Month: January 2018

All-college meeting motivates faculty, staff to set 2018 focus

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper plans to inspire – and expects to find inspiration – in 2018.

The dean of the NIU College of Education used the platform of the spring all-college meeting to reveal her “one word” focus for personal development and effort and to also encourage faculty and staff to choose their own “one word” missions.

“Mine is ‘inspire.’ One of my goals is to inspire others to do their best work, to set higher goals and to engage,” Elish-Piper told the audience. “I also want to make sure that I take the time to look at, learn about and be inspired by all the amazing work you’re doing.”

Evidence of that work proved in ample supply during the 90-minute meeting Jan. 9, which also included remarks from Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman.

Shining examples included expansion of Educate U.S., which this semester will send students to practice their teaching skills at a Native American reservation in North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Elish-Piper said, the “Engage” division of the donor- and partner-funded Educate and Engage Program soon will provide “fabulous opportunities” to non-licensure students.

Kinesiology majors can travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado while Sport Management students can visit several facilities in Indianapolis, including the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

College of Ed faculty and staff learned from David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, that enrollment in the College of Education is climbing, something unique among NIU’s seven colleges.

strategic-frameworkWalker (one word: “care”) partially attributed those gains – up 0.76 percent at the undergraduate level, and up 4.26 percent at the graduate level, for a grand total of 2.41 percent at the time of the all-college meeting – to the college’s emphasis on intentional growth, a pillar of the Strategic Action Planning Framework.

At the undergraduate level, the college is working on one new degree (the B.S. in Sport Management), four new minors (including the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education’s minor in Social Change Leadership), 19 new courses and three new certificates of study that will all be ready for Fall 2018 enrollment.

Graduate programs added a new certificate and a new specialization, both in the Department of Special and Early Education, and 17 new courses for Fall 2018.

Honors enrollment of College of Education students soared 24 percent in one year, Walker added.

Bill Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation, reported on progress in the framework’s Research Advancement objective despite small drops in the college’s research productivity.

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Pitney (one word: “grace”) saluted two professors – Ben Creed from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations; and Zachary Wahl-Alexander, from the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education – who were named to the PI Academy External Mentoring Program.

Five faculty members were recognized as recipients of Dean’s Research Grants. All eventually will present the results of their work, as previous grantees did during the fall semester.

It all sounded wonderful to Freeman, who called herself “optimistic about NIU’s future.”

“The College of Education values and priorities align with NIU’s mission and core values, as well as the university’s commitments to excellence, knowledge creation, innovative practice and social justice,” Freeman said.

“Moreover, your strategic planning efforts are appropriately reflective of the opportunities identified through Program Prioritization,” she added, “as well as the historical importance of the College of Education as an anchor of the university and a leader in P-20 educational innovation across our region, state, nation and world.”

She applauded the college’s new ranking from U.S. News & World Report – “As impressive as the No. 5 ranking is that the college was ranked No. 3 for peer respect. People are talking about NIU,” she said – as well as the University of Tetovo exhibition in the Blackwell History of Education Museum.

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

NIU’s chief executive encouraged the audience to “hope for the best and plan for the worst” when it comes to Springfield and budgets. The university is “prepared for the unthinkable,” she added.

Higher education must actively engage in the conversation in Illinois as some call for consolidation, she said. “We shouldn’t be staying away from tough conversations. We should be encouraging realistic conversation,” she said. “What we need to do is be unafraid to speak.”

Freeman then revealed her “one word” for 2018 – “relationships” – which reinforces the importance of collaboration.

Relationships provide resources for individuals and institutions. Relationships surround people with others who see the world differently. Relationships heal, reaffirm, encourage and, with a nod to Dean Elish-Piper, inspire.

“When you can never get enough time or money to do something,” Freeman said, “the value of relationships is one that should never be underestimated.”

Enjoy photos from the all-college meeting and the festive “Winter Wonderland” social event that followed immediately in the Learning Center.



U.S. News extols College of Ed online grad programs – again

laptop-keysAnother January, another celebration of a Top 5 ranking from U.S. News & World Report for the NIU College of Education’s online graduate programs.

NIU is tied for fifth with the University of Houston and Utah State University this year, bringing the Top 5 streak to six consecutive years. The College of Education also made the “honor roll” in 2012, the first year that U.S. News began collecting data on online graduate education programs.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper is proud, but not surprised, that NIU tops all other Illinois and Mid-American Conference colleagues.

“Being ranked in the Top 5 for the last six years really affirms the quality and consistency of our NIU College of Education online graduate programs,” Elish-Piper says.

diploma“One aspect of the ranking that I’m most proud of is the ranking for faculty qualifications,” the dean adds. “Our faculty and staff are on the cutting edge of online learning, and it’s exciting to see their great work being consistently honored.”

