Month: November 2017

Replace judgment with curiosity: Educate Global travelers return to United States with eyes open to power of classroom diversity

After 14 hours in the air, there was obviously no need to tell Marcus Lewis that he wasn’t in DeKalb anymore.

Yet his first steps off the plane into a nearly empty airport in China, with none of the crowded hustle and bustle of O’Hare, did the job anyway.

His important realizations would come later, however, as the third-year Elementary Education major spent six weeks from early July through mid-August teaching English to teenagers at the Beijing Royal School.

Language barriers toppled – and learning took place – in Beijing and also in Taiwan at NIU’s other partner: the Miaoli County Government Education Bureau schools.

English lessons came through an exploration of fairy tales, movies, TV shows, comic books and superheroes. Through morning exercise. Through telling stories of life in America. Through touching U.S. currency. Through synonyms and antonyms. Through celebrating the Fourth of July. Through song and dance. Through imaginations sparked with “a bunch of glue and a bunch of sticks.” Through hugs and tears.

Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.

Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.

“Students and kids are kids wherever you go,” says Lewis, one of 37 NIU College of Education students who participated in the summer’s maiden voyage of Educate Global, which provided round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours at no cost to the students or the college.

“Things can be culturally different, but people – regardless of wherever you go – are people. If they want to acquire some knowledge, they’re going to do so, and they’re going to do so in a way that’s rewarding to you as their teacher.”

Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, Educate Global was designed exactly for outcomes like that one in China and Taiwan.

Undergraduates in Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Middle Level Teaching and Learning or Special Education, as well as graduate students in the same licensure programs, or alumni currently holding teaching licenses, immersed themselves in what Dean Laurie Elish-Piper calls “an amazing opportunity to expand their worldviews.”

Doing so, she adds, enhanced their preparation and resiliency for rapidly changing classrooms in the United States. “We are seeing an increasing diversity in the K-12 population,” Elish-Piper says.

“Our graduates are going to encounter students who speak different languages, who come from different cultures, who have different experiences,” she adds. “They are now more aware. They will approach teaching from a more global understanding. They appreciate the diversity and differences our students bring to the classroom.”

Madison Geraghty (left)

Madison Geraghty (left)

NIU’s globetrotters, who were urged to replace judgement with curiosity, also returned with greater confidence and flexibility.

“Each student who participated has been transformed in different ways. They’ve experienced the life of being a teacher in a very unfamiliar setting,” she says. “Educate Global was an eye-opening opportunity to be in a part of the world where the culture, the language and the educational setting are so different.”

David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, witnessed that with his own eyes.

Walker, along with Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs, visited all the classrooms in China and Taiwan to observe the NIU students in action and to debrief with them afterward.

“I saw our students really grow. I saw them be really self-reflective about how they need to change and develop,” Walker says, adding that “the life-altering set of experiences” enabled students to learn about themselves, what they do well and where they need to improve.

“Even now, I’ve had a number of them come up to me – in Gabel Hall, in Graham Hall, on the sidewalk – and tell me how Educate Global has changed their lives. It’s changed the trajectory of what they want to do with teaching,” he adds. “These are comments initiated by the students, which reveals to me what a powerful experience this was.”

Borg knows why the Huskie travelers feel that way.

“When we place them internationally, they become the minority. They, in many cases, find out for the first time what it’s like to actually be in a situation where they’re not in control or can’t navigate,” he says.

ed-global-9“For somebody to survive in that situation, and to excel and to thrive in that situation, means that that teacher-candidate is adaptable, is flexible, can make something out of nothing,” he adds. “It allows our students to become better citizens of the world. It requires our students to look at the world differently. It allows them to really reflect, and also to really reach out to students that perhaps don’t come from the same place that they come from.”

Case in point: Students in China and Taiwan “do not behave like American students,” Borg says.

“These students do not ask questions. That’s not how their educational system is set up,” he says. “Our students had to begin to ask more questions. Our students had to become far more observant in terms of the interactions that the Taiwanese or the Chinese students had.”

Quickly, however, “our students began to realize that the way they would behave around American students must be different in terms of how they would behave around Chinese and Taiwanese students, in particular in terms of how to build rapport.”

“Many times, an Educate Global student would have to break down that wall in order for that student to begin to share and to become more open,” Borg says.

“The effective educator really needs to be prepared to meet students where they’re at and move them to the next level,” he adds. “This is what NIU’s College of Education is all about. We want to be sure that our students have a whole toolkit to pull out at any moment.”

Amor Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major, used fun activities to flatten language barriers.

Taylor and her co-teacher played games with students at the Beijing Royal School, who ranged in age from 11 to 15, asking them to demonstrate comprehension by completing unfinished sentences or drawing pictures of words spoken in English.

