeople know that most people give up after just a few sales calls. Those who hang in there, five, six, seven times, reiterating their message, eventually win the sale. Soon, I will share this information with new members of our staff, including new leaders. I plan to continue until I see the change I know is needed for excellent schools like mine to not only arrive but thrive in the future.

Image credit: all images from; CC0

A Reflective Essay: Looking Back to See the Future

the past

Reflecting on the past is only useful for lamenting regrets and assessing one’s potential for change. My experience in the DLL program has given me cause to reflect upon both. Of course, I have no regrets except that I didn’t find the program sooner – although it probably didn’t exist. What I have discovered about my own potential for change is immeasurable.

In the beginning of my DLL (Digital Learning & Leadership) journey, I was skeptical that academia could help me become a better, more effective leader in education. Not that I knew everything, it’s that my views about education tend to rub traditionalists the wrong way.  Many of my battles in life have been centered around academic versus practical knowledge. I’ve always had a different view about teaching and learning.  I entered the DLL program with the goal of learning. My focus was on finding out what I didn’t already know that seemed to separate me from my teacher friends. Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Fortunately, from the very beginning of the DLL program, I could tell it was different.

I discovered early on that the program was looking for real opinions from real experiences, by real people. Shortly after it began, the COVA approach was introduced – Choice, Ownership, Voice, in an Authentic environment. It caught my ear – it was what I believed was missing from K12 education. Climbing to the top of the class to chase a grade wasn’t important, in fact, the format of the program didn’t lend itself to that type of COVAthinking. Contrary to every other type of academic institution, students were only competing with their own ideas. But make no mistake, COVA made learning far more challenging, especially for me. Living up to the program’s expectation was far easier than living up to my own!

We were judged on our ability to apply our ideas in our work environments.  That’s what the “A” stands for – authenticity. Course professors didn’t have a list of right answers for us. We had to apply our coursework in real-time, with real coworkers, and with real students. We could choose our projects and methods but had to make them authentic. Occasionally my thoughts wandered to the movie “Truman” with Jim Carey. Unknowingly, he lived his entire life in a perfect world which had been staged and televised. When he discovered the truth he set off to escape. The DLL program was an example of the same significant learning environment we were striving to create (a CSLE – created significant learning environment) in our own schools and workplaces; the difference being that the program goal was to allow us to learn how to create the same significant learning environment outside of this wonderful, perfect world.

COVA was the method by which we practiced. It was like telling someone to burn 100 calories in an hour using any equipment in the gym – we had choice, ownership, and a voice – the gym was our online classroom. In time we each discovered what worked individually, and partnered with others for accountability.  Eventually, we tried out other equipment until our confidence improved. By the end of the program, we were fit and eager to mentor others.

Course content was all about teaching and learning, thinking and analyzing, but mostly about how to identify what needs to be changed and developing ways to accomplish that.  It was current, insightful, and thought-provoking. It was inspiring. My greatest takeaways, however, came from the significant learning environment itself, and the COVA approach by which the courses were presented. Here are my top 5 DLL program takeaways in a nutshell:

top 5 takeawaysLove What You Hate

Picture5Among the hundreds of nuggets of information I encountered through my time in the program I came away with a sense that if I can force myself to love something I hate, I won’t let it suck the life out of me. No amount of complaining would make required projects leave my to-do list, so I overcame my procrastination. COVA allowed me to start with the skills I had and build on them.

Celebrate Failure

Picture 4There is no path to success except through failure, like chipping away at a stone block to reveal the statue inside. I learned to treat failure like success. I wanted to get to it quickly. I wanted to get rid of ideas that wouldn’t work so I could get them out of the way. My success was often the result of vetting ideas through a panel of my peers. Many of them have experience that changed my way of thinking or offered suggestions that changed my course entirely. Perhaps I knew this theory about failure before DLL but I rode the wheels off it in the program. Submission deadlines were at midnight for a reason.

