Month: August 2015

Stich encouraged to pursue education career as an undergraduate

Amy Stich

Amy Stich

Amy Stich, assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), was first drawn to the teaching profession when she was an undergraduate studying sociology. As a first-generation college student, Stich started becoming aware of the potential of education to be empowering and transformative. “During this time, I was made conscious of my own position within a system of education that often works to reproduce inequalities rather than ameliorate them,” she said. “As an undergraduate student, I was encouraged to think deeply, to question bravely, and to reflect often.”

Stich, who teaches social foundations of education courses, says that she is grateful for her own privileged educational experiences. “As a result, I aim to facilitate the same culture of inquiry within and outside of the classroom,” she explained. Stich, who earned a doctorate in sociology of education at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, has worked as a senior policy analyst, a research associate, and an instructor prior to joining the COE family in 2014.

Stich is very passionate about the teaching and learning process. “At NIU, I am incredibly humbled to work with such bright, talented, resilient groups of students that work toward deepening critical agency through teaching and learning, together,” she said.



Supporter of literacy program receives two prestigious awards

award

As the author or co-author of approximately 300 articles, research studies and professional books, Jerry L. Johns, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus in the College of Education’s Department of Literacy and Elementary Education (LEED), is known in the field of reading education for more than his significant scholarship. Johns has not only been recognized as an outstanding teacher educator, scholar, professional development speaker and leader, he was recently inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame and awarded the William S. Gray Citation of Merit by the International Literacy Association.

“In the field of reading education, the William S. Gray Citation of Merit is by far the most prestigious award given. For Jerry to receive this award on the same day as he was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame demonstrates the scope and magnitude of his contributions to the field as well as the high regard in which he is held,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of NIU’s College of Education. “With these two honors, Jerry has truly been elevated to the status of living legend in reading.”

Jerry Johns 8-24-15

Jerry Johns (and one of his favorite books) at the opening of the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic at NIU.

Johns has had a long, highly respected career at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and has maintained close ties to the university’s literacy clinic, which carries his name. He also has a local, national and international reputation for serving in numerous leadership positions, and has been the recipient of several professional and civic awards. For example, he has served as president of the International Literacy Association, the Illinois Reading Council, the Northern Illinois Reading Council, and the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers (formerly the College Reading Association). When he was not a president for one of these organizations he was busy serving on the board of directors for each of these organizations.

Johns, who taught undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, said he enjoyed working with students on publications and seeing students graduate and succeed as leaders in the field.

In addition to the positive effect Johns had on helping NIU students achieve success in their careers, he made time to contribute his colleagues’ careers as well. Elish-Piper spoke about the impact Johns’ mentorship had on her career since she started working at NIU in 1995.

“Jerry was already an internationally known and respected scholar, yet he made time to meet with me and to collaborate on projects with me,” Elish-Piper said. “In fact, he continues to serve as a mentor and advisor, and most importantly a friend, and I can honestly say that my development as a scholar, teacher and leader is due in great part to the mentoring that Jerry has provided.”

Currently Johns serves on editorial advisory boards for Reading Psychology and the Illinois Reading Council Journal. In his free time, Johns enjoys traveling, walking, reading, and driving his sports car.



New book examines impact of rubrics on education

Joseph Flynn

Joseph Flynn

The College of Education’s Joseph Flynn, associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), has a new book out which he co-edited with his colleague Michelle Tenam-Zemach, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Abraham Fischler School of Education in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Their book, “Rubric Nation: Critical Inquiries on the Impact of Rubrics in Education,” examines the impact rubrics* have on professionals and students across the educational spectrum as well as on modern society and culture.

The idea for the book came up a few years ago at an American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) conference when Flynn and Tenam-Zemach were talking about how ubiquitous rubrics have become.

“Reflecting on our own teacher preparation experience, Michelle and I realized that we did not use rubrics in college, so the question became when did rubrics start appearing everywhere in teacher education?” Flynn recalled.

“Rubrics are not good or bad in and of themselves,” he said. “On one hand effectively designed rubrics can be very useful for educators in structuring assignments and conveying expectations; yet on the other hand rubrics can also have unintended consequences. For example, rubrics can ultimately minimize students’ willingness to take risks in their learning because they become so focused on what they need to do to get an A.”

Flynn added that their research also found that students using rubrics might be less willing to engage in productive conversations with peers or teachers about their assignments.

Rubrics have also become an issue for practicing teachers as well, according to Flynn. “The use of rubrics in high stakes teacher assessment is also seeing some problems,” he said. “Many states and districts are adopting rubrics for assessing teachers, but they are using them improperly. Rubrics like the Charlotte Danielson rubric were designed to encourage discussions between teachers and administrators, not evaluations that could cause a teacher to lose her job.” These trends encouraged Flynn and Tenam-Zemach to seek out research and scholarship critically examining rubrics.

Flynn said the conversations he had at AATC were key in the development of the manuscript, and — because rubrics are used for almost everything in education from high-stakes testing to tenure promotion and teacher evaluations — he hopes that more research will be done on rubrics in the future.

“We think it is really important that more research is dedicated to critically examining rubrics. Rubrics may have noble intentions, but that does not necessarily mean that they do not have negative consequences.”

* A rubric is a tool used by teachers to define how a particular assignment or activity will be graded; rubrics describe, in writing, not only what a student needs to include in the assignment, it also describes the quality of each of the inputs. If one of the criteria for grading an essay is spelling, for example, then the rubric might state that to receive an “Excellent” the essay must contain no spelling errors; to receive a “Good” it can contain up to two spelling errors. Three or more misspelled words would result in a “Needs Improvement” in the spelling criteria.

