Tag: ETRA

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.”



ETRA’s Jason Rhode honored among nation’s ‘technologists, transformers, trailblazers’

Jason Rhode

Jason Rhode

Jason Rhode, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, has been named among the nation’s “Top 30 Technologists, Transformers & Trailblazers” by the Center for Digital Education.

The distinction honors “education and technology leaders across America who are transforming the education landscape through the use of digital tools.”

Selections were based on efforts “to improve education through effective implementation of technology-rich solutions; their impact on student outcomes; and their overall initiative, creativity and leadership skills.”

“Helping faculty to be successful with their students is one of my greatest joys,” Rhode told the Center for Digital Education. “Often it involves using digital technology, but the technology is never the end game; it’s a tool to enhance the learning experience.”

top30Rhode, who is also director of the NIU Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, began teaching courses in ETRA in the fall of 2013.

He has been invited to attend a special gathering of technology leaders, scheduled Dec. 5 and 6 in Salt Lake City, to receive his award.