Know When Something Matters

Picture 3Mindset was a large part of both the content and environment of the program. Conversations with classmates were very challenging. I learned to recognize when my opinion didn’t matter in another person’s journey. For example, when a ship is both on fire and sinking, offering a sailor either a fire hose or a cork won’t make a difference. He may have to board my ship to survive. Some captains would rather go down with the ship. The same is true in reverse. Sometimes I was smarter to abandon my ideas for something else. Authentic learning environments are the best teachers of all.

Stop Talking – Start Doing

Picture 2If time is spent creating a plan, it needs to be executable. The program expects its students will execute, analyze, revise and re-execute them. COVA not only creates an opportunity for real experiences, build into it an expectation that learners will walk the talk. The innovation project I developed was based on real work I was paid to do. Administrators at my school didn’t have the time to discuss the plan so I stopped talking about it and got to work doing it.  Rather than waste time and effort explaining the details, a simple explanation and an action plan were all I used. When I stopped talking and started doing, my plan came to life.

Embrace Community

Picture 1Without a doubt, the #1 greatest takeaway from COVA and the DLL program was learning to embrace community. I’ve completely changed my view about relying on others. Times have changed and learning isn’t the result of my own hard work, it comes as a result of the work of many; people who share what they know with me and seek to build a nation “in the know”.  COVA includes ownership and voice. I have learned to own what I believe and voice what I know. Sometimes I know less than others, and sometimes I know more. I have gained the wisdom to understand how lucky I am to be the dumbest person in the room.

The Future

the future

No one can predict the future but we certainly can plan for it. The five most important lessons I have learned from the DLL program (loving what you hate, the importance of failing, knowing what matters, taking action, and the value of community) are supported by an enormous amount of pertinent content.  It can be applied in any learning environment. In the short term, my intention is to implement the remaining two parts of my innovation plan. It will continue to be adapted, changing as my action research reveals ways it can be improved.

Using COVA and creating a significant learning environment is well underway at my school. Every year our teachers become more skilled and innovative, incorporating technology into teaching. As they see success they become more comfortable encouraging students to be independent as learners. The process is leading them to become comfortable as facilitators.

measure learningThe challenge ahead is to show teachers how to measure the effects of COVA in learning. They need to understand how to measure more than student enthusiasm. In some cases, teachers may be disappointed with the results and unwilling to return and try again. If anything is to get in the way of progress, it will be helping them see the value in trying again. My goal is to help our teachers raise the bar for achievement while loosening their grip on how students learn. I can’t possibly achieve this goal with only a technology plan, no matter how innovative it may be. My role allows me to plant the seed which can grow with the help and support of the leaders in my school.

I will help our teachers learn the lessons I have taken away from the DLL program. I will create a significant learning environment for each of them, with choice, ownership, voice, in their authentic classrooms. I will help them love what they hate by supporting them. I will celebrate their failures on the way to success.  I will help them see what matters in learning and model ways they can take action. I will be the community and a bridge to a society of people who can help them succeed. In my own courses, my students will live in that environment, too. It’s what I’ve always done. They are free to learn, in their own way, at their own pace. I simply help them set their goals.

We have entered the front edge of the digital age and all organizations must adjust. Being an education leader can happen in any industry because learning is infinite. I’ve discovered that being a leader in education really means helping people adapt and change. My challenge is to fit new methods into an old system with better results than the status quo. When I achieved that, I will move on.

Images Chalkboard (Graffiti) by Gerd Altmann CC0, (fortune-telling) by Tumisu CC0


Breadcrumbs: Using Action Research to Re-Calibrate a Plan

crumbsWhat are breadcrumbs?

No, not the grain-based type, the data type. In technology, breadcrumbs are the collections of links that step backward through the internet as evidence of where you’ve been. Breadcrumbs help you navigate. They accumulate automatically so the user can easily go back and take a turn in another direction if she finds herself going the wrong way.  Breadcrumbs don’t accumulate anywhere else (except my kitchen), but maybe they should.

