Columbia College Chicago

Convergence Academies: Digital Media Whole School Reform Model Project

In collaboration with Chicago Public Schools, Convergence Academies has implemented a whole-school reform model in two high-need, traditionally low-performing schools to support 21st century learning through digital media and technology integration in curriculum, instruction, and school culture at large.

Description of Project

Convergence Academies aims to turn around persistently low-performing Chicago Public Schools with a whole-school reform model that embeds digital media arts and technology into curriculum and inquiry-based instruction, building critical technology skills and 21st century literacies for students and teachers. Using a quasi-experimental design, the project works with a high school and feeder elementary school, serving approximately 1,200 students a year. 

Project objectives are to (1) create a whole-school reform model that infuses digital media into all aspects of the school: curriculum, instruction, professional development, student supports, and parent/community engagement; (2) assess the impact of the model on student learning, engagement, and achievement in multiple areas; (3) assess the impact of the model on teachers’ capacity to integrate digital media and technology into curriculum. 

Convergence Academies’ model for curriculum and instruction has continually developed over the two years of implementation so far. It is both a place-based designed learning environment and a relationship-based coaching model that activates and empowers teachers as designers of new pedagogical approaches using digital media tools in order to increase student achievement. 

The components of the Convergence model include:

1) Instructional Model – Tools and frameworks that support teachers as designers of learning experiences using the Six Pillars and the 3Cs (consume, create, connect) framework

2) Learning Design Supports – Professional learning supports and coaching provided by digital media and learning specialists to support teachers in designing classroom-based learning built on relevance, meaning, and engagement for students

3) Professional Learning Communities – The creation of safe, trusting, and collaborative environments that support a faculty comprising lifelong learners, creative practitioners, connected teachers, learning designers, and distributed leaders

4) Digital Atelier – Production-centered student spaces in schools that support student interests and creativity along diverse learning pathways

5) Connected Learning Infrastructure – Technologies, tools, budgeting, policies, plans, practices, and partnerships that support district administrators, principals, and school staff in building a school culture that promotes connected learning

The evaluation data from 2013-14 showed positive impact on students. Teachers underscored how
students were engaged in interesting, valuable, and enjoyable learning experiences because of Convergence learning. Teachers valued the expertise of the Digital Media Mentors and their modeling of different career pathways for students, while the students enjoyed the opportunities to work with such professionals. Furthermore, teachers felt that Convergence supported student agency in multiple ways and developed their capacity to think critically.

Description of Evaluation

Rockman et al. (REA), a research and evaluation firm located in San Francisco, CA, and Bloomington, IN, conducted an independent evaluation of the Convergence Academies initiative. The evaluation included an impact study and an overlapping implementation study. REA conducted both studies during the first two school years of the Convergence Academies implementation.

In Year 1 of the implementation study, students and teachers took part in REA-led surveys and focus groups. REA also conducted on-site visits to classrooms at both schools and a variety of professional development sessions. For the outcome measures of the impact study, REA gathered standardized assessment data and data on college readiness indicators.