Tag: Laura Ruth Johnson

Global problems, community praxis: April 19 conference set to explore world conflict, peace

globe-2Scholars from NIU and Macedonia will convene Thursday, April 19, in DeKalb to discuss local, national and international approaches to peace and transcultural communication.

“Global Problems and Community Praxis” is the second annual conference – but the first in the United States – organized on that topic by the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a collaboration between NIU and the University of Tetovo.

“We’re really excited. These are particularly timely issues these days,” said Patrick Roberts, a professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

“Our key goal is to facilitate scholarly exchanges, to foster public awareness of global conflicts and to examine, ‘How can I make a difference in my local community? How does local action have global impacts?’ We want to broaden awareness of what the issues are.”

The conference, which will include four professors from Tetovo among the presenters, begins at 9 a.m. in the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.

James W. Pardew

James W. Pardew

Keynote speaker James W. Pardew, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria from 2002 to 2005 and the author of the 2017 book “Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans,” will talk at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Barsema Hall, 740 Garden Road. A reception begins at 5 p.m.

Both events are free and open to the public. Call (815) 753-9359 or email proberts1@niu.edu for more information.

Roberts believes that people who attend, whether as participants or observers, will walk away with a clearer understanding of modern conflict and ways to resolve it from a “think globally and act locally” perspective.

Among the daytime presentation topics: “Does Torture Work: An Empirical Test Using Archival Data,” “The Balkans – A Matching Point of Two Controversy Theories,” “Migration as a Social Phenomenon and Refugees as a Contemporary Reality” and “The Politics of Food Diplomacy.”

Presenters also will discuss “Fleeing from Danger: Refugees’ Stories in Elementary School Classrooms,” “Religious Violence and Peacemaking: Rethinking Contemporary Conflicts,” “Between Mao and Gandhi: Social Structure and the Choice of Violent and Nonviolent Resistance,” “How Do We See Our Neighbors? Youth Inclusion, Participation, and Collaboration in Moldova” and “Sport for Development and Peace.”

NIU College of Education presenters will include Teresa Fisher, Carolyn Pluim, Teresa Wasonga and Paul Wright.

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson, a professor in the college’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, believes the interdisciplinary nature of the presenters and topics will illuminate connections “between these different struggles, both globally and locally.”

“Many times, when we have these types of conferences, they just focus on one distinct area,” she said. “This conference represents areas from all over the university. The topic is very broad – it covers a lot of ground – and allows us to explore common and divergent interests.”

Johnson’s own work in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood provides a good example.

Her research studies civic engagement, community involvement and advocacy among Latino and African American youth, with a focus on young mothers, and sees a bridge to the University of Tetovo’s battle for justice in higher education.

Use of social media and other media, she added, is making the planet a smaller place.

“What happens in one place often resonates in other locales in terms of climate change, economic and food insecurity or fights for human rights and gender equity,” Johnson said. “The Me Too movement has resonated internationally.”

Emily McKee

Emily McKee

Emily McKee, a professor in the Department of Anthropology of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who holds a joint appointment with the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy, studies resource conflicts and environmental peacebuilding.

Her students, who are learning about access to clean water, climate change, fracking, mining and more, will participate with students of Department of Sociology Professor Laura Heideman in a roundtable discussion on conflict and peacebuilding.

McKee’s students learn about “conflicts that involve access to resources around the world. Resource conflicts and environmental peacebuilding are buzzwords that get thrown around, such as wars between two countries,” she said. “We explore some of these tropes that are not so easily pigeonholed as resource conflicts but built into other conflicts, such as social, religious and economic.”

The roundtable “is looking at our pedagogy and how we teach these courses,” she added.

During the roundtable, students will speak about their semester-long research projects on cases of resource conflict around the world and reflect on the impact that this engaged learning has had on them. “That’s relevant to them as they go on in their lives as citizens and in their careers,” McKee said. “I’m particularly excited about that.”

Patrick Roberts

Patrick Roberts

For his part, Roberts is excited by the potential for motivation, whether in DeKalb, Chicago or Macedonia.

“We don’t want be a conference where people just get up and read papers,” he said. “I’m hoping to learn how understanding becomes action and the strategies people employ. None of that can succeed if there aren’t people – communities – willing to put these principles and polices into action.”

NIU and the University of Tetovo were introduced in 2014 through the work of Anthony Preston, director of Global Programs in the NIU College of Business.

The Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication was dedicated in 2015, when Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo. The center aims to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.

A current exhibition in the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum tells the story of Tetovo through nearly 70 reproductions of photographs that depict the university’s tumultuous existence.



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

Yanghee Kim

Yanghee Kim

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

It begins Thursday.

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

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

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

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

robotMany questions will guide the conversation.

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

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

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



College of Ed boosts hurricane relief work in Texas, Puerto Rico

bake-sale-3

Baked goods were sold in three CoE buildings.

Students, faculty and staff in the NIU College of Education recently raised $2,200 to send to the HISD Foundation in support of the Houston Independent School District.

Ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, the Houston schools were forced to delay their opening days by two weeks or more. Seven school building were so badly damaged that their students were reassigned to other locations.

Although Harvey roared ashore more than 1,000 miles away from DeKalb, its devastation hit close to home for the College of Education, which partners with HISD for the Educate U.S. program.

Educate U.S. enables select participants to work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons and engaging in co-teaching strategies outside of Illinois.

NIU students chosen for the donor-funded, all-expenses paid journey further enrich their experience by joining with Houston students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events.

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Program administrators placed cash jars in three locations within the college and held bake sales to raise $1,100 in four days. Dean Laurie Elish-Piper matched that amount, resulting in the $2,200 donation.

“I’ve been keenly aware, for more than 20 years, of the big hearts and the kind souls passing through these hallways. We are a family that cares for others, whether in Illinois or Texas. This is the NIU College of Education I know and love,” Elish-Piper said.

“Believe me, our partners in the Houston Independent School District will appreciate and make good use of our contribution to their recovery – and they will continue to honor our friendship by hosting our students for the life-changing Educate U.S. program,” she added. “We are fortunate indeed.”

Meanwhile, faculty member Laura Ruth Johnson is gearing up to help Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico.

Johnson, a professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, lives and conducts research in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. She also takes her graduate students there to practice community-based, collaborative research, an experience that many say transformed them as educators and scholars.

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

“Chicago’s Puerto Rican community has been a great partner to me, and to NIU students, in providing community immersion experiences for our graduate students, and helping to develop research partnerships,” Johnson said.

She is hoping to organize a December break service trip to Puerto Rico to assist with clean-up and rebuilding efforts, and would invite other members of the NIU community – faculty, staff and students – to join her, especially those with expertise in engineering, health care, agriculture and social entrepreneurship.

“The recovery in Puerto Rico will be long and arduous,” she added. “They are predicting that it could take up to six months to restore power to the entire island. More funds and support will be needed as the island tries to recover from this disaster, and the poorest residents will be the most affected.”

For more information, contact Johnson at lrjohnson@niu.edu.



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.”



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.”