Image by Jens P. Raak; delphinmedia at CC0

Teachers have to make an effort to plan and track where they are going. If they discover they’re off track at some point, it’s difficult to step back and take another direction, but sometimes it’s necessary. Intuitively, many teachers know when something isn’t working. Good teachers find ways to re-calibrate on the fly. They unknowingly use action research all the time. If they could somehow capture the teaching-learning process like breadcrumbs, they could know where they got off track and change the plan for next time. Sadly, some of the most important data are being ignored in schools because it is never collected. Action research can help.

Action research is an easy method for teachers to capture that data by intentionally creating a path of breadcrumbs.  To see the process in “action” take a look at the action research outline below. Use the questions to prompt your thinking and evaluate what you do. Details about using action research in education are available in the 2017 book by Craig A. Mertler; Action Research: Improving Schools and Empowering Educators; Fifth Edition. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

This research looks back at a technology integration plan at Prince of Peace Catholic School designed to help teachers use Google Tools in the classroom. A complete action research project can be found in the MY Work #5315 section of this site.

Crumb Image Source: CC0

Reflecting on technology in my own life

What is the impact?

Prince of Peace catholic School, Hoover Alabama Source Google Maps

See POP Catholic’s Technology at: // Photo: Prince of Peace Catholic School, Hoover Alabama; photo source: Google Maps (2016)

Being the Technology Director

I am the technology director and an educator at Prince of Peace Catholic School. Recently, I was asked about the impact of technology on my own life.  The photo above is my professional world, which is brimming with technology, for which I am responsible. Visit the link to to see details about the tech at my school. The real impact of technology in my life has been personal.

Learning is an unending process. Having technology resources helps. I can hardly even remember how I gathered information “back in the day”.  Resources were only available on paper or in the minds of people with experience. Problem solving was a skill that defined one’s value on the job. At times I worry that the internet is reducing society’s reliance on thinking, making everyone equally valuable – or not.

concept-1868728__340 pexels
CC0 by Pexels at

Thinking is the fundamental process that helps us develop the discipline and patience many older adults (non-digital natives) feel is missing in education. Thinking is the basis of problem solving. It’s also hard work. What I have learned over the years is that finding resources may be easier with technology but knowing what to do with them still requires some know-how. 


The Role of Resources

In my work I am surrounded by devices I don’t completely understand and have had little training about. Not knowing the answers about technology helps me remember how my teachers and students feel. Thankfully, every possible thought I’ve had about technology has already been documented digitally and is freely accessible online. My challenge (my job) is to interpret the world of technology and its endless resources, and create simple instructions so teachers and students have turnkey solutions for their every-day problems. 

To stay afloat, I’ve crafted a plan to empower teachers and students so they can rely on technology the way I do. I can’t accomplish my work without help. I use resources, too.  I expect my future in technology education will be more about the theory behind changing how students learn than the technology tools educators use day-to-day. The most important resource I have isn’t actually about technology. It’s a learning model (COVA learning model (2017)), which I introduced to my school not long ago.

POPCatholic Students

I believe the model is the basis of how to promote technology-based, self-directed learning. COVA (choice, ownership, voice, and authentic environment), championed by Drs.’s Harapnuik and Thibodeaux at Lamar University in Texas, is a compilation of principles that I believe drive self-directed learning in organizations.

Its parts have always been in the hearts and minds of our school leaders and teachers, but together, the model gives structure to our growth through our use of technology. It’s one of my most valuable resources. It transcends our devices, even the internet, because without the proper mindset about learning, no one will have the courage to change how students think about the resources currently at their fingertips.

As the roles of teachers move toward facilitation in support of student-centered instruction, I have found COVA to reveal the natural leadership traits teachers bring to the classroom, urging them to use their judgement and experience to lead students in becoming self-directed learners themselves.  The model is built on a premise of trust, and begins with admitting the world is too big to teach about from a single point of reference. It is the epi-center of my technology landscape.

Relationship Resources

twitter-292994__340My learning landscape, both personal and professional, is full of resources, and relationships with people are at the top of the list. I rely on the knowledge and skill of other teachers, other schools, and even other businesses.