Nonetheless, “some of the students got frustrated. They were really hard on themselves. They are more disciplined, and when they do things wrong, they are really angry at themselves, and some of them would cry,” Taylor says.

“We would tell them, ‘It’s OK.’ We tried to show them that we’ve been here for five weeks, and we still don’t know as much Chinese as you know English,” she adds.

“I felt like that I was actually helping them, so it was very rewarding. I felt like we were making a difference. They were happy they were learning, and we were happy we were teaching them in a way they could learn.”

Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.

Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.

 

When Taylor returns eventually to her native Chicago to teach in “a school that’s impoverished,” she will bring the experiences of China with her.

“You have to slow down and take your time, because it’s not always that the students don’t understand. It’s that sometimes you’re going a little too fast for them to be able to let you know that they understand,” Taylor says.

“Sometimes we look only at the majority, and there a few stragglers behind. They’re still not grasping the material as quickly. We have to make sure that everybody knows it before we continue on because, when we go on to another subject, then they don’t know the first one – so they’re not going to be able to grasp that one either.”

Her confidence has risen to meet such challenges.

Amor Taylor

Amor Taylor

“There are people that we feel like might not ever ‘get it,’ and we have to strive to help those students, because it’s our job to make sure they get it. We have to figure out a way to help them so they can move on, so they can continue in life and continue in their education,” she says.

“I was able to just get a glimpse of what happens when you slow down you help them,” she adds, “helping their confidence to grow so they can feel comfortable learning the material even if they make mistakes. That made me feel good as a teacher.”

Lewis realized similar progression in his abilities.

Building affinity with Chinese students, despite “my zero knowledge of Mandarin, (their) limited knowledge of English,” he says, is good preparation for working to relate to students of different backgrounds.

“Just because something makes sense to me one way doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense to that student if I try and present that information to them that way,” Lewis says.

Meanwhile, he appreciated the challenge to plan, execute, reflect on and modify lessons. He enjoyed the teamwork with his co-teacher. He remains committed to flexibility while staying focused on his goals.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity because it gave me a chance to grow,” says Lewis, who also taught in the Houston Independent School District earlier this year through the College of Education’s Educate U.S. program.

“If I can get different experiences, I’m open to those experiences. I’m open to doing things different ways if that is what’s going to foster this knowledge or inspire that student,” he adds. “I may not have as much experience now as more-seasoned teachers, but I want to collaborate. I want to work with them. I want their ideas – because I want to be a better teacher.”

Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg

Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg

NIU is assisting him in that mission, he adds.

“People want you to succeed here,” Lewis says, “and they’re trying to provide you with as many experiences as possible so that you are successful, so that you are prepared.”

Educate Global travelers can differentiate themselves in the job market as well, partially through an incredible and affordable international opportunity that many could not manage on their own.

Students also can apply for the university’s EngagePLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which documents such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.

“Our students who participated in Educate Global are highly motivated,” Elish-Piper says. “They are mature and serious. They are excited about taking a chance – of going out of their comfort zone, learning about others and, more importantly, learning about themselves.”

“The experiences they explain to principals and school districts are phenomenal,” Walker adds.
“I don’t know of many schools in our area that offer this kind of program. It’s the chance of a lifetime, and will be a hallmark of their lives.”

James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, just provided a professional reference for one of those students.

James Cohen (center)

James Cohen (center)

Cohen was one of four NIU faculty who traveled to China and Taiwan to supervise and mentor the students; colleagues Jodi Lampi, John Evar Strid and Samina Hadi-Tabassum did the same.

“What I saw in our students was that they stepped up to the plate,” Cohen says.

“I saw games. I heard songs. I saw projects. I saw physical activities that got the students out of their chairs. I saw one teacher taking students outside, in the heat, to run while working on their English,” he adds. “I saw very little direct instruction. Most of it was student-centered, engaging activities.”

For someone like Cohen, who’s passionate about educational equity, those weeks in Taiwan proved that his philosophy – the College of Education’s philosophy – is getting through.

“I was very impressed with how hard they worked, and how serious they took their charge to be teachers to Taiwanese children,” he says. “They really, really, really wanted to make a difference. They wanted to be the best teachers they could be. They were open to constructive criticism. They were open to learning about the culture and the differences in lifestyles. They were open to experiencing a different world, and it was beautiful. It was very heartening.”

Educate Global, for its part, “opened their minds to the idea that not everybody is the same. It built empathy for the English Language Learners in their future classrooms,” he adds. “It will shape them for the rest of their lives, without question.”

ed-global-11



CoE’s Altus partnership blooms with El-Ed major Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy is not a typical NIU College of Education teacher-licensure candidate.

