Category: ETRA

LEARN-IT conference exposes educators to instructional tech

learn-it-2

LEARN-IT 2017

Advances in technology come so quickly and frequently that it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of the latest innovations and applications.

Yet for teachers, and for IT professionals who work in schools, the integration of technology to enhance learning carries a great responsibility and significance: Students deserve the best education possible, and outdated equipment and programs hinders that.

NIU’s annual LEARN-IT conference, always held on the first Saturday in May, invites educators and school-based tech specialists on a weekend day for keynote presentations, breakout sessions and research roundtables that allow them to improve their knowledge and to better accomplish their objectives.

The goal is simple: to help educators transform the teaching-and-learning environment with “low- cost, high-impact” technologies that facilitate meaningful learning.

“Our overall theme for LEARN-IT has always been a focus on ‘low-cost, high-impact’ instructional technology,” said Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), which hosts the conference in the Learning Center of Gabel Hall.

“In many ways, our theme has been prophetic. Today we see more and more teachers using free or low-cost and highly accessible instructional technology tools,” Hung added. “And more than ever, we need to know how to use these tools effectively. I like to think of our LEARN-IT conference as a community of learners, where dedicated educators gather to share and learn from each other.”

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

More than 120 people attended the May 6 event, said Judy Puskar, who helped to organize the day with Gail Hayenga, conference and event coordinator in the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs.

Professional Development Hours or graduate credit (ETT 592: Special Topics in Instructional Technology) were available.

“LEARN-IT is a day when they’re given instruction instead of giving instruction,” said Puskar, academic program advisor in ETRA.

“With technology changing so fast, people in the classroom often don’t have the time to get exposed to new technologies. This is a chance to explore the tools, learn strategies and practice with new tools,” she added. “A lot of times, we’ll hear, ‘Oh, I haven’t heard of this before’ – and now they want to use them in their classrooms or look more into them.”

Keynote speakers included two new ETRA faculty, both of whom will join the department this fall.

Dongho Kim, who comes to NIU from the University of Georgia, Athens, presented “What Gets Measured, Gets Managed: Data Analytics and Technologies for Teachers.”

Growing use of digital devices in and out of the classroom produces large amounts of data regarding the learning processes of students, Kim said, which in turn creates great potential in K-12 classrooms from data-driven decision-making.

“Educators’ ability to utilize that kind of data enables them to assess various aspects of their students’ learning in a timely manner,” Kim said. “For example, students’ log data in the flipped classroom context reveals students’ engagement with learning content and allows teachers to provide ongoing supports.”

learn-it-logoFatih Demir, joining NIU from the University of Missouri, Columbia, spoke on “EnhancED Teaching and Learning: User eXperience (UX) Research and Design to Enhance Teaching and Learning.”

He challenged his audience of teachers: “Are your learning plans based on your research, insights, trends and innovative concepts or are they generic for all students? Do you fully understand the needs and expectations of each individual student?”

“Teachers as everyday designers are designing curriculum, course plans, in-class activities, presentations and many other forms of materials for a diverse population,” Demir said. “Knowing well about the target audience and understanding their needs and expectations are key in design.”

Both professors call LEARN-IT participants “engaged and interested,” a group that also includes NIU undergraduates, graduate students and members of the Technology Specialist cohorts.

“Many students found the topic very interesting,” Demir said, “and appreciated that User Experience and Human Computer Interaction courses will be offered at the ETRA Department. Some of them indicated that they would like to apply such methods to their dissertations.”

Other presenters were:

  • Andrew Tawfik, “Evaluating EdTech: Evaluating, Designing, and Prototyping”
  • Kristin Brynteson, “Telling Stories with Technology”
  • Jason Underwood, “Effective Use of Video Tools and Strategies in the Classroom”
  • Colleen Cannon-Ruffo, “LEGO Education: WeDoSTEM 2.0” and “LEGO Education: STEM Robotics with Mindstorms EV3.”

Former ETRA Chair Lara M. Luetkehans launched LEARN-IT several years ago through the sponsorship of Bob and Mary English, friends of the College of Education. The conference always welcomes recipients of the Mary F. English Technology Award as honored guests.

LEARN-IT 2017

LEARN-IT 2017

The English family believes in the importance of educators having the tools they need to help all learners achieve their potential – and, Puskar said, it’s a belief that the educators who attend LEARN-IT share with the conference’s benefactors.