I follow local and national technology leaders; for example @Jennifer_Hogan on Twitter, a local tech leader in the Hoover, Alabama public school district, where my private school is located.  I can easily meet with her in person, banter about ideas, and take advantage of her experience in the industry and as an administrator. She also has a national presence, on #ALedchat, where I can hear from other education technology thought leaders, like @alicekeeler, a national Google Classroom expert, and visiting guest on her Twitter chats.  They are two among many people who help me keep up with trends and avoid making costly mistakes. notebook-1207543_1920

I rely on websites like,  ISTE ,, to help me focus on target areas, like integrating tech in lesson planning, and living as a good digital citizen so I can confidently teach other.  Vendor partners such as CDW-G Education and magazines including Tech & Learning and Today’s Catholic Teacher all add to my repository of ways to stay current, keep up with trends, and capitalize on opportunities. 

Contributing VS Consuming

My contributions as a public leader in technology are less than my consumptions, but I am a key contributor on a smaller, local level. What I provide is less about technology and more about the theory of learning in a knowledge-based society where dependancy on technology is at an all time high. My efforts influence a host of people on the front lines of education. I have provided them with the vision for thinking outside of the educational box by setting the groundwork. Resources including and Google Classroom are now my teachers’ go-to sites, which I have filled with exactly what they need to be successful in our learning environment. 

It’s a challenge to keep up, let alone stay ahead. I no longer spend time recreating the digital wheel. I don’t contribute media to be shared like many people do. When I need to help someone, I look to others who are better skilled and offer their works free of charge, so I can easily and quickly connect the learner with the needed instruction.

YouTube resources by Anson Alexander, explain “how” to use technology, and YouTube resources like TED Talks, explain why we need to change how we deliver education. I leave you with another of the many resources I subscribe to, Veritasium, and a video called The Science of Thinking.  Soon, educators will be just another resource in the learning continum – as it should be.


Harapnuik, D. (2017, April 15). COVA Model. It’s About Learning: Creating significant learning environments. Retrieved from



Digital Citizenship Magazine

Starting the Conversation

 Being a good digital citizen in Catholic schools begins with connecting the elements of digital citizenship with Catholic teachings. The magazine (below) is designed as a starting point for parents and teachers. It has been designed as an example for the introduction of digital citizenship instruction in Catholic education.

Digital Citizenship Mantra

Mantra PNG

Prince of Peace Catholic School has a mantra that was developed in 2000 “We light the candles, they light the world”. In recent years, with the incorporation of technology and the transparent line between school and personal digital communication, a second mantra is being proposed:

“Be your best self – In person & online”

In 2015 a new, dedicated building on campus was erected to house the growing middle school. A unique identity began to emerge as policy and practices were established to meet the needs of 6th through 8th grade students. Their independence and freedom could be more effectively guided with a set of expectations called The POP Way, which is an accountability system that replaced the outdated disciplinary policy. With greater freedom, including 1 to 1 technology, comes greater responsibility.

The POP Way encourages students to be independent, consider their own abilities and actions both in person and online. Technology plays a big part in their daily lives at school and home and they will face challenges in balancing their relationships with the expectations of their parents and teachers. The principles of Catholic education, specifically the Beatitudes serve as a “what to consider” as they make decisions about their relationship with other and the world, both in person and online.

The proposed mantra embodies a special prayer at Prince of Peace, “Thank you God, when You made me, you made the very best”. It is a reminder we are constantly working to become good Catholic citizens – our best selves – always, not just when we are at school. Where The POP Way ends, the mantra begins and is intended to represent our behavior as Christians. It encourages students to choose to be whom God made them to be, “the very best”, at all times.

 If you are not familiar with the Catholic Beatitudes, they are about: humility, sadness, gentleness, equity and fairness, forgiveness, loving intentions, resolving conflict, and defending what is right, even when it comes with loss. 

Final Reflection about Digital Citizenship


During the past month I have encountered many materials that have deepened my understanding of how to teach digital citizenship in the K-8 environment. The biggest take-away from this course has been the hidden tone of moral and ethical behavior that lies at the core of the digital citizenship education movement. With the separation of church and state, teaching students how to do “the right thing” is challenging without some point of reference, such as is found in religion. This course has provided many useful threads on which to build a message which can be conveyed to anyone, regardless of faith orientation. This matters to me because creating a kinder, happier world, in person and online cannot happen unless the message is heard universally and adhered to by everyone, not only those in my Catholic school.