Indeed, NIU scored 94 out of 100 in the Faculty Credentials and Training category. The college also earned high marks for Student Engagement (89 out of 100) and in Student Services and Technology (79 out of 100).

Meanwhile, the college earned a Peer Assessment score of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5.

U.S. News creates and offers its list of Best Online Graduate Education Programs to inform those teachers who aspire to grow their careers.

The NIU College of Education offers three online master’s degrees within the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung, who is quick to credit faculty members for their continued dedication to excellence in online education, reports that his department has achieved a desirable milestone.

“Some of our students say they feel no difference between face-to-face and online because they feel that the dynamics of the interaction is always there between students and faculty,” Hung says.

“Our students receive the best instruction and learning opportunities in online environments, and most students are not surprised by that. They say, ‘Of course!’ That’s the first reaction they have,” he adds. “I believe this is due to the faculty’s high qualifications to teach these courses online and their incorporation of innovative teaching methods.”

Faculty in ETRA strive to retain the U.S. News ranking by participating in professional development to stay up to date on their skills, he says.

Naturally, he adds, the professors and instructors also care deeply about fostering student success and doing what is needed to ensure that.

“Last year, we were very purposeful to initiate a quality measures training,” Hung says. “As a result, every faculty member who teaches online was also certified to teach and to design and develop online courses. Some even went on to become certified reviewers of online courses to support other faculty members who want to develop online courses.”

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim, chair of LEPF, calls the latest ranking “a clear reflection of the expertise that we have teaching in the program area.”

“We have a really nice blend of faculty members and instructors who’ve had years of experience in the field,” Pluim says, “and there is a strong commitment to making the online program very applicable to the needs of working students. Our flexible online program enables students who would otherwise not be able to take two years out their professional lives to participate.”

She credits the department’s close and strong relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) for recruiting top students and faculty to NIU.

Between 20 and 25 new students begin the program every other semester, she says, with at least three cohorts progressing through the curriculum simultaneously.

“I have yet to see an end of people who want this degree, to be honest,” Pluim says.

“We adhere to routine course updates to remain relevant and to reflect current best practices that are very applicable to that the students are going to be facing in the field,” she adds. “We’ve also got people in the program who are often grappling with the same kinds of questions that our courses are asking them to problem-solve around. The blend of theoretical knowledge and practical applications makes for a richer classroom dialogue.”

Other Illinois schools ranked include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (25), the University of St. Francis (36), Concordia (88), McKendree University (107) Roosevelt University (125) and the University of Illinois at Springfield (131).

Mid-American Conference schools in the rankings include Buffalo (15), Ohio (18), Ball State (36), Central Michigan (46), Bowling Green (88), Kent State (107), Toledo (107), Eastern Michigan (148) and Western Michigan (150).



College of Education maintains nearly perfect edTPA pass rates

Sarah Paver

Sarah Paver

When Sarah Paver began her student-teaching class last August, the graduate student in Physical Education quickly became concerned.

“I was very nervous when the edTPA came up,” says Paver, who graduated in December. “A lot of my classmates had said that they had read the handbook over the summer. I didn’t look at anything until September.”

No problem, though.

The now-NIU alumna aced the edTPA with a score of 66 – 37 points or more is considered passing – to earn the highest Fall 2017 mark of any teacher-licensure student across the NIU campus.

Licensure candidates in the College of Education itself posted a 97 percent passage rate last semester, with nearly all of the 70 undergraduate and graduate students who submitted materials earning stamps of approval.

Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

Candidates must submit video of their actual teaching of between three and five lessons along with follow-up evidence that their students were learning and achieving. Candidates also must supply examples of further support they provided to students and subsequent plans for future teaching based on the earlier assessment.

For Paver, described by a former professor as “focused, hard-working, well-rounded and really warm and good with kids,” the road to edTPA victory was paved in sections.

edtpa-logo“Once I buckled down, I really conquered it one step at a time,” she says. “I did Task One in one week. I just spent one entire week filming.”

Subsequent steps came after short breaks. “Once I finished one task, I didn’t jump right into the next because it was so easy to burn out,” she says. “If I didn’t put it away and not touch it for a couple days, it could be super-overwhelming.”

Although her submission was complete and ready by the end of October, she held on to it. “We still had two weeks before we had to submit, so I went back and reviewed everything,” she says.

Jim Ressler, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, says the motivation of NIU College of Education students to teach fuels their continued edTPA success.

“They understand that their ability to acquire teacher-licensure in Illinois rests on a passing edTPA score, along with all of the other degree requirements we have in the program, so they take it seriously,” Ressler says. “They understand that being an effective teacher includes the things that the edTPA asks of them, which reinforces the things we believe are important.”