“Many of our districts are finding that technology is helpful in delivering content to students,” she said, “and in helping students to become self-directed learners.”

It begins when LEARN-IT participants leave the conference with “new skills, ideas and plans for enhancing learning,” Hung agreed.

“The high-impact strategies and technologies that the ETRA faculty and alums provide,” Hung said, “can enhance your work in assessing learners, engaging learners, producing media and putting the technologies in the students’ hands.”

Next year’s conference takes place Saturday, May 5.



Pomp and circumstance: NIU hosts spring commencement

grad-commence-18Three NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last month during the spring commencement ceremonies.

NIU President Doug Baker told the audience at the May 13 undergraduate ceremony about Tyler Hayes, who earned a bachelor’s in Kinesiology.

During the May 12 Graduate School ceremony, Baker spoke about Kai Rush, who earned a doctorate in Instructional Technology, and Natalie Tarter, who earned a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Here are President Baker’s comments.

Tyler Hayes

Tyler Hayes

Tyler Hayes

Every graduate is filled with a well-earned sense of accomplishment. That is particularly true for Tyler Hayes because of what it took to get here.

She arrived at NIU from Peoria filled with a desire to improve her life, but without a lot of money in the bank.

Every semester, she says, was a “guessing game” of whether or not she would be able to keep chasing her degree. She is grateful to those in the financial aid department who repeatedly helped her find financial assistance.

She can also thank her powerful work ethic. While at NIU, Tyler worked as a community advisor to cover room and board costs, spent time as a student orientation leader and earned money working in the sports information department.

It wasn’t always easy, but somewhere in her journey she recognized the power of her own positivity as a stabilizing force. She became a go-getter unwilling to wait around for things to happen.

That’s not to say she did it alone. She praises the “great motivators” she found among her classmates, for keeping up her spirits. She credits professors for their accommodating support. And she gives props to her teammates on the women’s rugby team for keeping her grades on track with study table sessions.

Tyler graduates today with a degree in Kinesiology. After a final summer working on campus, she will head off to Georgetown University this fall to pursue a master’s in Sports Industry Management.

Tyler says she will miss the caring, amazing people she met during a great NIU experience. Given her spirit, I have no doubt she has many memorable moments to look forward to in her future.

Kai Rush

Kai Rush

Kai Rush

Based on his SAT scores, Kai Rush had a 10 percent chance of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Today he graduates with his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology.

This is his second NIU degree. His master’s in Instructional Technology allowed him to climb the ladder from teacher to instructional coach to director of technology for West Chicago schools. Then he realized he was born to be a teacher not an administrator.

As Kai wrestled with that dilemma, Dr. Wei Chen Hung suggested he consider teaching classes here at NIU. He embraced the challenge and discovered that, after 15 years as an award-winning teacher at the K-12 level, he also loved teaching college students. Much to his surprise, he also discovered a passion for research.

Dr. Hung’s intervention, he says, was just one of many examples of how NIU faculty helped him find his current path.

Dr. Rebecca Hunt devoted hours last summer lending advice on his dissertation; Dr. Pi-Sui Hsu challenged him to explain his research in greater detail; Dr. Thomas Smith turned his dislike into enjoyment for math and statistics; and Dr. Nick Omale taught him how to plan and deliver a university-level lesson.

Thanks to the nurturing and cajoling of those professors, and to the help of many others here at NIU, the high-schooler who wasn’t supposed to go to college is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. There he helps prepare others for careers as teachers and does research on using technology to motivate minority and English language learners.

In a note he sent to me this spring, Kai said of his journey, “Test scores mean nothing if you have great teachers, professors and staff to support, assist and motivate students! That is NIU!”

It is my sincere hope that all of you in this room had an experience here at NIU to rival his.

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter’s star rose as a track athlete at Batavia High School.

  • A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles;
  • Illinois record-holder in the 100-meter hurdles;
  • Twice the state runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles.

She went off to a Big 10 university on a full ride – and with legitimate Olympic hopes.

Then came the injuries – and three hip surgeries.

No longer able to compete at that high level, Natalie felt lost and lonely. It was a challenging period in her life, one that changed her outlook on sports.

Natalie fashioned quite a comeback, however.