 

 

 



Go Teacher project graduates 37 Ecuadorian “Huskies”

Go TeacherThirty-seven Ecuadorian teachers gathered at the Red Roof Inn Aug. 13 for the *Go Teacher project’s graduation ceremony. Go Teacher is a seven-month international education program where Ecuadorian teachers studied ESL methodology, second language acquisition, and culture on NIU’s campus.

James Cohen, assistant professor of ESL and bilingual education in the department Literacy and Elementary Education, secured a $777,000 grant from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and Kansas State University that made the Go Teacher program possible.

NIU speakers at the ceremony included Lisa Freeman, executive vice president and provost; Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of the College of Education; Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education; James Cohen, and two Go Teacher graduates—Eugenia Pico and Segundo Rea. Graduates enthusiastically lined up to receive certificates of completion, which were handed out by Cohen and Gregory. The ceremony was followed by a buffet lunch and dancing.

During their seveGO Teachern-month stay at NIU, each of the 37 participants logged 615 in-class and clinical hours. In Ecuador, English is required to study abroad, and to gain entry into a master’s degree or Ph.D. program.

“What has happened here is powerful,” said Cohen. “They’re going to be seen as leaders in their small communities. It’s now in their hands to make differences for their students and their families.”

* To see WNIJ radio’s coverage of the event, visit the website.



LEED remains a leader in faculty production

Stack of papersA new study published by researchers in the Department of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University ranks NIU’s literacy faculty within the top-10 most productive literacy faculties in the country for the years 2006 through 2012.

The article, which appears in the journal Reading Psychology, also lists NIU’s literacy faculty as one of only four of the 25 university faculties studied to have ranked in the top-10 in four similar studies dating back to 1972.

Such rankings are important to prospective students, who can use such data in selecting schools to attend, and to those “attempting to navigate the unclear waters of promotion, retention, and tenure.”

According to its authors, the current study is intended to build upon the previous studies and “compare the scholarly productivity of faculty members in universities as represented in nine* literacy journals.” Each of the refereed journals is national or international in scope and uses a blind, peer-reviewed acceptance process; all nine are considered among the best in the literacy field as determined by scholarly rigor, impact and prestige.

“Measures of productivity are indications that faculty members are active leaders in shaping and developing their respective fields,” said Anne Gregory, chair of the LEED department. “To have been ranked within the top 10 faculties in terms of productivity in the nation, speaks to the dedication and leadership the literacy faculty members bring to their work at NIU and within the community.” Anne noted that as leaders in their fields, literacy faculty members provide and promote more educational opportunities for the students in their classrooms and engage students in practices and methods that are on the leading edge of innovation. “They serve as role models and mentors to those who endeavor to become part of the profession,” she said. “It is truly an honor and privilege to work with this dedicated, hardworking group of professionals.”

 

* Journals examined: Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Journal of Literacy Research, Literacy Research and Instruction, Reading Horizons, Reading Improvement, Reading Psychology, Reading Research Quarterly, Scientific Studies of Reading, The Reading Teacher



Are MOOCs democratizing higher education?

Amy Stich and Todd Reeves

Amy Stich and Todd Reeves

Since the term was coined in 2008, MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, have been talked about as a potentially significant democratizing force in higher education. With open enrollment, virtually no limit to class size, and often free, MOOCs seem to offer a cost-effective, convenient and available path to college-level learning to almost anyone with access to the Internet.

Today, MOOCs are offered on just about every topic imaginable and are taught by expert faculty from some of the world’s top universities. Some MOOCs offer certificates of completion and a few even offer academic credit toward degrees. And many institutions of higher learning are using MOOCs with the expectation of expanding their reach to underserved populations and into new geographic regions.

But are MOOCs living up to their democratic promise? Are people who otherwise would not have access to higher education even taking them? That’s what two professors from NIU’s College of Education — along with a dozen of their students — are trying to find out through a large-scale, mixed-methods research project.

According to Amy Stich, assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), who designed the study along with Todd Reeves, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), what little research done on MOOCs to date suggests that these kinds of courses might not yet be living up to their initial billing.

“Research done at one institution showed that the majority of those who take MOOCs have already accessed higher education,” she explained. “We wanted to revisit that finding within the context of a wide variety of MOOCs from a wide variety of institutions using a mixed-methods approach, which included survey data from 15,000 MOOC students and in-depth, focused interviews.”

“In particular, we were interested in learning who is taking MOOCs, why, and what benefits they perceive to be receiving from their participation,” Reeves added.

The study also examines how MOOC course design interacts with learner characteristics. “So we can see what works in large-enrollment online courses for whom and under what conditions,” Reeves said.

As part of the research process, Stich and Reeves formed the MOOC Research Group in fall of 2014 as an opportunity for interested NIU students and alumni to gain real-world research experience. Twelve participants were involved in various aspects of the research process from the initial systematic literature review to the data cleaning and analysis. The participants, all from diverse academic and biographical backgrounds, included undergraduates, graduates, international students, as well as NIU alumni.

“We believe that opportunities to engage systematically with data and research are essential for student success in both academic and professional realms,” Stich said.

Reeves explained that the students had the option of receiving course credit for their work and others received funding through an internal Chair’s Grant awarded to Stich through LEPF.

“Students will be availed the dataset to address research questions of their own interest,” Reeves said.

Some of the preliminary findings of Reeves and Stich’s study indicate:

  • that Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are underrepresented among U.S. MOOC participants relative to their proportions in the population;
  • most participants already have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent; and
  • many participants already have professional degrees.

Reeves and Stich are currently finishing the analyses for their study. They believe the larger implications of the study will point to whether MOOCs are the democratizing force that many claim them to be as well as important information about effective design of online courses for diverse learner populations.