Raised on the West Side of Chicago, Murphy encountered an eighth-grade teacher who told him he would drop out by his sophomore year. What? Not finish high school?

“Once you tell me I can’t do something,” he says, “I want to do that.”

When he arrived at NIU – a campus that his high counselor deemed “too big” for Murphy – his initial years proved “heartbreaking” when he realized how far behind he was academically.

Now set to graduate in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, he is ready and eager to provide to younger generations what he believes he was “cheated out of” – a positive school experience that just might save their lives.

Murphy is also making plans to become a principal someday as well as a fierce advocate for the educational rights of students of color.

Until then, however, he is happily and productively immersed in the professional training ground of Altus Academy, where he is student-teaching for a year.

Founded by a group of NIU alumni and opened in August of 2013, the school in Chicago’s rough North Lawndale neighborhood is “up the street from mother’s house.”

Private, independent and not-for-profit, Altus aims to provide an excellent college preparatory education to underrepresented populations, including students from historical minority groups, low-income households and first-generation college households.

altus-logoIt’s a perfect fit for Murphy, who fits all of those target audiences.

“He grew up in this area, and he recognized that had he had an opportunity to be in an academic space like this, it would have benefited him. He wanted to go back,” says Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the NIU College of Education.

“He’s connected with the students and their parents in a way that’s so meaningful. They trust him because they see that he understands and identifies with them. He’s embraced this idea of serving the underserved,” adds Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the college. “He really has become a part of the climate and the culture there, and is considered a member of the staff.”

Downey enjoyed her opportunity in October to see Murphy in action.

She also was energized by confirmation of her prediction that Altus founder, president and principal John Heybach, who holds two NIU degrees, would mentor Murphy and provide him with enriched experiences.

altus-3As part of Educate Local, Downey escorted a group of TLEE 385 students to Altus to lead a “readers theater” activity with the Altus children. TLEE 385 – “Differentiation in Elementary School Instruction: Field Experience with Diverse Learners” – provides clinical experiences to teacher-licensure candidates in their second professional semester.

NIU’s students worked with the Altus children on fluency, voice and reading with expression. They also engaged in “character education,” encouraging the children to support each other.

By the end of the day, the children performed four works that Downey chose for their messages of social justice: “America Poem,” “Crab and the Stone,” “Henry’s Freedom Box” and “Sadko and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”

The experience offered the teacher-licensure candidates more than invaluable practice in instruction and classroom management.

“We talk about how poverty can have an impact on instruction and learning,” Johnson says. “They were able to see and experience the effect that engaged instruction and positive environment has on learning.”

For Murphy, those are the classmates and experiences of his own childhood. He is learning lessons of another kind.

altus-7“Altus is teaching me how to plan. It’s teaching me how to be organized. I’m the most organized I’ve ever been in college and in my own life,” he says. “You start to understand yourself better. You understand who you are as a teacher.”

The Altus configuration – classes are grouped into three levels: second-, third- and fourth-grades; fifth- and sixth-grades; and seventh- and eighth-grades – has challenged him to find innovative ways to make the curriculum fresh and interesting for sixth-graders who learned it the year before.

Meanwhile, he is pushing himself to develop lessons and activities about history that resonate with children.

“Of course you should teach World War II, but one thing I’m realizing is that kids are not engaged by those things,” Murphy says. “They were born in 2007. Who cares about 1940?”

Spanish is also on his menu – something his fifth- and sixth-graders are teaching him.

“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have a student teaching me Spanish,” he says. “I’ve learned that this is just about being open to new ideas, and not being scared or timid, but just hearing the students out, hearing the staff out, never taking anything personally but just taking the lessons they’re trying to teach me.”

Altus staff, for their part, are encouraging not to fear failure.

altus-6“I get a great vibe from them. They’re open to my ideas. They don’t shove me off, and they let me make mistakes,” Murphy says. “You try to have your one way – ‘this is the way’ – but they literally are letting me make mistakes, and I feel that’s how I’m learning. Those mistakes make me better. They’ve already made me better.”

Murphy’s immediate plans are to pass the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, and is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

He also is excited to bring his mother, Margaret Murphy, to DeKalb for commencement in May.

“I want my mother to have that experience of coming to a college campus and seeing someone graduate,” he says, “to show her that it really does happen, that it’s not just on TV. It’s not just on ‘The Cosby Show.’ It’s not just on ‘A Different World.’ ”

Following his return to the Chicago Public Schools, and his eventual master’s degree that will qualify him for a principal’s position, he hopes to make a similar mark in Arizona.