She transferred to NIU, focused on academics and walked on the track team, finding success in a new event, the heptathlon.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in general studies, she stayed here. Today Natalie earns her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, with a graduate certificate in sports and exercise psychology.

The last two years, she worked with – and learned from – our Office of Student Academic Success, where Natalie provided academic coaching and leadership training to our students.

But sports remains a central theme in her work.

Natalie once presented a professional development session for her officemates, setting up hurdles outside their building and teaching them jumping techniques. When co-workers expressed embarrassment and doubt in their abilities, Natalie likened it to the frustration and uncertainty that students can feel as they navigate college.

It’s a lesson they won’t forget.

While interning at a private practice, Natalie created counseling groups for athletes at West Aurora High School and facilitated high school workshops on mental health and sports.

Athletes are often neglected in the mental health realm, Natalie says, and she wants to change that.

Additionally, the depth of her experiences has included working with young people who are non-verbal and autistic, as well as young women who have attempted to take their own lives.

It’s not surprising that Natalie has been asked to join the private counseling practice where she interned, and she has plans to continue her important work there with athletes and others.

We think Natalie Tarter never really needed an oval track to shine.

Please enjoy these photographs from the May 12 and 13 ceremonies.

 



And the hits keep on coming …

Eui-Kyung Shin and Thomas Smith

Eui-Kyung Shin and Thomas Smith

The spring awards season goes on for the NIU College of Education.

Eui-Kyung Shin, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Tom Smith, Presidential Teaching Professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, join former colleague Andrew Milson of the University of Texas at Arlington, in an award from the National Council for Geographic Education.

For more than 100 years, the NCGE has worked to enhance the status and quality of geography teaching and learning at all levels of instruction. Through its awards program, NCGE recognizes excellence in geography teaching, mentoring, research, instructional design and service.

ncge“Each year, we are impressed by the level of innovation, quality and creativity of all our award nominees,” said Zachary R. Dulli, chief executive officer. “Understanding our world is critical to a high-quality education, and these award winners represent the best of the best in providing that to our students.”

Shin, Smith and Milson were honored “Future Teachers’ Spatial Thinking Skills and Attitudes,” which earned top honors as Best College/University Article in the Journal of Geography Awards category. Milson taught in the NIU College of Education from 1999 to 2001.

Recipients of NCGE recognition will receive their awards at a special ceremony held during the 2017 National Conference on Geography Education, scheduled from July 27 to July 30 in Albuquerque, N.M.



Laura Ruth Johnson to study civic engagement, advocacy of young parents in Humboldt Park

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson has spent two decades observing the lives, struggles and triumphs of young parents in Chicago.

Throughout those years, the associate professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment has seen many young parents thrive in spite of a lack of programs that could help them.

“Some of them are missing school to work, but not because they don’t value education,” Johnson says. “It’s because they’re extremely responsible. Some are working an extra job to provide for their children or help their parents pay the rent.”

Johnson will turn her attention this summer to how young parents in Humboldt Park engage with their community – and if that civic engagement can inform and enhance their advocacy skills, for themselves and their children, as well as for other young parents.

Findings from a Youth Participatory Action Research study, funded by a summer Research and Artistry grant, hope to “inform services, programs and policy aimed at young parents, and challenge pejorative stereotypes of young parents as having ‘ruined’ their lives with little hope of academic or professional success because of their ‘bad’ choices.”

Instead, Johnson strives to show that young parents can be deeply involved in their communities and academically successful, if provided with the appropriate supports and resources.

Humboldt Park

Humboldt Park

Data will come from interviews, focus groups, observations and written assignments completed by young parents. Over the summer, a small group of young parents will work with Johnson to collect and analyze data, in the process gaining valuable research skills.

Research will take place at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, an alternative high school that currently serves about 190 students pushed out of the public school system, through its embedded program the Lolita Lebron Family Learning Center, which serves the needs of young parents attending Albizu Campos, which make up about 20 percent of the student body.

Many students there are familiar with Johnson’s topic: Parents attend a class, co-taught by Johnson, called “Social History of Parenting,” which helps them develop advocacy skills and involves them in creating campaigns that confront pejorative stereotypes about young parents.

But the need lies beyond Albizu Campos High School and the Family Learning Center.

“Having young parents involved in community and civic engagement is important, but their voices are largely absent,” she says. “So much policy is made for them, but they’re not included as a part of the conversation – and they need to be. They’re the ones these programs are aimed at.”