Jim Ressler

Jim Ressler

For example, he adds, “that includes having very clear and dynamic lesson plans. It includes trying to meet the needs of every students. It includes supporting your decisions as a teacher with meaningful data from across all learning domains.”

“Because the edTPA is a performance-based assessment, our candidates are being asked to demonstrate more than what they have learned in their teacher-training programs,” adds Jennifer Johnson, the College of Education’s director of teacher preparation and development.

“They are being asked to demonstrate an understanding of teaching and learning within their own context, their own student-teaching experience. This is something that faculty have prepared them for throughout their coursework and early field clinical experiences,” she says. “NIU College of Education faculty are engaged in the process of preparing exemplary teacher-candidates, and I believe that our candidates’ edTPA results reflect that.”

Paver logged her student-teaching hours at Old Post Elementary School in Oswego. She chose lessons in catching-and-throwing for her video submissions, later measuring student achievement in cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains.

“My cooperating teacher there, Robin Ormsbee, was a great resource for me,” Paver says. “She also videotaped me.”

Children provided hard information on comprehension through a written test with questions on offensive and defensive strategies and the difference between the two.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

They also demonstrated their skills for Paver before, during and after her lessons as she walked among them for first-hand observation. She also watched for signs of respect of their classmates and ability to take constructive criticism, factors that satisfied the affective domain.

“I really enjoyed Oswego and the elementary and junior high schools. I really enjoyed the consistency of teaching full time. It’s the first time I’ve had that, considering clinicals are only an hour a day,” she says.

“I also enjoyed getting to know the students,” she adds. “It was quite sad to leave. You build such great relationships with the kids and the cooperating teachers.”

Paver isn’t sure when she’ll enter the gymnasium again.

Currently using her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training at an OSF HealthCare centers in Ottawa and Mendota, she is open to Physical Education jobs that would begin in the fall and keep her close to home in her native Big Rock, Ill.

“I’m very happy with the job I have right now,” she says, “but I think that my eyes are always open for teaching positions if the right teaching job came along. I really enjoy the middle- and high-school age, and would love to continue.”

gym-ballsMeanwhile, the future teacher has lessons for NIU students still facing the edTPA.

“Conquer in chunks. Focus on one task at a time. Videotape sooner than later. Task One is videotaping, and you just can’t hold it off until the last minute.”

Also, she says, don’t miss the opportunity to solicit support from classmates. “Our student-teaching class met every two weeks,” she says. “I would make sure I had each task completed before I went to class so I could ask good questions.”

Help is also always available from Judy Boisen, the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation’s full-time edTPA coordinator.

“Judy is someone we’ve asked to make guest appearances in two or three of our program seminars each semester,” Ressler says. “Our students know Judy. She’s been an incredible resource.”



Future teachers gain head start, sharpen skills as literacy tutors

Malika Lee started tutoring young children when she was a young child herself.

Now as she does that work professionally as a reading tutor at NIU’s Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, the Early Childhood Education major has discovered her early ambition was right all along.

“I feel like I’ve always had great teachers, and I want to be that great teacher,” says Lee, a senior from Country Club Hills.

“The best part of working at the Literacy Clinic is the individual time I get with the students. Normally as a teacher, I have to focus on what this student’s doing, what this student’s doing, and I’m never able to focus on that one child,” she adds. “I have to realize that not every student learns in the same way, so I have to individualize my instruction so that my students can learn in different ways.”

Alexis Moaton

Alexis Moaton

For Alexis Moaton, a senior from Tinley Park, the motivation to teach came much later.

She came to NIU to major in Biology, but a freshman year Sociology course changed her direction.

Her professor spoke passionately about the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues many low-income communities, Moaton says. “If a child cannot read in the third grade, the chances of them going to jail later in life are very high,” she says.

That stark reality inspired her to switch her major to Elementary Education, “just wanting to make a change there, to get children more involved in reading and writing and finding an interest in school.”

One-on-one tutoring work at the Literacy Clinic has provided her a glimpse of such possibilities.

“A lot of times, you’ll see that a child misspells words, and you automatically assume that they’re just a bad speller,” Moaton says.

“But it’s like, ‘What exactly are you misspelling?’ Or, ‘What are you struggling with reading?’ Many times, when you break it down and analyze it in small portions instead of as a whole, you’re able to work on those specific skills that the child needs to develop to become a stronger reader and writer.”

Lee and Moaton are only two of several NIU students – inside the College of Education and out – who are acquiring unparalleled hands-on experience and teaching while earning money through work-study at the clinic.

Susan Massey (left) and Malika Lee

Susan Massey (left) and Malika Lee

Director Susan Massey knows that her tutors are not only gaining a leg up in the job market but also getting an amazing head start on becoming exemplary educators.