The Grand Canyon State’s Senate Bill 1070, which requires immigration status checks during law enforcement stops, motivates him to become a champion for students from families that fall under such suspicion.

altus-5It exemplifies his recognition that “kids come from different backgrounds,” and that all deserve an effective education.

His eyes were opened during a clinical experience in a suburban, predominantly white school. While those children were not enduring the poverty and food deserts of the West Side of Chicago, many did live in single-parent homes racked by divorce and the emotional stress it causes.

Ultimately, his goal is to create positive change wherever he is employed.

“I want people to speak of me highly. I never want to have a negative connotation. I want to be a great advocate for learners and for other teachers. I want to challenge myself to become a better leader and a better person. I want to make my school district a better place,” Murphy says.

“I just want to do the job to the best of my ability. If you’re not trying to be the best, then what are you doing it for?” he adds. “I really thrive on being challenged, and I’ll never get tired of having challenges.”



NIU to give honorary doctorate to Tetovo’s ‘rector of the people’

Vullnet Ameti

Vullnet Ameti

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to Vullnet Ameti, a man who demonstrated his belief in education as a human right by helping to establish the only Albanian university in Macedonia.

The rector of the University of Tetovo will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, in the NIU Convocation Center.

Anthony Preston, director of Global Programs in the NIU College of Business, nominated Ameti on behalf of the university’s Division of International Affairs.

“Dr. Vullnet Ameti is one of the most charitable and courageous men I have ever met,” Preston said. “He is truly a man that cares about the people of his nation.”

He has proven his commitment many time over, Preston added.

“In the early ’90s, the government did not recognize Albanians living in Macedonia as equal citizens,” he said. “They were not allowed to vote, or use the same facilities, and were not granted the right to education.”

Change began in 1994.

“Rector Ameti, along with other Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia, led the protests in front of the rifle barrels of the Macedonian gendarmerie,” Preston said. “Until then, Albanians only dreamt about the possibility of earning a secondary degree in their home country.”

For Ameti, those dreams took him from his homeland to Yugoslavia, where he earned his bachelor’s (1985) and master’s (1989) degrees at the University of Pristina, and later to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tuzla in 2008.

But it was in Macedonia where Ameti would build his legacy.

ameti-vullnetWorking with his fellow ethnic Albanians, Ameti began to recruit teachers to open and staff a university. Students and teachers held classes in churches, mosques, restaurants and even private homes.

“On June 4, 1994, Rector Ameti and his family donated a small piece of farmland for the purpose of starting a university. This was the first, and as of today the only, Albanian university in Macedonia,” Preston said.

Ten years later, the national government finally recognized the University of Tetovo as a state university of higher education.

More than 27,000 students now are enrolled in pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including the Ph.D. level.

“He has taught thousands of students and continues to be a rector of the people,” Preston said. “He is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I have witnessed him on many occasions lay bricks for new buildings on campus, cut bushes and trees and feed the homeless.”

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo in 2015 to dedicate the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture with NIU meant to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.

The center hosted its first international conference last December. Around 225 people, including a contingent of five from NIU, attended “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region.”

Freeman returned to Macedonia in May of this year to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tetovo.

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

“Rector Ameti always has impressed me with his bravery in the face of resistance and his determination to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia. What he has done – what he continues to do – is remarkable, inspirational and humbling,” Freeman said. “I always look forward to our visits, as well as our conversations about access to education, and it will be my great privilege to present him with this honorary degree.”

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, shares in the enthusiasm for Ameti’s NIU recognition.

Roberts helped to plan and lead last December’s international conference on democracy, and is spearheading a mostly photographic exhibition depicting the history of the University of Tetovo.

The exhibit, hosted in the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall, will open in December to coincide with Ameti’s visit to DeKalb.

Logo of the University of Tetovo“Under Professor Dr. Ameti’s leadership, UT has become a world-class institution that continues to be committed to educational access and equity, its founding vision. The story of UT is really a story of community and courage, and we’re excited to tell that story here at the College of Education’s Blackwell Museum,” Roberts said.

“Dr. Ameti has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to pull the exhibition together, and that’s just one example of the many things he’s done to nurture the partnership between NIU and UT,” he added. “What’s so admirable is that he has established a forward-looking vision for UT’s future that remains firmly committed to the social justice issues that have animated its past. That’s inspiring.”



KNPE students lead fun, games at Brooks Elementary field day

brooks-parachuteCold winds blew across the Brooks Elementary School playground Halloween morning, but those chills couldn’t stop the fun of bowling soccer balls and poofy balls toward a 10-pin pumpkin or running relays around hay bales.

