Tag: educational technology

User Experience Lab debuts

Fatih Demir

Fatih Demir

Students in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and all of NIU returned from Spring Break to find the cutting-edge literally at their fingertips.

Located in Gabel 212, the ETRA Innovation Lab features not only 3-D printers, Lego Education WeDo 2.0 sets, Google Home and Amazon Alexa but also eye-tracking systems that enable significant research into the real-time effectiveness of online learning models.

The increasingly affordable technology comes on a headband with tiny, spatial cameras pointed at both eyes and a third camera over the nose that captures an accompanying video of the environment – or, in other words, whatever the wearer is seeing in the moment.

“We’re tracking the eye movements of the user,” says Kyung Kim, assistant professor in ETRA. “In this way, we can understand how these people are interacting with the learning environment.”

Video of each interaction provides strong analysis of what aspects of the program design are working, and what needs improvement, through unparalleled data on user behavior while learning online.

Data will include valuable information on how long users stare at the screen without acting, where their eyes go when distracted and more. “We need to understand these things to design something better,” Kim says.

Kyung Kim

Kyung Kim

Potential applications of eye-tracking systems go far beyond online learning.

For example, motorists who wear the devices can discover what distracts them while behind the wheel, whether it’s billboards, traffic signs, dashboard readings or other things.

Major League Baseball players can wear them in the batter’s box to create videos of how to best hit the pitches. Surgeons who wear them while in the operating room can create videos of how they conduct their life-saving procedures.

Kim, whose research focuses on the intersection of visualization, knowledge structure and design, is eager to see how students use the powerful tool.

“I hope this lab serves as a venue where we can investigate learning processes, human-computer interactions and some hidden sides of the learning process better than before,” he says.

ETRA Assistant Professor Fatih Demir agrees: Students preparing for careers in online learning must recognize, and harness, the critical perspective of the user.

etra-legos“In today’s world, we are seeing that to just design a product is not enough,” Demir says. “My students can use this lab to collect data, create better products and test existing products to see if those products work well.”

He believes the lab will put NIU students ahead in the field.

“The options are endless if you can find a good research topic,” he says. “This technology allows you to achieve your goal.”

Areas of inquiry tailor-made for the lab’s technology include aging and disability.

Voice-activated devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa enable users to accomplish tasks without physical touch, whether it’s accessing the Internet or turning off the bedroom lights.

Meanwhile, the ETRA lab is awaiting delivery of brainwave monitors that can also measure the mental engagement of those who wear them. It also allows wearers to move something, such as a computer mouse, with their mind.

“It needs analysis,” Demir says, “but you could design that type of product using this lab.”

Chris Kraner

Chris Kraner

Chris Kraner, a graduate research assistant in ETRA who is pursuing his master’s degree in Educational Research and Evaluation, works in the lab as a trainer and researcher. He primarily works with the 3D printers.

Kraner, also a collaborator with NIU STEM Outreach to promote science to K-12 students in the region, loves what is blooming in the Gabel 212 space that is open to all.

“We want our students to do some interesting problem-solving here. We want our student to be comfortable if they come across this technology in their professional careers,” he says. “I’m really hoping to have teachers in here to show us what they’re doing and to tell us what we should be doing.”

The lab also provides study carrels, a poster printer and a soundproof lab for online teaching recording.



New Morgridge Chair visits CoE

Yanghee Kim

Yanghee Kim

As a teacher in South Korea, Yanghee Kim gradually realized that her daily work in the classroom was robbing her of her joy of teaching.

Day in and day out, month after month and year after year, she recited the same information to her students, and her classroom time was so busy she didn’t have time to actually interact with the students in a meaningful way.

“I was lecturing at the kids all of the class hours, and thinking, ‘I could do better than this,’ ” Kim says. “I didn’t know if the students were listening to me or not.”

She turned to computers as a possible solution to this problem, designing software to do some of the recitation of classroom material.

“I have found that using a computer is so humanistic because I was able to talk to my students personally. Now I can walk around and observe,” she says. “I saw that a computer can change our classrooms, and, since that time, I have become a technology advocate.”

Currently an associate professor of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University, Kim has been named the NIU College of Education’s new LD and Ruth G. Morgridge Endowed Chair in Teacher Education and Preparation. She starts in January.

Founded in 1995, the Morgridge Chair emphasizes innovation and advancement in teacher education, particularly in relation to the integration of technology in classroom practice.

“My responsibilities here at NIU are what I have dreamed about,” Kim says. “My research agenda is important, but I love to promote research collaboration between diverse research interests and to be a catalyst for collaborative education research, which should be, by nature, interdisciplinary.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, heralds Kim’s “innovative, creative forward-thinking” approach.

“We’re thrilled to have Yanghee join us because of her research to understand how cutting-edge technologies can be used to make education equalized and inclusive,” Elish-Piper says.

“The Morgridge Endowed Chair position focuses on moving the field of teacher education forward, and we believe that Yanghee is uniquely positioned to leverage this opportunity to benefit not only NIU but our school district partners,” Elish-Piper adds. “Her work is extremely innovative and interdisciplinary, which will allow her to work collaboratively with students and faculty in the College of Education as well as around campus and with faculty and students at other universities.”

Kim came to the United States in 2000 to pursue graduate studies in instructional technology at Florida State University, where she earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Learning Systems and a M.S. in Instructional Systems Design.

She joined the Utah State faculty in 2004, and in January of the same year, was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for a project designing avatar-based instructional teaching tools. More recently, she was awarded a 2016 grant titled, “Inclusive Design for Engaging all Learners (IDEAL): Designing Technology for Cultural Brokering.” IDEAL explores another cutting-edge technology: the use of robots as teaching tools.

As principal investigator, that NSF grant comes with her to NIU until its conclusion in 2019. She will tap the NIU faculty to serve as co-principal investigators; she also is planning a related workshop on campus in January.

Her passion for the use of classroom technology is strong.

“These advanced technologies can help us address some needs we human instructors have,” Kim says. “These robots and computers never get tired of repeating information over and over. The robot is social bias-free. The robot can talk in English or in the children’s own language – say, Spanish – and the children know it’s OK for them to not be fluent in another language. It places different groups in equal status.”

Kim presents her work Aug. 22 after the All-College Meeting.

Kim presents her work Aug. 22 after the All-College Meeting.

Children who “pretend to understand” to stop a teacher’s questions do not fool a robot, she says. Meanwhile, she adds, the robots can film facial expressions and record voices to provide teachers with video and audio evidence of how children are reacting to and absorbing the lessons.

Now that she is shifting gears, Kim is eager to work with NIU’s partner school districts and teachers “to identify their needs and to drive research to address their needs.”

She also expects to foster cross-disciplinary research across the NIU campus, and to secure more external funding to support that scholarship, all of which will advance her goal of teaching each new generation.

“Education is about nurturing life. I was born in South Korea, and in Asian countries, they value education a lot,” she says, adding that she plans to build up the educational capacity in Illinois classrooms to nurture a new generation of students.

“In my teen years, I thought to myself, ‘Where do I want to commit my capacity?’ It was nurturing life,” she adds. “I vacillated between doctor and teacher. I decided that education is more about working people’s intellect – working people’s minds – and I thought that might be more important for them.”



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.