“Several of the tutors – our newest tutors – have actually started working here before they’ve had some of their methods courses,” Massey says. “So, when they get into their courses, I sometimes hear them say, ‘Oh, I learned about that at the clinic.’ They’re familiar with the assessment or the instructional strategy before they learn about it in the classroom.”

Beyond learning and practicing under the guidance of professional educators, the tutors also are simultaneously and organically preparing for their critical role as classroom-to-home liaisons.

“I do see them grow in their ability to work with students and also to talk with parents,” Massey says. “We do ask them to have a conversation with parents at the end of each session to discuss what happened during the tutoring session, what they might be able to work on at home.”

Located in the heart of the DeKalb-Sycamore retail and medical district, the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic has offered reading support services for K-12 students for more than 60 years.

Clinic programs include America Reads, which provides free, one-on-one tutoring for K-5 students who struggle with reading.

Massey hopes to expand clinic-based, learning opportunities for Huskies by inviting the NIU Educators Club to volunteer and by making a practicum experience part of the Reading Teacher Endorsement program.

Kristine Wilke

Kristine Wilke

Kristine Wilke, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction who serves as a graduate assistant at the clinic, welcomes any and all chances to engage with the children and the NIU students alike.

“Working here at the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic makes me feel good about myself when I leave every night because I know that I have made a difference in the lives of the tutors and in the lives of the students,” says Wilke, a former elementary school teacher in Sandwich, Ill.

“There are times when tutors may have questions and, not having the previous experience in a classroom, I can help them,” she adds. “I can help them work through problems, which also helps them with the students, and the student works through the problem, and, again, they’re both achieving that goal of moving forward and learning.”

First-hand clinic experiences exceed anything found in a book or classroom lecture, she says.

“Every child is not a textbook case. Each child is unique and an individual,” Wilke says.

NIU tutors “get to try different strategies. They also get to use different assessments and take the strategies from the data they collect to empower the students and embrace the skills that they do have so that they can actually become better and more proficient readers.”

Malika Lee

Malika Lee

Moaton agrees.

“We pinpoint exactly where students need help, and that allows us to work on certain skills. We work a lot on reading, spelling and writing because they all need to develop together,” she says.

“A lot of times, when children are learning to read, they don’t necessarily develop the writing skills as well,” she adds. “We’ll pick up a book, and then after we read the book, there is a lot of comprehension that goes into it – like, ‘Were you able to understand what was in the story?’ and also developing those writing skills as well. Along with writing comes spelling.”

Lee appreciates the clinic’s tactic to match tutoring with the interests of the children, such as sports, to make the time “fun and very educational.”

It’s fun – in the “rewarding” sense – for Lee as well as she watches the progress of her flock.

“If one week they weren’t able to read a word, but the next week they come and they could read a word, I’m like, ‘Wow! You did it! You finally did it! Good job!’ That’s just like a pat on the back to me and to them. I just get so happy,” she says.

“A lot of kids get confused with the ‘d’ and the ‘b’ because they’re kind of similar,” she adds. “One day, a student finally was able to recognize that the ‘d’ was a ‘d’ and not a ‘b,’ and I was able to tell the parent that.”

Some tutors aren’t on the path to teaching, however.

Zach Trueblood, an English major who graduated from NIU in December, brought his expertise in writing and literature to the tutor’s table. He plans to become a writer, although he admits that his time at the clinic has him “possibly revisiting the option of getting into education.”

“Before I worked here, I hardly knew how to set up a lesson plan or how to assess a child and see exactly what literacy needs that they had. I don’t really see it as a deterrent at all. I see it as more of an opportunity to learn,” says Trueblood, from Monticello, Ill.

Zach Trueblood

Zach Trueblood

Tutoring also allowed Trueblood to improve his patience – “Working with children, you definitely need to have a patient type of personality,” he says – while helping him to put down roots in a community far from his central Illinois hometown as he spoke with parents.

But it’s the children he’ll remember the most.

“If a child is struggling with literacy skills and reading issues and writing issues, it’s really kind of crucial for them to get some more reinforcement that maybe the parents can’t offer at home or that they’re not getting at school,” he says.

“Having a strong, positive reinforcement in these children’s lives, I think, is probably the most rewarding thing and probably the biggest takeaway I’m going to have from coming to college here at NIU. It just makes me happy to come here and see the smile on a kid’s face when they finally get a word or a concept that they’ve been struggling with for so long.”

Like Lee, he appreciates the lighter side of the clinic’s approach.

“Every session, we try to incorporate a little fun activity at the very end that’s educational at the same time,” Trueblood says. “We do some crazy, fun stuff, like reader’s theater, which is essentially reading out of a book. Everybody does funny voices. We do like a little play. The kids make it.”

