Over 150 donors, students, faculty and staff gathered last Sunday afternoon at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center for our annual Donor Tea event. The event is held to thank our donors and friends for their support of the College of Education over the years. Donors have the opportunity to meet their scholarship recipients and mingle with campus colleagues, faculty and staff while enjoying light refreshments and tea. During a short program, Dean Elish-Piper welcomed everyone to the event and introduced a thank you video which featured several of our scholarship recipients sharing the impact scholarships and other opportunities have had on their lives. John Sentovich, Chief Advancement Officer at the NIU Foundation, addressed the group and discussed the importance of planned giving and how much donor gifts can impact students, as evident from the recipients in the audience. He encouraged all students to pay it forward in the future when they are in the position to give back and assist others. Students David Carson (graduate student LEPF) and Jael Monteagudo (undergraduate student LEED) shared their personal stories of the impact that scholarships have had on their lives. Carson explained what a positive mental boost it was to him to know that others believed in him. Monteagudo shared how driven she was to help students succeed and how the scholarships were helping her lessen her financial burden.
Carolyn Pluim has been named acting chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF) in the College of Education effective July 1, 2016.
Pluim brings years of expertise and experience to the position. Her research interests are focused around the intersections of sociology of education, curriculum studies and educational policy, specifically as these relate to school health policies, practices and pedagogies. She explores the ways in which contemporary school health policies are negotiated and experienced by students and school personnel. A central theme running throughout her research is the relationship between discourse and social dynamics as this bears on sociological understandings of health, illness and the body and influences the responsibilities and obligations of public schools.
Pluim joined the NIU faculty in 2007. She is currently the Assistant Chair and an Associate Professor in LEPF. She currently serves as a member of Faculty Senate, University Council and is Chair of the General Education Committee.
“LEPF is a great department that consists of incredibly talented faculty and staff who are committed to students and their learning,” Pluim said. “I am happy to represent the department in this role.”
She is the co-author of the book “Schools and Public Health: Past, Present, Future” and has published more than 15 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters. She serves on the editorial board of Policy Futures in Education and presents regularly at regional, national and international conferences in the area of health education and policy.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science from the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada; a master’s degree in Environmental Policy from Michigan Technological University Houghton, Michigan; and a doctorate in Educational Policy Studies, Social Foundations of Education from Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.
Professors Stephen Tonks (College of Education), Helen Nagata (College of Visual and Performing Arts), and John Bentley (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) will direct a Japanese culture, history, art and education study abroad program from May 16-29, 2016.
The program, which will take place in Western Japan using Yamaguchi City as a base, is open to NIU students of any major who are interested in Japanese language, culture, history, art and/or education. Through guided tours and lectures, students will visit numerous cities and sites including schools, universities, ancient temples, museums, Hagi (an old castle town) and Yuda Natural Hot Springs.
Interested students should visit the NIU Study Abroad Office (SAO) website and search for “Japan” to apply online. The deadline for applications is Feb. 29, 2016. The application process requires a $200 fee/deposit. The NIU program cost of the trip is $3,580. For more details, contact the SAO office at (815) 753-0700 or email@example.com.
The COE program was ranked No. 5 out of a field of 188 competing programs offered by institutions across the country, including 10 in Illinois.
Only one of those, the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign, at No. 7, ranked among the top 50. Mid-America Conference schools listed include Ball State University at No. 11 and Central Michigan University at No. 17.
“For U.S. News to have ranked the College of Education’s online graduate programs in the top five every year for the last four is a significant achievement,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, acting chair of the NIU College of Education. “It’s gratifying to have our online program recognized for its excellence. It affirms the high quality of our faculty, staff and curriculum, and highlights the career success our students go on to have.”
North Lawndale is one of the toughest neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. Its streets are plagued by poverty and gang violence. Each morning, workers in reflective orange vests are stationed at every corner to keep children safe as they walk to school.
Amid the drug deals and occasional gunfire, the streets of North Lawndale seem an unlikely path to a better life. But near the intersection of Sacramento Boulevard and Lexington Street, there’s an innovative new school that has become a beacon of enlightenment, learning, and hope: Altus Academy.
Open the door to Altus and dozens of wide-eyed, smiling students will line up to shake your hand. Walk in and you enter a world that seems a million miles from the harsh reality of its surroundings.
