Spotlight: Convergence Academies: Digital Media Whole School Reform Model Project

Convergence Academies Logo

What were the goals of your i3 grant?

In January 2013, the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College Chicago partnered with Chicago Public Schools to launch Convergence Academies as part of a three-year Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund grant. Convergence Academies brought hands-on learning, real-world relevance and creative inquiry to schools to prepare diverse learners for active participation in today’s globally connected world. We accomplished this by providing cost-effective, personalized learning supports, innovative instructional models, and student-centered makerspaces.  

image_1.pngThe grant used in particular two frameworks: The 3C’s of Participatory Learning (Connect, Create, and Consume) and the Convergence Academies’ Six Pillars of Instructional Design (Authentic Participation, Choice of Expression, Collaboration, Critical Response, Iterative Learning, and Play). Click on the image for more information from the Convergence Academies Framework document.

The initiative partnered closely with two high-need neighborhood Chicago Public Schools, Morrill Math & Science School (grades K-8) and Tilden Career Community Academy (grades 9-12). This effort reached over 1,773 students, 97 percent of whom were low-income, and 86 teachers over the two years.

Taglines: “Scaling Equity and Opportunity through Connected Learning” and “A partnership in School Transformation”

 

How was technology integrated into your grant?

The Convergence Academies model integrates digital media into formal classroom curriculum, informal activities outside the classroom, and schoolwide learning experiences. The Convergence model uses a variety of tools, technologies, and software to facilitate both project-based classroom learning and experimental, creative play in informal learning environments.

A key component is the Digital Atelier, with the goal of digital media community building— creating a student-centered culture, a sense of belonging, ownership, and support that changes the context of what “schooling” is all about. Integrated into the Atelier is a multimedia studio open for class use and open after school; K-13 curricula that integrate digital media across all subjects and aligned to Common Core state standards and intensive professional development for teachers to build long-term capacity. The Atelier is designed to be a third space between home and the classroom and offers a setting where students can connect in-school and out-of-school learning experiences and projects. It connects learning with creative practices, a marriage of formal and informal learning, and brings real world relevance to the culture, climate and curriculum of schools.

Within the umbrella of a Digital Atelier is a MakerStudio, which includes tools for informal learning and creativity such as 3-D printers, electronics for sound and musical engineering, photography equipment, and high-powered computers. The Adobe Creative Suite and other software, online learning platforms, digital sound, photo, and video production tools, and interactive media and games are available for students in their exploration and production.

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From the Toolkit for Planning a Digital Atelier

 

What are your findings thus far?

The outcomes from implementation of the Convergence model over two years in schools have been overwhelmingly positive. Although the official evaluation results are still in draft form, there are striking correlations. When the Convergence initiative started in 2013, both project schools were on probation, Level 3. During the second year, both schools moved off probation: Morrill moved up to Level 1, and Tilden to Level 2.

At Tilden, the principal and teachers attributed the Convergence initiative with rebuilding the school’s technology focus and creating more active and exciting learning opportunities for students. As a struggling neighborhood high school, Tilden had a major priority of increasing freshman enrollment; increases in the two years after Convergence was introduced were also attributed to Convergence.

See this infographic for a graphical description of impact:

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Impact Infographic

What actions have you initiated toward sustainability?

Convergence Academies is transitioning from the completion of its three- year i3grant to an applied research initiative in connected learning focused on three primary areas: 

  1. Design and research of makerspaces and connected learning environments (e.g., the Digital Atelier, the connected classroom) to foster STEM literacies and 21st century skills; 
  2. Learning experience design for both teachers and youth through the development and research of blended models (partners include LRNG.org, VIF, Hive); and
  3. Special initiatives that harness the power of digital media mentors, tools, and platforms to support college and career readiness for high-need urban youth populations.

They have established strong partnerships with both local and national organizations.

 

What kinds of dissemination/promotion have you done for your grant?

Convergence Academies has thought carefully about marketing and promotion, including how to present the work. What are the metaphors to use to frame their work? It is "tricky around technology," because stakeholders often have a "consumerist idea" of what technology is, said co-director Mindy Faber.

In result, the grant is in the process of overhauling their website (http://convergenceacademies.org) and developed and distributed numerous publications telling the story of the grant. These include short vignettes highlighting the impact of the grant on individual students and from the perspective of a principal, colorful brochures, several case study videos, a toolkit for schools on developing digital ateliers, and handouts for teachers called "Designing for the Connected Classroom - Teacher Road Map," and “Introducing the Convergence Academies Design Studio: A Smarter Way to Do PD for CPS Teachers."  They have also been featured in articles, such as the THE Journal article 3 Ways Mobile Technology Is Transforming Learning Spaces, 08/25/15, and they have partnered with foundations and other entities such as the Cities of Learning, who have Tweeted about the grant, and the Macarthur Foundation, who have sponsored longer feature briefs. They have also presented at numerous conferences, including the Digital Media and Learning conference, SXSW.edu, AERA, and ISTE.

For more information, see this HOT OFF THE PRESS supplemental report developed with the research partners and Bretford about the Digital Atelier.

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Digital Atelier Connecting Learners to their Interests through Space and Technology

Click below for examples of other materials developed by and with Convergence Academies.

 

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Convergence Academies brochure

 

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Convergence Academies Digital Atelier – What it is and its impact after 2.5 years

 

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Toolkit for Planning a Digital Atelier

 

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Teacher Companion Guide (also available on the i3 Community)

 

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Digital Media Mentor Handbook