Massey believes the “wonderful” and “caring” tutors succeed because they are chosen well.

clinic“The undergraduates we have here are really interested and really like the children. One of the questions we ask them in the interview is, ‘What are your experiences with children? Why do you like children?’ We want people that are excited and exuberant,” she says.

“They really love the children and want to help them. The children look up to them as role models, and I think it’s always good for them to have a role model that is not a parent or a teacher but someone that’s a college student,” she adds.

She enjoys watching the interactions of tutors, children and parents, especially the high-spirited energy that bookends each session.

“They go running back to their tutoring and then come out talking about what they read or what they did,” she says. “You hear the laughter as they are playing with one another and engaging in some sort of game that involves comprehension or words.”

Her tutors are happy as well. Just ask Lee.

“It doesn’t really feel like a job. It doesn’t feel like I’m coming to work because it’s something I like to do,” Lee says. “This experience is very beneficial to me because of the relationships that I gain with the students and even the workers. Everybody here is great. We teach each other, we teach the students and we help each other grow.”



EdLEAD names first cohort

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

NIU cultivates a dynamic and enriching environment for faculty looking to grow as professionals, but the College of Education believes there is always room for improvement.

“On our campus and so many other campuses, we are very intentional about professional development for teaching. We have resources on our campus in that regard,” says Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“We’re also very intentional about research development as, again, are many other universities,” McEvoy adds. “We’re not always as intentional when it comes to developing future leaders.”

The challenge is clear, he says.

“For our college and our university to be successful in the future, we need strong leaders and we need to develop future strong leaders who are going to be our future deans, associate deans, department chairs, program directors and other administrators on campus,” he says.

“But how do we prepare our faculty and others to not only fill these positions but to excel in these positions in the future? That’s a thought I’ve had in my head for a long time.”

Enter EdLEAD, the College of Education Leadership Education and Development Program.

edlead-logoDesigned to invest in the intentional development of leadership skills for faculty who aspire to take on such positions, EdLEAD will present a series of professional development workshops through the spring and summer semesters of 2018.

Faculty in the program then will spend the 2018-19 academic year in hands-on leadership projects that provide practical experience.

Members of the first cohort:

  • Mary Beth Henning, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Steve Howell, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Jim Ressler, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Kelly Summers, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Stephen Tonks, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Paul Wright, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

All will find “robust preparation to grow, learn, take on new opportunities and expand their careers in different ways,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education.

ed-lead-profs

Top row: Mary Beth Henning and Steve Howell Middle row: Jim Ressler and Kelly Summers Bottom row: Stephen Tonks and Paul Wright

“Higher ed is facing a lot of challenges, and having highly qualified leaders who are ready to step in is critical to the health and wellbeing of any academic institution,” Elish-Piper says.

“We want to make sure we are investing in our faculty who aspire to take on leadership roles,” she adds. “We truly believe that professional development of leadership skills will not only enhance the contributions these people will make but also their experiences at NIU.”

McEvoy initiated early conversations with Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, discovering that they shared similar visions and approaches.

“Early in the fall semester, Dean Elish-Piper asked if I would be involved,” McEvoy says. “I’m excited to help build our emerging leaders in the college. I don’t know that any of us would claim to be expert leaders, per se, but we are people who are trying hard to lead the units that we oversee.”

Making the transition to leadership can occur naturally but not easily, he says, further justifying the EdLEAD model.

“We often look at our strong faculty members as strong in teaching, strong in scholarship and strong in the service area, and then we thrust those strong faculty into leadership roles,” McEvoy says.

“The skills and hard work that allowed them to become effective faculty members generally do translate to helping them excel in some of these leadership activities,” he says, “but we need to equip them with leadership training and development that will enable them to excel further.”

Pitney and Walker are confident that EdLEAD will accomplish just that.

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

“EdLEAD is a way to support and extend faculty leadership development, and I’m excited because it is an investment in our future,” says Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation.

“The program will raise awareness of critical and noteworthy issues facing higher education and its leaders locally and nationally,” he adds. “It will also explore ways to effectively lead during challenging times in higher education at multiple levels: department, college and university.”

Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, is eager to see college-faculty collaboration “to assist in developing future leaders in our own setting and also throughout NIU.”

“I really see this program as a unique set of opportunities to explore and develop, with the support of numerous leaders across campus, in areas such as budget, data use for decision-making, consensus building, communication or working with external constituents,” he says.

“We have a great group of six faculty participants,” he adds, “and we will all benefit from interacting and learning from each other.”



Cyberlearning workshop to host sharing of research, expertise in child/robot collaborative system

Yanghee Kim

Yanghee Kim

When Yanghee Kim visited the College of Education last August, the new Morgridge Chair eagerly promoted her January 2018 workshop funded by the National Science Foundation.