Welcome to Altus
In their neatly pressed navy blazers, orange neckties, and gray Altus sweater vests, the Sanchez brothers – Andrew, Justin, and Junior – look like they could be students at any prestigious academy in the country.
Seated side by side on a couch in the community room, the three discuss history, math, and Greek mythology. Junior says that Justin is a “math genius,” and Andrew describes Justin’s impressive progress in reading.
The brothers are part of a growing family at Altus, an independent not-for-profit school that enrolls forty-six students from the second through the eighth grades. Founded by a group of NIU alumni led by John Heybach, ’72, Ph.D. ’76, it’s the only school of its kind in the area.
The academy meets a growing need by providing college prep opportunities to children from low-income minority households. While a growing number of inner-city kids dream of packing their bags for college, only 14 percent of students in Chicago Public Schools go on to earn a college degree, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.
With the help of their alma mater, Heybach and his colleagues plan to change that.
Altus Academy opened its doors in 2011 in the basement of a Chicago convent with sixteen students, one teacher, and a boiler room that doubled as a cafeteria. The small facilities didn’t stop Altus founders from dreaming big as they set out to provide intensive college preparatory academics and character development through the deliberate learning and practice of human virtue.
Heybach and his colleagues knew they’d need help with this ambitious venture. So they turned to the school that had prepared them for success: NIU.
From the beginning, Altus teachers worked with faculty in the NIU College of Education to create their curriculum. They spent a week at the DeKalb campus, where they learned to incorporate problem-based learning and technology into their lesson plans.
A partnership made in heaven
Altus eighth grader Nadia Rodriguez spins a tire on her LEGO robot while calculating how many degrees it will turn on its journey to the end of the table. She’s a star on the robotics team, Altubots, one of several student clubs created in collaboration with staff and students from NIU. Last fall, representatives from NIU STEM Outreach traveled to Altus to help Rodriguez and her teammates prepare their robots for competition.
NIU faculty, staff, students, and alumni have brought a variety of hands-on programs to North Lawndale, including a week-long percussion workshop through the College of Visual and Performing Arts, a digital storytelling class by the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement, and a plate tectonic research activity giving Altus students the chance to present their research at NIU.
This spring, students and faculty from the NIU psychology program will help Altus staff assess students for learning disabilities and create lesson plans to accommodate them.
“We’ve been there since the beginning,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of the College of Education. “They are great partners who are always interested in working with us and willing to try new things.”
Making the grade
Altus students study virtue with the same rigor they apply to their academics. “We want kids to develop strong character, serve others, and contribute to society,” says Heybach.
Each week, students create a goal for themselves. Rodriguez’s goal was to create a distraction-free environment by turning off the TV and Facebook while she studies. At the end of the week, students grade themselves on two questions: 1. How well did you do? 2. How hard did you try? Nadia gave herself a four out of five.
“We have high expectations,” says Heybach. “So we make sure the support is there. The kids like that.”
All three Sanchez brothers have come to appreciate that support. “To tell you the truth, we were troublemakers when we first came here,” says Andrew, the eldest. “We’ve done a lot of things we aren’t proud of.”
The three brothers agree that the school has turned them around. They talk about perseverance, fortitude, and respect. Justin says that he’s learned that “if I never give up, I will learn math.” He’s currently studying fractions.
“If you show respect, people will trust you,” Junior adds.
The academy has become a place where NIU students can complete internships, student teachers can teach, and faculty and students can conduct research to measure the impact of the school’s unique practices.
“Altus is becoming a model school for teacher educators,” says Marilyn Bellert, associate director of the Center for P-20 Engagement. “It puts NIU students in touch with the realities of teaching students in a developing community.”
One last hurdle
“When our second and third graders tell us they won’t be able to afford college, I tell them that’s the last thing we need to worry about,” Heybach says. “Let’s get you prepared academically, physically, and emotionally. I believe the money will come.”
“We want to support bright, motivated students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are committed to learning,” they explain. “Sending these young people to Northern will help them, the university, and the community.”
Heybach’s eyes well up when he reports that ten eighth graders will graduate this year. Rodriguez and Andrew Sanchez are among them.