Within the warmth of the building, an orange-and-white parachute fluttered up and down, balls bouncing atop its bright stripes. On the other side of the wall, children quickly paced the length of the gym, trying not to spill spoons full of candy corns.

Elsewhere, they tossed beanbags through the mouth of a jack-o-lantern painted on a wooden board, ringed pumpkins with hula-hoops and played tic-tac-toe on the floor with gourds in place of X’s and O’s.

Fall Field Day 2017 offered more than fun, games, laughter and cheers, however.

It also provided a hands-on learning experience for two dozen NIU Physical Education majors in their first or second semester and still awaiting official admittance.

Paired with kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in the morning, and third- through fifth-graders in the afternoon, NIU’s students demonstrated, facilitated, cheered and, in some cases, even participated in the games and activities.

brooks-spoonAt day’s end, after also eating lunch with the children and attending their recess periods, they walked away with the kind of first-hand understanding of their future careers that no textbook can describe.

“It’s just so important that they get into a school and immerse themselves,” says Laurie Zittel, a professor of Adapted Physical Activity in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE).

“We want them to see the diversity at the school,” Zittel adds. “We want them to be able to witness positive things. We want them to witness challenging things relative to behavior. We want them, as young professionals, learning how to work with a group of students and how to manage a group of students.”

Brooke Condon, principal of Brooks Elementary, tallied benefits on both sides.

“It’s great to get the NIU students out in the school and really experience what the school day looks like,” Condon says, “and it’s really cool just to watch how our kids respond. We have a lot of students who’ve never had experiences like these before, and they’ve made connections with the NIU students.”

Home to 320 students, Brooks hosts monthly, all-school PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) celebrations that build community and acknowledge successes. The school also collaborates frequently with KNPE, which underscores the teaching of social skills through physical education.

Victoria Newport, president of the District 428 Board of Education, visited Brooks that morning to observe the interaction.

“For NIU students to come in and work with our students is valuable for both sides of the partnership. It’s very positive,” Newport says. “This is giving the NIU students an opportunity for hands-on, practical experience as teachers, and it’s giving our kids the opportunity to identify with another adult in the building.”

brooks-pumpkinNewport was eager to share what she saw Halloween morning with her colleagues on the school board, something that reinforces the strong collaboration between District 428 and the NIU College of Education.

“It’s important for me, as school board president, to get out and see what’s happening in our buildings,” she says, “and to support our staff in whatever they want to accomplish.”

Jamie Craven, superintendent of District 428, calls the day a “win-win.”

“I saw a lot of kids laughing. I saw a lot of kids clearly enjoying the experience – and when I say kids, the NIU kids are kids to me because I have kids that age, so it’s wasn’t just the Brooks kids, it was the NIU kids, too,” Craven says.

“From the NIU student side, I think it’s a great opportunity for them to see what goes on at schools, well beyond the classroom, that these kinds of celebrations are just different learning opportunities,” he adds. “Our kids got to interact with different young adults who were bringing a different level of enthusiasm and a different level of engagement with the activities.”

Laurie Zittel

Laurie Zittel

Zittel is pleased that her students earned the respect of the District 428 leadership: She had prepared them in “understanding the importance of professionalism.”

“I told them, ‘You’re now a representative of NIU. You’re in a public school with teachers, principals, secretaries, custodians, administrative people from the school district, parents, teaching assistants,” she says.

The professor was pleased with their performance as well.

“Watching my students just collapse on the floor in exhaustion was hilarious,” she says. “It was a full day of activity, but they were all very happy that we did it. They got a lot out of it.”



External and Global Programs honored for international work

Terry Borg accepts a plaque from NIU Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (back) while Office of External and Global Programs colleagues Gail Hayenga (left) and Ted Moen (right) share in the honor.

Terry Borg accepts a plaque Nov. 14 from NIU Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (back) while Office of External and Global Programs colleagues Gail Hayenga (left) and Ted Moen (right) share in the honor from International Affairs.

Annual winners of the Award for Outstanding Department Contribution to International Education at NIU all have something in common.

Each brings “the perspective of the world to Northern Illinois University and the expertise of Northern Illinois University to the world, through international mobility of faculty, students and ideas.”

For 2017, it’s the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs that best meets those towering goals.

“We’re extremely pleased and energized to receive this recognition,” says Terry Borg, director of the office which also includes External Programs Coordinator Ted Moen and Conference and Event Coordinator Gail Hayenga.

“The university has recognized that we were able to tie our global programming into efforts that, one, yielded greater NIU student international awareness and understanding, and, two, that we were able to do it in a revenue-positive fashion for the university.”