Quality mentorship offers a start, says Johnson, who has implemented such programs in Chicago for the last four years.

campos-2One goal of her upcoming project is to gather solid data on the impact of efforts like hers.

Whereas much of the civic engagement literature has focused on more traditional sorts of activities, such as voting, this study aspires to document how students’ involvement in community-based projects and grassroots activism that address issues that are meaningful to them can help them to develop leadership skills.

Among her questions: How do young parents view their communities? What issues are important to them? In what ways are local projects involving and engaging young parents? What skills do they gain from participating? How does their involvement shape their identities as active citizens? What role will it play in their postsecondary pursuits?

“Very few programs are aimed at young parents,” Johnson says, “and it’s harder for them to become involved. Most work. They have to take care of their own expenses. They have a child. And, as a result, they’re rendered invisible.”

Compounding the problem, she says, is that many programs focused on young parents are designed merely to prevent teens from becoming parents in the first place. Only a few mentor teens who already are young parents, she says.

Unfortunately, she adds, not many high schools offer child care.

Nonetheless, young parents can and do defy the odds. Four recent valedictorians at Campos High School have been teen parents, she says.

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

“Young parents right now see education as more important than ever,” Johnson says, “but for teen parents, it’s a challenge. They have to take care of a child and go to school. It’s a challenge of having support, of having child care or of having transportation. I know some young parents who walk, with their children, to school in the cold because they have no money for the bus.”

In the Puerto Rican community where Johnson conducts her advocacy and research, she witnesses some attitudes of fatalism among youth.

What difference can we possibly make outside of our neighborhood? How can these projects really change the way things are? Why don’t politicians actually care about us? They say what they think we want to hear, but they don’t know what we go through or actually listen when we tell them.

Even external forces are contributing, she says, pointing to a recent teen pregnancy advertisement that featured pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen and the message, “You’re supposed to be changing the world … not changing diapers.”

“As if mothers can’t be activists and be involved!” Johnson says. “We’re really trying to change that narrative and paradigm.”

She finds signs of optimism in Humboldt Park, where teen parents are thinking about greater social issues and historical events in relationships to their neighborhood – where they can act locally.

veggies-2Others are connecting the dots, she says.

“They’re invested even more when they have a child because they want to have a better future for their child, and they see that they can link all of the issues,” Johnson says. “Now they have a child to think of. Having safe parks. Having access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Healthy food, for example, offers lessons of urban agriculture, such as community gardens and greenhouses. It reinforces the importance of healthy food for growing children. Politically, it illustrates the social problem of “food deserts” or the public health crisis of diabetes.

Projects that Johnson has worked on with students include public service announcements filmed and posted on YouTube, social media postings and participation in hashtag campaigns such as #noteenshame and #teenparentpride.

Other young parents are podcasting.

“They’re interviewing one another and creating podcasts on their lives, collecting and editing their own stories,” she says. “I see that as a method of civic engagement because it’s having them participate in larger conversations, something that will help other young parents find resources that are of assistance to them.”

Johnson (right) with young parents, mentors and teachers in San Antonio.

Johnson (right) took young parents, mentors and teachers to the annual meeting
of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio, Texas

She also hopes to host community events where she – and the teens – present their findings.

A few of those involved in an intergenerational mentorship project for current and former young mothers recently took a national stage, presenting their work and research at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio, Texas. Johnson received funds from the NIU College of Education and the Youth Connection Charter School to bring young parents, mentors and teachers to the event.

“I know some who really found that through their participation in a project, it expanded their view of their ability to make a change in the world, and they’ve taken that to their families,” she says. “Most of the students are really excited to become involved, and they have a lot of great ideas.”



Iowa State honors David Walker

David Walker

David Walker

David Walker’s fervent curiosity about the world beyond the United States has shaped his life.

As an undergraduate at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history, political science and Russian studies. He also studied abroad in the former Soviet Union in 1987.

“I got a taste of being overseas,” Walker says, “and I enjoyed it immensely.”

Following graduation, Walker and his wife joined the Peace Corps, serving together from 1989 to 1991 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) and from 1992 to 1994 in Mauritania.

Those years in Francophone Africa sparked his interest in the history of that region, and upon his return home, he enrolled at Iowa State University to earn a master’s degree in history. He later completed a Ph.D. there in education.