It begins Thursday.

The Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL) Workshop on Robots, Young Children and Alternative Input Methods will take place in the Capitol Room of the Holmes Student Center.

Researchers from learning sciences, computer sciences, engineering and social sciences will gather for two days of inquiry “into the development of a socio-technical collaborative system of embodied, humanoid robots and young children in ways that promote children’s intellectual, affective and social development.”

Day One will feature sessions that present current multidisciplinary research and that distinguish challenges and research issues in interaction design and technology development. Day Two – Friday – will focus on future work, including the identification of opportunities for collaboration and alignment with funding priorities.

Scholars in attendance will discuss sociable, educational robots; cognitive, affective and cultural theories; qualitative research methodology; designing and assessing robot/child behaviors; computational linguistics; speech technology and vision technology.

robotMany questions will guide the conversation.

  • What are the current statuses of research and development efforts in child/robot interaction?
  • What are theoretical perspectives that might guide research on developing child/robot collaborative systems?
  • What are important research issues in engineering child development assisted by a robot?
  • What technologies are available to design child/robot interaction and collect data to assess the efficacy?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities in developing such technologies and research programs?
  • In what way are the research issues aligned with the NSF goal of broadening participation in STEM education and STEM workforce (particularly, the NSF initiative INCLUDES, Human Technology Partnership)?

Presenters from NIU include Kyung Kim, Laura Ruth Johnson and Ying Xie, all of the College of Education’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment; and Reva Freedman, of the Department of Computer Sciences.

The workshop is invitation-only; for more information, email ykim@niu.edu.



Project VITALL group explores Consumer Electronics Show

Buddy

Buddy, “the companion robot” developed by BLUE FROG ROBOTICS. Photo by Stacy Kelly.

Stacy Kelly wants a robot.

The associate professor in the NIU College of Education’s Vision Program came to that realization after she and a trio of graduate students in the Project VITALL master’s degree program spent three days at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“We need to have a robot,” says Kelly, who interacted with the machines and watched their realistic movements.

“People who are blind or visually impaired now often use guide dogs for traveling safely and effectively. How could a robot take the place of a guide dog? Dogs have a life expectancy. Guide dogs have to retire. People wouldn’t have to get a new dog every six or seven years. They could get a four-legged robot,” she says.

“Although the technology is not fully there now, it will be there soon, and we don’t want to wait until it’s there,” she adds. “We went to see the technology for the masses to think about how it could apply to the blind. We want to understand it now and know how it can help with our instruction.”

NIU’s group glimpsed myriad mind-boggling possibilities for robots as assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired – all things that the practitioners Kelly prepares through the Department of Special and Early Education must know to best serve their future clients.

She and the students – Julie Hapeman, Lizzy Koster and Lacey Long – will present their findings Feb. 15 at the 2018 Illinois Chapter of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Conference.

They also plan to publish an article about their Consumer Electronic Show adventure.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

“It was the cutting edge of all cutting edges. It was the edge of the edge of the edge. That’s where we were,” Kelly says. “Everyone there was so entrepreneurial, and it was like having a crystal ball that works in being able to see the future.”

Among the coolest things they experienced: driverless vehicles.

“We had the opportunity to ride around Las Vegas in a self-driving car and other automated transportation – self-driving buses, trolleys, things that no longer require a human to get from one place to another in a timely fashion. That was just off the charts!” Kelly says.

“One of the biggest constraints for people who are blind or visually impaired is figuring out methods of safe and independent travel,” she adds. “Now, someday, they can have a car in their garage or in the parking lot and just go.”

Called “the world’s gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies,” the Consumer Electronics Show “has served as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for 50 years – the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.”

NIU’s contingent financed its trip with Project VITALL, part of a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch of a new master’s degree that provides specialized training in assistive technology.

Both students and professor were excited to see how many smart home and voice-activated technologies were powered by Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“Everybody’s linking into the same ecosystem,” Kelly says. “We have Alexa and Google Home in our classrooms already, so it confirmed to me that we’re on the right track.”

From left: Julie Hapeman, Lacey Long, Lizzy Koster and Stacy Kelly

From left: Julie Hapeman, Lacey Long, Lizzy Koster and Stacy Kelly

 

She also realized that NIU, home to the world’s first academic program in assistive technology in the area of blindness and visual impairments, has proven prescient in its long emphasis on tech.

Just talking to the many vendors about how their technologies could have additional applications for those who are blind or visually impairment sparked light bulb moments, she adds. “People were saying, ‘Oh, for the blind! I never thought of that!’ ”

Hapeman, a certified orientation and mobility specialist in the Milwaukee Public Schools, reports that her ride in the self-driving car made “an immediate impact on two of my students.”