Members of the award selection committee in the NIU Division of International Affairs were provided a long list of accomplishments to consider.

educate-global-logoCollege of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper’s nomination incorporated “everything we’ve done over the last five years,” Borg says, “from housing youth on campus from Taiwan and Korea, to certainly Educate Global, to supporting multiple faculty in their global pursuits.”

“I believe that this award really recognizes the college’s efforts and our faculty who supported those efforts,” Borg adds. “We’re here to serve faculty, students and their interests.”

Other evidence of the office’s impact included:

  • representation and support on various trips to China, South Korea and Taiwan to identify potential demand for NIU programs;
  • support and technical assistance for Memorandums of Understanding, including Ethiopia’s Jigdan College, and international guest visits, including delegations from Istanbul University in Turkey and National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan;
  • providing advice, funding strategies and budget planning for a humanitarian service/mission trip to Guatemala in 2014;
  • hiring international graduate students as graduate assistants; and
  • the securing of external dollars to support international initiatives, such as the American Education Summer Camp in 2014, funded by the National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School.

oegp-2Borg is excited to see where the International Education Week acknowledgement will lead. He’s already received an invitation to explore collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“It’s really raised our profile to the point where other university offices are interested in partnering with the College of Education,” he says. “Our colleagues from different colleges and departments on campus are very interested in how we were able to put together a program like Educate Global, which is basically self-sustaining with student airfare, housing, food and select cultural tours being provided by our hosts at no cost.”

Previous winners of the Award for Outstanding Department Contribution to International Education at NIU include the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (2005) and the then-named Department of Literacy Education (2012).



Physical Ed majors provide ‘structured recess’ programming for Brooks Elementary children

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Recess is fun and games at most elementary school students, but it’s not always without problems.

For one, it’s often lightly supervised. And, says Zach Wahl-Alexander, professor of Physical Education, it’s likely parent-volunteers and not teachers who are in charge.

Meanwhile, Wahl-Alexander adds, small misunderstandings between children can quickly escalate into physical conflict.

But at schools such as DeKalb’s Brooks Elementary, that time on the playground is constructive thanks to the concept of “structured recess.” And it’s NIU Physical Education majors who are making that happen.

“Our students get there around 1 o’clock with some stuff planned to implement a physical activity,” Wahl-Alexander says. “They teach different games and activities the kids can do, they also try to promote some positive, affective behaviors.”

Part of the engaged curriculum for KNPE 344: Elementary School Physical Education/ Methods and Field Experience, the hands-on leadership of structured recess “gives our students the opportunity to be around kids, to build their skills and to build rapport.”

Students in that course also are getting a first taste of teaching physical education lessons to first- and third-grade students at DeKalb’s Jefferson Elementary School.

But at Brooks, the half-dozen Huskies who visit for recess are getting the opportunity to create organized activities outside the academic environment – and it’s thanks to their professor’s willingness and ability to modify the course curriculum.

“The teachers and administrators at Brooks reported an increasing number of students needing support in the area of social-emotional learning,” says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

brooks-sign“In response to this need, Zach redesigned his field experience model to provide Physical Education teacher candidates opportunities to engage with Brooks Elementary students during their recess time,” Johnson adds. “This model allows elementary students and NIU candidates to focus on relationships, cooperation, motivation, goals and outcomes in an authentic and developmentally appropriate space. “

And it’s flourishing.

“Teachers have reported seeing the transfer of these skills from the playground to the classroom,” Johnson says. “This dynamic field experience model is an example of innovative practice, designed to meet the identified needs of our partner district while providing our candidates an enriched hands-on teaching experience.”

Members of the District 428 site council, which supports the partnership between NIU and the local schools, are in agreement: They recently cited the model of this field experience course as exemplary in responding to the needs of elementary students.

Even though the children are not required to participate, NIU students will encourage them to join in the fun – especially if the children are lingering off to the side or alone.

Games include baseball, three-on-three basketball (or just shooting baskets), capture the flag, tag, soccer, relay races, hopscotch, foursquare and even obstacle courses on the jungle gym.

“The feedback from our preservice teachers is that it’s highly enjoyable for them. They’re learning how to be around kids,” Wahl-Alexander says. “In our Physical Education program, we constantly reinforce concepts of behavior management, feedback, effective demonstrations, pedagogy – with this we’re saying, ‘Just go out there, play with the kids and have some fun.’ I’m not looking over their shoulders.”

Children at Brooks, meanwhile, are receiving multiple benefits.

hopscotch“From a physical activity standpoint, the more structure that’s there to recess, and the more activities they have access to, the more active they’re going to be,” the professor says.

“From an interpersonal standpoint, their teachers are trying to get them to deal with conflict in other ways than yelling or hitting or just storming off,” he adds.