The course has helped me formalize a process for bringing digital citizenship inline with the intention of our school. Part of my role is to develop methods for connecting the digital world in which our students live with the spiritual lessons they are learning. I am excited to have something concrete yet malleable, the nine elements of digital citizenship (Ribble 2015), that can be molded to fit into every grade level of the school. Many curricula are available to teach fundamental digital citizenship skills, but they are mostly about the what of digital citizenship, not the why. Teachers need to have a strong grasp of the underpinning digital citizenship curriculum has to the school’s Catholic education and identity. Teachers need to connect the dots for children, and sometimes for themselves.

Applying New Knowledge

My favorite assignment was the mantra. I have been mentally struggling with creating a visual component to complement the digital citizenship theme which I will introduced school-wide in the 2017-2018 school year. Going back a few classes I developed a three-year Technology Integration Plan unlike those I created in the past. Creating the plan is one of my job duties and the current plan so happened to coincide with the timing of a Lamar course about developing professional learning environments. The new plan, which focuses entirely on the professional development of staff, has three technology related themes over three years: year 1; development of technology skills, year 2; technology integration through lessons building, and year 3; connecting technology to the mission of the school to educate the whole child physically, emotionally, academically, and spiritually. The plan was formally adopted by the school in February, 2017.

Digital citizenship falls into years two and three of the Technology Integration Plan. This course has greatly helped me add to it meaningful substance. Beginning with the elements of digital citizenship, followed by the three principles (Ribble 2015) – in elementary and middle school, respectively – along with a mantra, I can move forward in preparing the school to connect the reasoning (the why) with the lessons (what) throughout the school. I am particularly excited to help middle school students make use of the Catholic Beatitudes (Gospel lessons of behavior) in their real lives. The connection will give them a clear picture of where to find the “rules” for behaving like Christians digitally, in their personal and academic lives.

Helping Others Succeed at Lamar University

Although I have found value in the many facets of this course, I believe future students should be given a heads-up about the purpose of all the hoops they must jump through in order to be successful in class. The busy-work, multiple essays, quizzes, and an overwhelming number of resources can get in the way of the message being taught. I have recommended ways the course might be redesigned through the course survey.  Supposing all elements stay the same, I would recommend re-positioning if not eliminating the quizzes because hunting for answers serves no purpose to professionals when the questions are irrelevant to one’s work. That said, I would recommend the quizzes be the first assignment, from which students will become aware of what they don’t know, in hopes of discovering the answers along the way.

Also, after reducing the number of weekly assignments, I believe students might appreciate having more information about ways to organize information so they, themselves can become better digital citizens. For example, something as simple as creating a spreadsheet with 10 images, defining the author, web locations, CC attribution, and the specific instructions left by the author for citing, and the actual citation they would post is a valuable lesson to learn. In doing so Lamar students would have practice and be able to teach others to do the same thing; a skill that is very worth while as a digital citizen. The spreadsheet could be included in the Capstone submission.

We each take away different pearls of wisdom from this program. When I speak about my experience in Lamar’s DDL program typically I am sharing stories about my interactions with  fellow students and instructors. I am extremely impressed with Dr. Ybarra. She has brought a humanistic approach to the class and encourages her students to remember the human side of teaching as well as the dryer, data driven goals we each try to meet. Several other instructors and designers of the program set the tone that the COVA (choice, ownership, voice, authentic experience) learning method has a place in education, and although the course requirements were not Dr. Ybarra’s to alter, her personal approach to coaching learners helped make the rigidness of the course format less of an issue. I would recommend to future students that they enter each course with an open mind and a clear goal of becoming a better learner and educator. That is what has helped me.