Julie Hapeman (center) with students Carlos and Xin Ju.

Julie Hapeman (center) with students Carlos and Xin Ju.

“As I was waiting for my turn, one of my students, a 15-year-old student who is totally blind, sent me a text to ask how I was enjoying the conference,” Hapeman says.

“The time she sent her message was the time I would have seen her for our weekly lesson, and it was serendipitous that her text arrived right after my Lyft ride had been confirmed,” she adds. “I texted her back that I was about to ride in a self-driving car, and her response was, ‘OHMYGOD! I AM SO JEALOUS!!!!’ ”

Hapeman knew she had to call her student from the car, turning the phone over to the engineer on board: “The questions she asked with all of the excitement in her voice were marvelous!”

After texting the news to another student, Hapeman realized the magnitude of those moments.

“For both of these students, the possibility that in their lifetimes they might be able to own and operate a car by themselves seemed within their grasp,” she says. “Helping these students move one step closer to one of their dreams was the greatest moment of the entire CES.”

Lacey Long

Lacey Long

Long, a teacher of students with visual impairments and a certified orientation and mobility specialist in the Morton-Sioux Special Education Unit of North Dakota, calls the Consumer Electronics Show “amazing.”

“There was such a diverse range of technology available. Our group used the opportunity to question how these technologies can be adapted for individuals with visual impairments across the board,” Long says.

“One upcoming product that I thought would be extremely useful was the Casio Mofrel 2.5D printer,” she adds. “Although it is being marketed to design professionals, it has the capabilities to print textures and Braille, which could increase the accessibility my students have to tactile illustrations for improved literacy.”

Lizzy Koster

Lizzy Koster

Koster, who has explored the potential of Google Translate for people with visual impairments, found the Las Vegas experience an informative one.

“The Consumer Electronics Show serves as a barometer for how the tech industry gauges consumer interests and needs and their response to those projections,” Koster says.

“At present, connectivity, be it through social robots or smart home innovations, is at the forefront,” she adds. “What this means for our students and clients with visual impairment is that while select innovators are developing products to better serve their needs, consumer trends are moving toward more reliance on smart devices and automation.”

For teachers, she says, “this indicates that our students and clients will need to be well-versed in basic ‘smart’ technology in order to determine how they can work with it and adapt it as necessary.”

NIU facilitates that readiness in its graduates.

“Our field desperately needs this program,” Kelly says. “All the time and energy we’ve put in for the last several decades is paying off. We’re not at Square One. We’re at Square Million. Every single day, we’re working with the newest technology and we’re bringing it into our classroom.”



Pomp and circumstance: NIU celebrates fall commencement

capNIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last month during the fall commencement ceremonies.

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman told the audience at the Dec. 17 undergraduate ceremony about Nick Wilstie, who earned a bachelor’s in Physical Education.

During the Dec. 16 Graduate School ceremony, Freeman spoke about Jeff Ware, who earned a doctorate in Curriculum Leadership.

Here are President Freeman’s comments.

Nick Wiltsie

Nick Wiltsie lives by two words: role model.

Nick Wiltsie

Nick Wiltsie

He counts many in his world. His parents, Wade and Jody. His high school gym teacher, Mr. Crabel. His fellow soldiers.

And a role model is what Nick has already become. To his four younger siblings. To his fellow cadets in the ROTC. To sophomores and seniors at St. Charles North, where he student-taught this fall.

Finally, continuing as a role model … continuing to inspire, motivate and shape … is what Nick plans for the rest of his life.

During high school, he envisioned his future in teaching P.E., just like Mr. Crabel.

With today’s degree in Physical Education, he sees the gymnasium as where he can exercise his gifts of mentoring and advising young people into the best people they can be.

It’s where teens without positive, guiding lights in their lives can find one in him. It’s where he will teach lifelong, fun and healthy skills of physical activity.

But that career must wait.

Two days ago, Nick proudly stood in our Sandburg Auditorium for commissioning as an officer in the U.S. Army. In doing so, he realized the dream he’s nurtured since second-grade in Elgin, Illinois.

When Nick visited NIU in high school, he connected with ROTC. He enlisted in the Army Reserves fresh from graduation in 2013, serving one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer ever since. He is the first member of the military from his family.

In ROTC, he became Cadet of the Month … and Cadet of the Year. He earned three Army achievement medals.

Now he is ready to lead soldiers … something he considers parallel to teaching students … in serving, as he says, “God, country and family” … in protecting the nation he loves.

Motivated by faith … driven by community service … he embodies the philosophy he instills in others: Find something you love to do … and do it. Congratulations, Nick!

Jeff Ware

NIU graduates make a difference in the lives of people across our Chicago region … and also across the world.