Since then, as an academic with a dynamic research agenda of qualitative methodology, significant grant funding, a strong record of mentoring graduate students and a platform of promoting international collaboration as president of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association, Walker has undeniably forged an impressive career.

Now the associate dean of the NIU College of Education has external confirmation of that fact.

globeWalker is the 2017 recipient of Iowa State’s Virgil Lagomarcino Laureate Award, which honors graduates of the College of Human Sciences who are nationally and internationally recognized for their meritorious service or distinguished achievement in the field of education.

He will travel to Ames in October for the ceremony, which takes place during Homecoming.

“I feel very honored and humbled that my peers support me. Iowa State is kind of where it all started for me,” says Walker, who came to NIU in 2003 as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

The former Cyclone has dedicated himself to modeling his professors there.

“At Iowa State, I mentored under some of the best in the business,” he says, “and after I graduated, it became apparent to me how privileged I was to study under these great names in our field. I consider it my due diligence to give back to the field, and I strive to do that in my teaching and research.”

Fellow Iowa State alumna Christine Sorensen Irvine, a former dean of the NIU College of Education, nominated Walker for the award. The two also have published together.

Walker is looking forward to his trip back to Ames to collect his Lagomarcino.

“I’ll see a lot of good friends and mentors,” he says. “It’s going to be a great evening.”



NIU connects Downers Grove with eighth-graders in Taiwan

The view from Taiwan: Students from National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School returned late in the evening for the Skype session.

The view from Taiwan: Students from National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School returned late in the evening to Skype.
Teacher Chen Jin-Ting is on the left.

It opened with simple hellos before the conversation turned to favorite foods and hobbies.

Peering into webcams, the strangers made small talk across oceans through the power of Skype. This was only Day One, though; the real conversation would come 48 hours later.

And when that began – at 7 a.m. Wednesday, March 22, inside an eighth-grade science classroom at Downers Grove’s O’Neill Middle School – hour-long scientific argumentation between U.S. students and their Taiwanese counterparts proved lively and educational.

For the next hour, they argued this question: If funding were limited, which form of alternative energy would you select as the best to promote and advance?

“Everything went well. The students were really engaged, and we got lucky – we didn’t get into any technical issues,” said Pi-Sui Hsu, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

“They really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to students from a different culture – that’s a really big thing for them – and they were glad to learn some Chinese,” she added. “They were so excited. They kept repeating phrases they learned from me.”

skype-1

The view from Illinois: Eighth-graders arrived early to link up with their Taiwanese counterparts.

Meg Van Dyke, an eighth-grade science teacher at O’Neill, is grateful for her classroom’s involvement in what she calls “a wonderful opportunity.”

“The research project allows students a unique opportunity to receive a global perspective on alternative energy. For example, the students in Taiwan don’t have as much exposure to nuclear energy as students in the United States,” Van Dyke said. “It also forces my students to think about how small Taiwan is and what alternative energy would work best for them.”

O’Neill’s international collaboration with Taiwan’s National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School is part of Hsu’s research project on scientific argumentation, a process which enhances understanding of science, sharpens critical thinking skills and aligns with the “Science and Engineering Practices” dimension of the Next Generation Science Standards.

“Scientific argumentation is a process that scientists engage in by talking and presenting different perspectives to reach consensus,” she said. “We don’t teach science as a mere learning of facts. Our students need to engage in reasoning, just like professional scientists.”

Pi-Sui Hsu

Pi-Sui Hsu

Darby Sawyer, a senior in the College of Education with a contract major, joined Hsu in the early-morning trip to O’Neill.

Sawyer walked around the classroom, checking in on the groups and keeping them on track. Further help came from Lucidchart, a web-based diagramming tool with real-time collaboration that allowed the students to put (and point to) their ideas in flow charts.

“The students were definitely excited to talk to their counterparts in Taiwan,” Sawyer said. “I definitely learned a lot about the scientific argumentation process by watching them engage with the different culture and seeing them put their heads together.”

Hsu’s work is funded by the Taiwan Ministry of Education, which now has put three rounds of money behind the project. She returns to her native Taiwan each summer to provide training in scientific argumentation to teachers there, something that continues online during the fall, winter and spring.

“My goal is encourage collaboration, and I’m interested in cultural differences,” she said. “We train students in the concept of scientific argumentation, and we give them a global view of what goes on in different countries.”