“What we’re trying to do – because conflict is going to come up – is to say, ‘OK, there’s a little dispute. Let’s figure it out, and let’s get back to the game.’ If they don’t learn that from school or from their parents, they’re not magically going to learn those strategies. Play, and especially structured play, offers an opportunity to learn those skills, and might help them with their relationships down the road.”



Kyung Kim brings ‘knowledge structure’ research work to NIU

Kyung Kim

Kyung Kim

Accolades are mounting quickly for Kyung Kim, the newly hired research assistant professor in NIU’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

Kim received two prestigious awards from Association for Educational Communications and Technology during his trip earlier this month to the organization’s international convention in Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Distance Education Best Practice Award (lead investigator), Division of Distance Learning
  • McJulien Scholar Best Paper Award (lead investigator), Culture, Learning, and Technology Division

What demands the recognition of the IBM Fellow’s peers is his groundbreaking work in knowledge structure – his visual analytics tools are used in a half-dozen countries and languages – as well as his development of a knowledge structure visualization system called Graphical Interface of Knowledge Structure (GIKS).

Potential applications are limitless, including an exploration of the relationship between what readers pay attention to when reading and how their visual behavior relates to the knowledge structure reflected in their writing – something never examined before.

“My research focuses on the intersection of visualization, knowledge structure and design. I study how the visualization of knowledge structure, can support teachers’ practice and scaffold students’ learning,” Kim says.

The knowledge structure visualization supports “the design of instructional strategies that target individual learning problems in deriving better outcomes,” he adds.

His development of GIKS, with support from a Penn State grant worth $50,000, can capture, visually represent and compare knowledge structure inherent in a text.

aect-logo“I’ve applied the GIKS to English Language Learners to explore the effects of knowledge structure visualization on their science reading comprehension; for example, to identify an optimal use of first language in second language science reading,” Kim says.

“The GIKS also has been applied to diverse STEM online courses; for example, to explore the effects of real-time knowledge structure formative feedback in high school online physics courses,” he says, “to visualize discussion forum interaction in college-level geography online courses and to score weekly writing assignments in college-level statistics online courses.”

Research findings indicate that the formative feedback regarding the structure of one’s own knowledge boosted the understanding, and reduced the misunderstanding, of online learners – something unique compared to other traditional feedback systems that only serve to improve comprehension and fail to lower misconceptions.

Better yet, Kim adds, is that GIKS “is not language-dependent, so it can be applied in any language context and for cross-language comparison and analytics.”

Students with visual disabilities also are potential benefactors.

“If further supported, the GIKS and its visual analytics can be quite promising for learning and teaching for sighted learners, but not for learners who are visually impaired,” he says. “Research suggests that learners who are blind need to extract the structure of content from a quite chaotic audio babble from their screen reader device, and this structure needs to be revealed to students who are blind in explicit ways.”

Of images, sound, text and interaction – all of which help to convey information – it’s images that most help to clarify and simplify information.

assistive-technologyConsequently, Kim says, “visual material scan be very helpful for reading, writing and learning for learners who are blind if a visual artifact is accessible to the blind.”

With second round of funding from a Penn State grant worth $50,000, Kim developed an accessible version of GIKS that can automatically convert “viewable” knowledge structure content to “touchable” on touch-sensitive tablets or swell-touch paper.

This GIKS also can convert any two-dimensional graphed data such as statistical graphs into tactile graphs, allowing for navigation with the fingers.

“I’m now planning pilot-testing of the GIKS with NIU and DeKalb-area local students who are blind, especially in the STEM disciplines,” Kim says, “and will pursue additional grants in collaboration with NIU scholars.”

He’s also working the GIKS with a braille device developed in Michigan that allows on-screen display of multiple lines of text but cannot convert visual data to braille.

“We plan to integrate the two systems to make it possible for the visually impaired learners to read and touch both textual data and visual data on their touchpad immediately as sighted people do. This integrating technology could give people who are visually impaired an opportunity to gain literacy skills and new levels of learning independence,” he says.

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

Other upcoming projects include the pursuit of additional funding for his ongoing research projects, including a grant application to the National Science Foundation to design and develop a computer-based scaffolding systems using GIKS.

The tool would automatically identify specific areas of strength and weakness, understanding and/or misunderstanding of online learners based on their writing assignments or online discussion interactions. It then would immediately provide specific, individualized remedial instructional feedback and materials, including videos, exercises, games and texts.

Kim, who chose NIU based on the respectful and supportive environment he found in Chair Wei-Chen Hung and his ETRA colleagues, believes his work will promote the active engagement of students in their own learning. It also will help educators to understand the thinking and knowledge structure of those they teach, he adds, and ultimately lead to better pedagogy and individualized instructional strategies.