Jeff Ware

Jeff Ware

Jeff Ware, who receives his doctorate today in Curriculum Leadership, provides an inspiring example.

For 25 years, he taught Spanish at Glenbrook North High School, in the affluent suburb of Northbrook.  In 2015, he left that post to work with the impoverished in Guatemala, one of the world’s poorest nations. Nearly half of the 16 million people there live on less than $2 a day.

As executive director of the nonprofit Hope Renewed International in Guatemala, Jeff oversees job programs; scholarships for children and adults from the slums; a home for girls who have been abused, abandoned or neglected; and a pre-school located on the outskirts of Central America’s largest garbage dump, where many of the children’s parents eke out a living scavenging.

Jeff wants the poorest of the poor to have the same opportunities for education as their peers living outside the dump. He has plans to expand the pre-school into an elementary school … to create a home for adolescent boys living on the streets … and to help develop a nursing education program.

Says NIU curriculum instruction professor Elizabeth Wilkins, “Jeff is working to change a country, and he knows the way to do it is through education.”

Jeff began working on his doctorate in 2009. When he answered this new calling, some suggested he put the dissertation aside.

But Jeff couldn’t let go … even if it meant working across borders, over a sketchy Internet connection and at all hours of the night.

“Credentials in Latin America mean a lot because not many people have them,” he says. His efforts also provided an important example to young people there.

Now he’s putting his high-level expertise to use in numerous ways, from providing input on curriculum to creating research-backed programs for the poor. And he says he’s forever grateful for the flexibility, encouragement and expertise of NIU faculty, particularly professors Wilkins and Thomas Smith.

We think Jeff in turn provides inspiration to all of us. Congratulations, Dr. Jeff Ware! We’re proud to call you an NIU alumnus.



Exercise Science Club to boost 2018 Abominable Snow Race

Tony Calderala

Tony Calderala

For people who find it fun to run a foot race up, over and down a snow-covered mountain in Wisconsin, here’s some good news: the annual Abominable Snow Race takes place Saturday.

“No Skis, No Dogs, No Sleds,” its Facebook page boldly proclaims. “This race is just you, 5 Snowy Miles, 20+ Obstacles, and the Abominable weather.”

Dubbed “The Midwest’s Premier Winter Obstacle Race,” the event beckons up to 2,700 runners of all stripes to the Grand Geneva Ski Resort to tap into their “inner Yeti.”

Members of NIU’s Exercise Science Club will join them.

Tony Calderala, an academic advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, has arranged for at least 12 students to volunteer at the Base Camp.

“We’re going to put some cool-down and warm-up things together to teach people who want to get better as athletes,” Calderala says. “We’ve designed a pegboard challenge for people to go up, over and down so we can, ‘How good of an athlete are you? What do you want to accomplish?’ We’ll also do a couple competitions on stage.”

Each volunteer will receive a free entry pass to the 2019 race, he adds.

asr-logoBut the more valuable rewards will come from the professional connections students can make in Lake Geneva as well as the behind-the-scenes look at the organization of a large sporting event.

“Some are looking for networking opportunities. Gym owners are there. Obstacle Course Racing is getting bigger, and now there are gyms dedicated to training people in Obstacle Course Racing,” Calderala says.

“A couple students are interested in the management side, wanting to see what it’s like to own and operate your own event,” he adds. “Others are interested in the sport itself, in learning about it, especially if they’ve never seen it for themselves.”

Calderala, who runs obstacle courses as a spare-time hobby, is making this happen through his acquaintance with Abominable Snow Race owner Bill Wolfe. He also is a former workout buddy with Tom Abraham, the course designer.

“I talked to Bill and said, ‘Do you want any help? I can bring some students,’ ” Calderala says. “Bill has been looking to work with a university here in northern Illinois or in southern Wisconsin to develop a partnership to expand this beyond the one race.”

Possibilities for the future included posting college students as “course marshals” who monitor the racers in the “elite” heats as they attempt to qualify for larger obstacle events, such as the Tough Mudder.

Students also can provide physical training on the course, demonstrate good form or offer encouragement in the way of cheering.



LEPF professor elected to board of Education Law Association

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe, professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Education Law Association.

Kiracofe teaches Education Law, Education Finance and Legal Aspects of School Business Management. She has authored more than 30 articles, books, and book chapters and her work has been cited in law reviews, education finance literature and court documents.

The Education Law Association (ELA) is the premier forum for all professionals in education who are interested in practical knowledge, scholarship and interdisciplinary dialogue about legal and policy issues affecting education.

A national, nonprofit member association, the ELA offers unbiased information to its professional members about current legal issues affecting education and the rights of those involved in education in both public and private K-12 schools, universities and colleges.

For education professionals and legal advocates on behalf of educational institutions and individual clients, the ELA remains an indispensable resource.