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education

What My School Needs Next

CC: by Geralt
CC: by Geralt

This week, while pouring over content to expand my knowledge of citizenship versus digital citizenship, I stumbled across an old resource from a class I took last year. It led me on a squirrel chase where I discovered an entire curriculum that was exactly what I have been dreaming of creating for my school. The curriculum blended moral decision making with technology use at every grade level. It was/is the perfect presentation for digital citizenship in Catholic schools. It is what the world of Catholic education is missing, at least in my world, and quite possibly what’s missing in public schools, too.

. . .

I work in Catholic education. The fabulous resource I discovered was from a Catholic school system, Ottawa Catholic School System, in Canada.  The discovery made me question why – if Catholic educators are set on promoting moral decision making – aren’t we actively collaborating on this content for our schools, as we do with religious instruction?  Isn’t it teaching many of the same concepts? Why do we (at my school) have to start from scratch to create something as important as digital citizenship curriculum? Why are we slow to teach teachers and students about behaving like Catholics in our digital lives?

Consider the iCitizen project. The project revealed a short list of truths, some of which Catholic educators have long been teaching.  For example, “[that] empathy must be modeled and taught early and often” (Curran, 2012, p.14). The same message is at the basis of many of the teachings in Catholic education, yet it is not fully promoted in our online interactions in or outside of our school.

Ribble (2015) promotes principles that again align with the teachings of Catholic education; respect yourself/respect others. And Ohler (2010) refers to “virtuous behavior” as a necessary part of being a good digital citizen. These examples demonstrate what educators are saying need to be included in teaching about and living good digital lives. They are also inherent in Catholic education.

popeI believe digital citizenship in Catholic education means being competent making moral and ethical choices while consuming and contributing in a digital environment – which takes some practice. Teachers need to understand that “Catholic community” includes  both face to face and online communities, in and outside of school. They need to define the “norms” of both Catholic communities (Polgar & Curran, 2015).  My school needs a formal digital citizenship curriculum to give teachers those necessary tools. Our small Catholic school is good at getting out the larger messages of the Catholic doctrine. It’s time to create a unified, formal message that connects the pillars of Catholic behavior with those of the modern digital world.

As I conclude my reflection, I recognize my personal goals for building a program that could make a difference in the digital behavior of others, and the power I have to bring about that change. I look forward to the day when our students have guidelines for what to expect, and say, and do during tough digital interactions with peers, and hope teachers will be their mentors. This is what the world of Catholic education is missing, at least in my world, but not for much longer.

Graphics retrieved from under Creative Commons licensing


Curran, M. (2012, June). iCitizen: Are you a socially responsible digital citizen. Paper presented at the International Society for Technology Education Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX. Retrieved from icitizen_paper_M_Curran.pdf

Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community: Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Polgar, D. R., & Curran, M. B.F.X. (2015). We shouldn’t assume people know what digital citizenship is. Retreived from

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education

Reflecting: Creating Something New

The process

The world is full of talented people trying to influence others, or should I say, offer education. It is truly amazing how knowledge is shared these days. Most of what I learn comes from a digital source, and almost none is available on paper. I hesitate to say this is a good thing, because I’m old-school, in spite of my role as Technology Director and teacher in a K-8 school.

Recently, I completed the creation of my first online course. The course was designed to help teachers learn to use Google tools in the classroom. It is simple, easy to follow, and should “educate” those who enroll. The online course is likely to be of interest to teachers who have limited technology skills and need direct instruction to gain them.

During my journey of discovery I realized that most of what I was learning about was not new to me. Most of the information and concepts were somehow repackaged to fit into the training I was receiving about how to create an online course. This is not a criticism, simply an observation. Let me explain.

Creating an online course was an act of bringing the pieces of knowledge together rather than learning something new. First, I created a 3 column table based on Lee Fink’s course design. It is the skeleton of the course. The table contained the intentions for the course without any substance. It was the road map that reminded me to think about five key components that should be a part of any course regardless of being online.

Next, I blended the “how” factor into the course – how students would learn in an online environment. The course was part of a learning initiative that combined face to face instruction and support with the online instruction. The ‘how’ is represented by instructional learning theories. The simplicity of the course lent itself to two styles, behavioral and constructivist. Learners were taught what to do, and followed steps that had to be repeated exactly. When followed correctly, teachers would successfully develop the knowledge needed to operate in the Google tools environment. Learners rely on past knowledge as they learn and reflect on how their new knowledge can improve the education of their own students.