“I hope that my knowledge structure approach and its visual analytics and technologies can contribute to the reputation of ETRA, especially in online learning, for diverse students.”



Early Childhood majors practice screening at Campus Child Care

assessment-3Stephanie DeSpain understands well the process of screening preschool-age children to ensure that their pre-academic, motor, speech-language and social skills are developing as they should.

“Professional practitioners just go in and look quickly, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, to see how the children are doing,” says DeSpain, an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education. “Any kids who we come across who might have difficulty, we say, ‘Let’s try preschool.’ If they fail, and we have significant concerns, that might force us to give a recommendation for services.”

Children are asked their names and ages. They are shown pictures on cards and asked to identify them. They are asked to correctly identify items, such as scissors, and explain their functions. They discern between concepts such as big and small and same and different.

They count. They quantify. They recognize and name colors. They stack blocks, draw shapes, writer their names and sketch pictures of people. They walk a straight line, hop on one foot and stand one foot. Older children are asked to recite their home addresses and phone numbers.

It was something DeSpain engaged in constantly when she worked for a decentralized special education co-op of LaSalle County school districts and private preschool programs, but teaching the procedure to NIU College of Education students has proven a bit “nebulous.”

Stephanie DeSpain

Stephanie DeSpain

“Unless you’ve worked with real students – real kids – through this process, it’s kind of hard to conceptualize in your mind what this looks like,” DeSpain says. “I tried case studies, talking through what you do if you were making decisions, but they still had lots of questions: ‘How does this actually work?’ ‘How do I coordinate this with school districts?’ ”

DeSpain found a solution in the Campus Child Care, located just steps west of Gabel Hall and the Department of Special and Early Education.

One call to Kristin Schulz, director of the NIU-owned center that provides care and education for children from three months old to age 5, set her plan in motion.

“I told Kristin, ‘This is what I would love to do. This is my idea,’ ” DeSpain says. “She was so amazing. She jumped right on board and said, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s see how it works.’ ”

Thirty-five of DeSpain’s juniors in SESE 423: Observation and Assessment in Early Childhood Special Education course made the short walk this fall to conduct actual screenings of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds enrolled at the center.

NIU’s students prepared and practiced in and out of class with the BRIGANCE Early Childhood screening scripts to build their proficiency, DeSpain says.

When the first day of the two-day activity arrived, they divided into groups of two – one to conduct the screening; the other to observe. On the second day, they switched roles. DeSpain circulated through the three rooms, looking for comprehension and providing guidance if needed.

Her initial anxiety – “I was anticipating that they would be nervous, because I felt like I could have used more time to get them ready” – proved unnecessary.

assessment-2“My students did great,” she says. “The preschool students were so wonderful and engaging, and we went in and got the data we needed. I shared that with Kristin; now she has information on students she might have concerns about, and we talked about strategies.”

During a time of debriefing back in their Gabel Hall classroom, she says, students brought thoughtful questions and insightful reflections, including the need to reword questions that children might not understand at first.

“I was impressed by their professionalism. I was impressed by their ability to think on their feet, which you have to be able to do when you’re teaching,” DeSpain says.

“They were really well prepared to be respectful, to work with other teachers and follow directions, and the Campus Child Care teachers were so much more supportive than I would have anticipated,” she adds. “I was always nervous of people coming in to my classroom, but they were so open and willing to let my students come in and work with their kiddos, which I appreciate.”

Students were grateful for the experience, she adds.

“They said, ‘We really liked it. We liked having this better than having a case study in class. We loved working with the kids; we don’t get enough direct contact,’ ” she says. “They said, ‘We appreciated being able to come in and work the students and go through a screening, with you here, with a partner, in a place where the process was set up for us.’ ”

assessment-1It also will put them a step ahead of their peers in the job market.

“When they go into the school districts, and they’re charged with helping those districts perform those screening services, they’ve already been through it. They understand. They can help, and provide guidance,” she says. “If you’re working in that birth-to-3, or 3-to-5 world, you have to facilitate or help in some way with those screening experiences. Most have to learn that process on the job or on the fly.”

DeSpain hopes to expand the program in coming years.

Beyond providing the practical skills to NIU students, she says, it offers valuable information to the Campus Child Care.

“If we can say that they were able to give the assessment, and score and interpret the results with fidelity, Kristin could say, ‘Hey, we do have concerns with this child, and it’s reflected in this screening that this group of students did,’ ” she says.

“We did have a couple students that the teachers had some concerns with, and yes, this matched; this is what we’re seeing, and you see it too,” she adds. “It’s validation for those teachers that it’s not just them. We are seeing those concerns also.”