Principal Hsu Chih-Ting and Research Division Wang Hsin-Chang

Principal Hsu Chih-Ting and Research Division Wang Hsin-Chang

The recent collaboration continues her work with Van Dyke, an NIU alum.

In the summer of 2014, Hsu and Van Dyke welcomed 26 young students from Taiwan to DeKalb for the College of Education’s three-week “Argue Like a Scientist” academic summer camp. The two also have published research together.

Students in Hsu’s NIU College of Education classes also are benefiting from the work. The college values and prioritizes research as part of its vision and mission.

“As a researcher, I like to see how technology supports students in their learning,” she said. “In my doctoral-level classes, I share with them about my research design and the successes and struggles. I share project ideas with them, and this gives them ideas about how to use technology to design international collaborations.”

Research Division Liu Hsin-Chi

Research Division Liu Hsin-Chi

Hsu and Sawyer plan to co-publish and/or co-present the results of the project; meanwhile, Van Dyke’s students are writing essays on what they learned.



CoE online graduate programs earn high U.S. News rankings for fifth consecutive year

Laptop and coffeeOnline graduate programs in the NIU College of Education continue to perform near the top of the country, according to new rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

NIU places fourth (tied with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) in the current honor roll of 200 schools, earning a fifth consecutive spot among the nation’s Top 5 and its sixth nod overall.

Among the nine other Illinois schools ranked, only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (tied for 10th) and the University of St. Francis (tied for 29th) are in the Top 50. Ten universities in the Mid-American Conference are ranked, including Buffalo and Ohio, which are among the five institutions tied for 10th.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper considers the college’s annual recognition as “evidence of our high-quality online graduate programs.”

“Our faculty are at the cutting-edge of designing and delivering online education that is rigorous, engaging and interactive,” Elish-Piper said. “Our faculty, advisers and support staff are available to assist students in our online programs every step of the way so they can be successful in their programs and in their professions.”

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).

•    Educational Research and Evaluation (ETRA)
•    Instructional Technology (ETRA)
•    School Business Management (LEPF)

ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung heralds a continued and collective effort “attributed to faculty credentials, both academic and specifically for teaching online courses, and student engagement.”

Wei-Chen Hung and Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Wei-Chen Hung and Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

“One particular highlight this year is that we further enhanced our assessment approach by working closely with Research and Assessment faculty to develop assessment instruments and rubric that help us better prepare our students for job markets,” Hung said.

“We are also in the process of updating our curriculum to integrating emerging practices and technologies in the field.”

Acting LEPF Chair Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) calls the six-year streak of U.S. News recognition a “nice salute” to the hard work of students as well as talented faculty, including Patrick Roberts, who chaired the department from 2013 to 2016, and full-time professors and adjunct instructors who bring decades of diverse and practical experience.

“We’re committed to continually improving our modes of delivery, to making sure that our course content is relevant and current and to engaging students in what they need to know as school business officials,” Pluim said. “We also have a fabulous relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials that helps us to recruit top students to the program.”

U.S. News & World Report began collecting data on online programs in 2012 – NIU made the “honor roll” that first year – on the belief that “online learning is becoming integral to all types of education, including higher education, and that consumers are hungry for information related to online degrees.”

Its rankings make no distinction between not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.

Rankings are based on five categories, which are weighted: student engagement (35 percent), student services and technology (20 percent), admissions selectivity (15 percent), faculty credentials and training (15 percent) and peer reputation (15 percent).



Woof! ETRA prof Tom Smith barks up the global media tree

Tom Smith and Rex

Tom Smith and Rex

For Tom Smith, the days before the winter break proved crazy-busy hectic.

And it had nothing to do with the holidays.

It was head-spinning, to tell you the truth,” says Smith, a co-author on a study that scored international headlines for its information on whether stress can make dogs go gray.

“I actually had a news alert set up on Google, and it kept popping up on there – CBS News, Huffington Post, Yahoo!, Scientific American, People magazine, Wired.com, CNN, hundreds of news outlets in the U.S., U.K, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East,” he adds. “The news anchors even talked about it on ‘Good Morning America,’ and BBC-TV contacted us.”

The professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, who gave numerous interviews with reporters in December, became involved in the project thanks to College of Education alumna Camille King (Ed.D. in adult education, 2011). She’s a nurse and animal behaviorist.