Who chooses to learn online?

People who are lifelong learners tend to connect to anything and everything that isn’t something they already know. It’s the reason so many brilliant people seems to know a little bit about everything. They don’t wake up each day with the goal of learning something about earthquakes or snakes or how to groom a dog, they happen across it while online, and follow where it leads. They are curious people.

Curious people were once curious children, often the ones who many teachers would rather not have in class. People who are not curious can become annoyed by those who are, because curious people like to wander off course and take learning into their own hands. That explains why the internet is such a wonderful resource for curious people. They can roam, learn at their own pace, about just about anything. But some teachers are not curious people, perhaps because at the time, teaching seemed predictable, which they prefer. Teaching used to have a set path from which there was no wandering. My digression explains only one thing; that using the internet – online resources and courses has improved the learning process. Today, learning happens online, and teachers need to adapt as both learners and teachers, even if they aren’t curious types.

I am a curious person, maybe not brilliant, but willing to follow where information leads. During my research these past few weeks, I recognized great information I had seen before in different context – not everything – but I certainly appreciate seeing it again. What I gleaned from the experience was less about the data and more about the process in which it was (re) presented. That made me think. If it is my role to offer education to adults who are not curious, how might I spark a flame under them?

The course I created will probably never be viewed by my curious coworkers who long ago figured out what they needed to know to use technology for more effective learning. It will be viewed by the few, predictable teachers who are on the edge of being left behind. Although I can’t say for sure, I believe the predictable teachers fear not knowing enough, as if they recognize their lack of curiosity but are paralyzed to do anything about it. My point? It is for these people that online learning is a solution. But, they need to have it neatly delivered in digestible pieces that are, well,  predictable.

Reflecting on what was learned

As I reflect upon what I have gained while creating an online course, aside from learning to use an online learning management system,, it is that quality standards for online courses exist and can easily be used in all aspects of teaching with technology. For my curious teacher friends, the standards from iNACOL (2015) are the backbone for evaluating the resources they already use. For example, quality isn’t something a typical teacher is prepared to evaluate when choosing digital resources, yet resources that aren’t of high quality may not bring about the growth they were hoping for. Understanding what to look for can help teachers choose better resources.

When creating an online course the instructor (in this case me), who would typically be at the center of instruction must relinquish that position for a well constructed collection of resources. It is a key difference in online versus face to face teaching. Knowing the extensive research and preparation needed to create online courses has helped me  decide which content can stand on its own, and which require explicit one-to-one instruction. The process of creating a quality online course is no small task and should not be taken lightly. Online courses deserve the same amount of preparation and critical analysis as traditional curriculum.

My course is a blended learning course so I see my learners regularly and have the opportunity to touch base on issues that may need clarification, but teachers who make use of online courses for their own students don’t have that opportunity. As teachers begin to use technology in teaching, especially when using online curriculum they take on a new role. They must become comfortable being back seat drivers. I recognize the process can be painful to the not-so-curious teachers who would prefer to remain in control. Bridging the gap from online learner to learner who uses online content with other learners takes some practice. The same can be said when moving from content consumer to content creator.

What is the teacher’s new role?

Any amount of student-driven learning that includes technology changes the role of the teacher. The change is not only felt by online teachers, it is universal when technology is the vehicle of choice in the classroom. How does a teacher learn the value of letting go to relying on online education for his or her students?  Where do they go for guidance? In his book, Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning (2015), Bates talks about many aspects of online learning and the importance of providing support to teachers who use technology for learning and teaching.

Among other duties, supporting teachers is a priority in my work. Teachers need support as they learn how to use new tools for teaching, then again to determine which tools can really make an impact on student learning, and finally again, during implementation, through mentoring.

Regardless of where in the process teachers are when they discover online education, they cannot deny the benefit it brings to students and adults. Flexibility, process, pace, choice of content, all influence students’ learning outcome. Online resources that are well presented, easy to use, and understandable are key.  Support also means providing learners with time to practice and interact with others who are learning in the same way. This helps learners personalize their education experience.