“We will be there every step of the way,” says Heybach. His wife, Sue, ’73, a placement counselor at Chicago’s Sacred Heart Schools, meets with each of the graduating students’ families to create a plan. The goal is to get all Altus graduates into a college prep high school.
Rodriguez has her sights set on Whitney Young, one of the top college prep high schools in the country. Her chances of acceptance are excellent.
Andrew plans to go to boarding school. He says Lake Forest Academy is at the top of his list because of the approachable faculty, something treasured at Altus.
“When I visited Lake Forest, the teachers were always close by … having coffee and talking to students. I like that,” he says. Both students plan to come back often as volunteers and mentors.
“Alumni like John and Sue Heybach and Thomas and Mary Jane Dee represent the backbone of leadership we have across the Chicago area in business, government, and education,” says NIU President Doug Baker. “We are inspired by their vision and leadership, as well as the opportunities for student career success they bring to NIU.”
“Even if I could afford it, I could never buy it,” he says.
Altus and NIU share a passion for creating a better future. “That’s really what we’re after at Altus – helping kids become adults with the curiosity and the drive to change their local community and the world,” Heybach says.
Altus development director Vanessa Avalos, ’06, agrees. “We want people to know they can believe in education again,” she says. “I really want people to know all the wonderful things we’re doing to help kids succeed and become successful students and kind, caring, responsible citizens.”
As Rodriguez finishes up her robot programming for the day, she pauses and shares some advice for future students: “Just walk into Altus and you’ll find a friend.”
Rodriguez is hoping to help the Altubots repeat last year’s success at the FIRST LEGO League championship in Chicago. After competing against much larger, more prestigious college prep schools, they exceeded everyone’s expectations when they took fourth place.
Fittingly, the robotics team also earned the “Against All Odds” Award, a distinction these kids will likely earn again and again as they overcome challenges in their lives, led by what they’ve learned from John Heybach and his partners at NIU.
Do you know someone in the College of Education who is deserving of special recognition for their efforts over the past year? The College of Education Awards have been reinstated this year, and the information for the awards as well as the nomination packets are now available online.
There are eight award categories with specific criteria for each award. To make a nomination, the nominator should fill out the form as well as be prepared to download their own nominator’s letter as well as two to three supportive letters. The maximum number of support letters is three per nomination.
The award categories are:
- Excellence in Teaching Award for Faculty/Clinical Faculty 2016
- Excellence in Research & Artistry Award for Faculty 2016
- Excellence in Service Award for Faculty 2016
- Exceptional Contributions by Instructors 2016
- Exceptional Contributions by Civil Service Staff 2016
- Exceptional Contributions by Supportive Professional Staff 2016
- Excellence in Outreach/Community Service Award 2016
- Exceptional Contributions in Diversity/Social Justice Award 2016
Deadline for all nominations is March 18, 2016, at 4 p.m. Questions or comments, contact Pat Wielert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Give the gift of literacy to a child in need this holiday season. Students, faculty and staff in the College of Education are teaming up for a holiday book drive to benefit Neighbor’s House reading and tutoring program, a non-profit organization that serves DeKalb County. Children’s books (preferably for grades K-8) that are new or like new condition are needed. Please drop off your donations to Graham Hall 225 any time through Wednesday, Dec. 2. This effort is being sponsored by NIU’s KDP International Honor Society in Education. Please direct any questions to Beth Wilkins (email@example.com) or Christina Poe (firstname.lastname@example.org). Collectively, our college can make literacy come alive for children! We hope you’ll be part of that effort!
Fox 32 Chicago interviewed Lindsay Harris, assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), on Aug. 25 about getting kids back into learning after summer break.
The College of Education’s Joseph Flynn, associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), has a new book out which he co-edited with his colleague Michelle Tenam-Zemach, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Abraham Fischler School of Education in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Their book, “Rubric Nation: Critical Inquiries on the Impact of Rubrics in Education,” examines the impact rubrics* have on professionals and students across the educational spectrum as well as on modern society and culture.
The idea for the book came up a few years ago at an American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) conference when Flynn and Tenam-Zemach were talking about how ubiquitous rubrics have become.
“Reflecting on our own teacher preparation experience, Michelle and I realized that we did not use rubrics in college, so the question became when did rubrics start appearing everywhere in teacher education?” Flynn recalled.