“Camille was a student of mine, and I was on her dissertation committee, too. She did her dissertation research on therapy dogs under Gene Roth’s guidance,” Smith says. “Camille had moved to Colorado, and then she contacted me to ask if I would help her on research she was planning to do on pressure wraps – also known as Thundershirts® – and how they affect anxiety and heart rates in dogs. Temple Grandin was involved, too. I said, yeah, I’d be interested.”

King, Smith and Grandin eventually published that study in a top veterinary journal, Smith says. That validation prompted his former student to begin the latest project on whether anxiety and impulsiveness in dogs is related to graying of their muzzles, and to again seek her professor’s help with the methodological, statistical and data analysis components.

puppiesNow, as much of the world knows, the answer is yes: Young dogs that are anxious or given to impulsivity tend to develop gray muzzles.

Smith admits he was surprised by the finding, quickly adding that King was not.

“I was a little skeptical that stress would be related to the gray muzzle in dogs, and young dogs especially,” he says. “I didn’t express that to Camille at the time, but that’s sort of how I felt. However, when we analyzed the data, the results actually were striking. Both anxiety and impulsivity were clearly and markedly related to gray muzzles.”

Global interest in that revelation, however, came as no shock.

“People love dogs,” he says, “and we’re hoping that the study draws some attention to dog welfare. Dog anxiety can be a real issue. It can cause health problems and shorter life spans, and it can affect quality of life. We’re hoping people will learn to recognize it and say, ‘Maybe my dog is anxious. Maybe I should talk to a vet about this.’ ”

Rex – one of Smith’s two dogs – fits the description. He’s a young Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix sporting a premature gray muzzle, likely due, at least in part, to the stress of being chased around and bitten on the leg by Smith’s other dog.

mission“Before I knew about this, I would have said that I didn’t think Rex is stressed, but that I also didn’t know why he developed a gray muzzle. I thought my dogs were just playing, but when I described their behavior, Camille told me that my other dog is bullying him,” Smith says. “Rex was under quite a bit of stress!”

With the media spotlight faded, Smith is now able to call the experience with King, Grandin and animal behaviorist Peter Borchelt a “fun” one.

“My background is not at all in dog research. I don’t have a biology background. That being said, I did learn a lot about dogs and animal behavior,” Smith says. “I was also really fortunate to get to work with people like this. They’re really creative thinkers as well as excellent, first-rate researchers. We’ve already planned several additional dog-related research projects, so we’ll be busy!”



Professor, grad student develop online training to help teachers make data-driven decisions

Todd Reeves

Todd Reeves

NIU has created an online training to help K-12 teachers to make data-informed decisions that will improve learning in their classrooms.

Todd Reeves, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), and ETRA doctoral candidate Jui-Ling (Raye) Chiang, developed the “D5x4: Data in Five by Four” training.

More than 200 in-service teachers and pre-service teachers currently are participating in the 10-hour training, which presents participants with numerous data sets to review and dissect in search of how those numbers may inform instruction.

Five refers to the number of student levels at which training participants work with data: individual; subgroup; classroom; grade; and school. Four represents the types of questions explored by participants during the training: location/identification; strengths and weaknesses; status and growth; and instruction.

“5×4” is also an allusion to the aeronautics expression meaning “loud and clear.”

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to reach out from NIU to the community and serve current and future educators in this way,” Reeves says. “Today’s teachers are inundated with data, and their capacity to use data productively is a salient but complex skillset.”

The training is also the focus of a series of experimental research studies, Reeves says.

Jui-Ling (Raye) Chiang

Jui-Ling (Raye) Chiang

“Our ultimate goal is to study the impact of the training on teachers’ actual classroom practices and their students’ learning,” he says. “But it’s important to first verify that the training is having an impact on more proximal outcomes, such as the teachers’ knowledge, skills and self-efficacy.”

Chiang, who’s currently teaching an undergraduate course at NIU, says she looks at data “every day.”

“Data tells me, ‘This is how I need to change my instruction,’ or ‘This is when I need to call in an individual student for an assessment or intervention, or to look at resources at NIU to help students improve their performance,’ ” Chiang says. “Data impacts me in my teaching, and if other teachers can look at their data in this way, they might do different things.”