Teachers’ roles are changing, but they are still a valuable resources in the learning process even as the process changes. They are the glue that connects learners to the information they seek. They are the seat belt for the learner when the ride gets bumpy, and they are sometimes back seat drivers. But the goals teachers set for students are still the same, and the purpose of learning is steadfast, regardless of how it is achieved.


Bates, A.W. (2015) Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Retrieved from

Wicks, M., Glick, D., Darrow R., Gillis L., Glowa L., Radtke C., . . . Trim C. (2015). International Association of K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). How to Start an Online Learning Program: A Practical Guide to Key Issues and Policies. Retrieved from

ChangSchool. (2011, January 26). Perspectives: Teacher skills in a digital age. [Video]. Retrieved fro:


Online Course Design Progress

About a month ago I began moving materials into an online learning management platform called If you have tuned in lately you would have read about it in previous posts on this site. Schoology is easy to use and quite simple, which helps a “newbie” feel confident right away. The course design in Google Tools Workshop is morphing into something more straightforward than its original design. The sheer act of creating the course helped my see where the design was cumbersome in its original layout so I consolidated the course work, which helps it flow better.

Challenges of Online Courses

The downside of creating an online course has been having to learn all about the shortcomings of the program at the same time as learning the nuances of pulling together a worthwhile course.  I have discovered a few important things along the way. First, a skill based course can require a lot of background knowledge and learners may not realize what they are missing until they are knee-deep into the course. In a face to face course, the instructor would likely recognize what’s missing and bring the learner up to speed in real time. Not so with an online course. If the learners are missing prerequisite information, it will show in their frustration but the live instructor won’t know about it until the next face to face visit.

Next, what could be quickly taught in a face to face meeting may get lost when the learner has to rely on YouTube videos created by someone other than the instructor or the course creator. This can be especially challenging when the information the learner needs to know to be successful using the new skill is based on the environment in which it will be used. Unless the instructor/creator makes all the videos and resources, important information may be missed.

What’s Great about an Online Course

On the other hand, online courses that teach skills are very valuable to reluctant learners. This choice is especially helpful for teachers who lack skills but are among peers who are well versed in using technology. The online information helps the learner not only gain the skills, but do so without feeling inadequate. A blended learning course, which the Google Tools Workshop is designed to be offers a good balance for reluctant learners. They can work at their own pace and still receive the personal support they need.

The overall design of the course is described in the first half of the course post under the Projects tab called Assessments and Activities in Schoology. Below is a quick look at what will make up the second half of the course. Each week learners will also spend time with a support person learning and practicing, face to face. All weeks are designed with an instructions page and directions for using the remaining resources. Learners watch videos, presentations (where indicated), and follow up with an assessment.

Second Half of the Course

Week 4 Features and Functions in Google Drive

In week 4 learners will encounter explicit instructions on using different features within Google Drive. They begin with a short presentation and watch 8 minutes of a 20 minute video resource that walks through using parts of the Google Drive app. A large amount of time is focused on Google Drive in this course because it is the center of the Google Suite, from which many other application can be reached. A short assessment targets what learners must know to be successful as they move through the remaining weeks.

Week 5 Converting Files

Converting files is a catch-all phrase that encompasses moving information in and out of Google, including sharing it, so it can be used by others, and used outside of the Google platform. Because so much information is explained in this week, the content has been broken up into small, manageable pieces.  Several older resources have been included. Google Tools have recently been redesigned however most of the video tutorials online are still showing the old format. Learners need to recognize that operations of Google Tools are the same even though the look of the platform has changed. Otherwise, they will struggle when using other learning resources.

Week 6 Sharing

Sharing documents is one of the most useful features of Google Tools. In this last week, learners will use resources to learn about several different methods for sharing document. The instructions for sharing have been mentioned a few times in earlier videos, but this week learners will actively share a document with the instructor. The spiral nature of instruction has been included intentionally in both the presentations and videos so learners can review and learn new information from week to week.