“Rubrics are not good or bad in and of themselves,” he said. “On one hand effectively designed rubrics can be very useful for educators in structuring assignments and conveying expectations; yet on the other hand rubrics can also have unintended consequences. For example, rubrics can ultimately minimize students’ willingness to take risks in their learning because they become so focused on what they need to do to get an A.”
Flynn added that their research also found that students using rubrics might be less willing to engage in productive conversations with peers or teachers about their assignments.
Rubrics have also become an issue for practicing teachers as well, according to Flynn. “The use of rubrics in high stakes teacher assessment is also seeing some problems,” he said. “Many states and districts are adopting rubrics for assessing teachers, but they are using them improperly. Rubrics like the Charlotte Danielson rubric were designed to encourage discussions between teachers and administrators, not evaluations that could cause a teacher to lose her job.” These trends encouraged Flynn and Tenam-Zemach to seek out research and scholarship critically examining rubrics.
Flynn said the conversations he had at AATC were key in the development of the manuscript, and — because rubrics are used for almost everything in education from high-stakes testing to tenure promotion and teacher evaluations — he hopes that more research will be done on rubrics in the future.
“We think it is really important that more research is dedicated to critically examining rubrics. Rubrics may have noble intentions, but that does not necessarily mean that they do not have negative consequences.”
* A rubric is a tool used by teachers to define how a particular assignment or activity will be graded; rubrics describe, in writing, not only what a student needs to include in the assignment, it also describes the quality of each of the inputs. If one of the criteria for grading an essay is spelling, for example, then the rubric might state that to receive an “Excellent” the essay must contain no spelling errors; to receive a “Good” it can contain up to two spelling errors. Three or more misspelled words would result in a “Needs Improvement” in the spelling criteria.
Since the term was coined in 2008, MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, have been talked about as a potentially significant democratizing force in higher education. With open enrollment, virtually no limit to class size, and often free, MOOCs seem to offer a cost-effective, convenient and available path to college-level learning to almost anyone with access to the Internet.
Today, MOOCs are offered on just about every topic imaginable and are taught by expert faculty from some of the world’s top universities. Some MOOCs offer certificates of completion and a few even offer academic credit toward degrees. And many institutions of higher learning are using MOOCs with the expectation of expanding their reach to underserved populations and into new geographic regions.
But are MOOCs living up to their democratic promise? Are people who otherwise would not have access to higher education even taking them? That’s what two professors from NIU’s College of Education — along with a dozen of their students — are trying to find out through a large-scale, mixed-methods research project.
According to Amy Stich, assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), who designed the study along with Todd Reeves, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), what little research done on MOOCs to date suggests that these kinds of courses might not yet be living up to their initial billing.
“Research done at one institution showed that the majority of those who take MOOCs have already accessed higher education,” she explained. “We wanted to revisit that finding within the context of a wide variety of MOOCs from a wide variety of institutions using a mixed-methods approach, which included survey data from 15,000 MOOC students and in-depth, focused interviews.”
“In particular, we were interested in learning who is taking MOOCs, why, and what benefits they perceive to be receiving from their participation,” Reeves added.
The study also examines how MOOC course design interacts with learner characteristics. “So we can see what works in large-enrollment online courses for whom and under what conditions,” Reeves said.
As part of the research process, Stich and Reeves formed the MOOC Research Group in fall of 2014 as an opportunity for interested NIU students and alumni to gain real-world research experience. Twelve participants were involved in various aspects of the research process from the initial systematic literature review to the data cleaning and analysis. The participants, all from diverse academic and biographical backgrounds, included undergraduates, graduates, international students, as well as NIU alumni.
“We believe that opportunities to engage systematically with data and research are essential for student success in both academic and professional realms,” Stich said.
Reeves explained that the students had the option of receiving course credit for their work and others received funding through an internal Chair’s Grant awarded to Stich through LEPF.
“Students will be availed the dataset to address research questions of their own interest,” Reeves said.
Some of the preliminary findings of Reeves and Stich’s study indicate:
- that Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are underrepresented among U.S. MOOC participants relative to their proportions in the population;
- most participants already have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent; and
- many participants already have professional degrees.
Reeves and Stich are currently finishing the analyses for their study. They believe the larger implications of the study will point to whether MOOCs are the democratizing force that many claim them to be as well as important information about effective design of online courses for diverse learner populations.