Participants in the asynchronous “D5x4” training are required to engage in online discussions with others and both Reeves and Chiang; they also are encouraged to pose data-related questions from their own classrooms to gather ideas and advice. The training incorporates a mechanism by which feedback is automatically provided to participants as well.

Although trainees can move through the material at their own pace, each of several modules must be completed within a set time frame. They also will find the tasks growing in difficulty as they progress; for example, Reeves says it is generally easier to locate and interpret a data point than to select a suitable instructional method based on data.

mouse-2Participating in the “D5x4” training should benefit every teacher, Chiang adds.

“We’ve got a pretty good framework. We feel this is a very solid way to train teachers,” she says. “Everything is lined up systematically, and the knowledge is transferable.”

Reeves and Chiang eventually will make their own data-informed decisions. Their next step is to analyze the results of their study of the current D5x4 training, before tweaking its design and carrying out further studies of its impact.

“Going forward, our goal is to offer this to as many educators as possible,” says Reeves, adding that he and Chiang also plan to write a paper and deliver several presentations regarding “D5x4.”

Their work has enjoyed financial support from an NIU College of Education Dean’s Grant for Partnerships. Kappa Delta Pi, the prestigious international education honor society, also graciously assisted with recruitment for the training.



NIU delegation to speak, present at Asian educational research conference

Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

A delegation of scholars from the NIU College of Education will travel in November to Taiwan for APERA-TERA 2016, a biannual conference of the Asia-Pacific and Taiwan educational research associations.

NIU and the Mid-Western Educational Research Association (MWERA) are co-sponsors of the conference, which draws thousands of scholars eager for academic discussions and opportunities for collaboration.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and Associate Dean David Walker, who will deliver keynote addresses Friday, Nov. 11, lead the NIU contingent that also includes Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, and ETRA professors Laura Ruth Johnson, Isti Sanga and Tom Smith.

Scheduled from Wednesday, Nov. 9, through Saturday, Nov. 12, the conference takes place at National Sun Yat-sen University in Koahsiung.

Walker, a former president of MWERA, called for that organization to expand its international partnerships during his 2014 speech to the annual conference. In attendance that year were academic colleagues from China and Taiwan.

“Our relationship grew,” said Walker, who also is a professor of educational research.

Meanwhile, Hung enjoys a long camaraderie with National Sun Yat-sen University.

“I asked if we could co-sponsor the conference with them,” Hung said. “It’s a great opportunity for our faculty to engage in scholarship with them – they’re one of the Top 100 universities in the world, with a great amount of innovative research – and I do see a synergy between our two universities.”

Elish-Piper will speak on “Examining the Relationship Between Instructional Coaching for Teachers and Student Reading Gains in Grades K-3 in Elementary Schools in the U.S.” while Walker will speak on “Opportunities for International Education Advancement: Developments from the United States, Asia, and Oceania.”

Top: Wei-Chen Hung and Laura Ruth Johnson. Bottom: Isti Sanga and Tom Smith.

Top: Wei-Chen Hung and Laura Ruth Johnson.
Bottom: Isti Sanga and Tom Smith.

Potential topics will include human mobility, learning hubs, joint programs, on-site extensions of universities and changes in technology, including modern methods of course delivery, such as Massive Open Online Courses.

Hung, Johnson, Sanga, Smith and Walker also will lead a conference symposium on “Diverse Research Methodologies for Diverse Settings” along with Fahad Al-Shahrani from Jubail Colleges & Institutes in Saudi Arabia.

They will address how distinct methodological approaches and strategies have been applied in research situations involving diverse populations and settings, offering their unique experiences conducting research in varied cultural contexts.

“Understanding that NIU is looking for different types of partnerships, I think that having faculty integrated in this type of collaboration might be able to bring this partnership further. We could engage in student research, professional development or faculty exchanges.” Hung said.

“That places NIU on a more international platform, and also could help us in terms of recruitment and retention,” he added. “Allowing researchers and educators from different regions to know about NIU, to know about our programs and to know about the research we’re doing broadens our presence in a global context.”

Walker agrees.

“ETRA has many international students, and we’re continuing that relationship when they go home,” he said.

“For MWERA,” he added, “it’s good to grow the organization and bring diversity to it through an international experience, such as study abroad, scholar exchanges, grants and research in international affairs, and it’s also good for the graduate students we’re mentoring.”