Tag: Office of External & Global Programs

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to enhance learning carries a great responsibility and significance: Students deserve the best education possible, and outdated equipment and programs hinders that.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.



Take flight! Educate Global prepares for Taiwan, China

global-2So, how’s this for an amazing deal?

  • Four, or maybe six, weeks teaching English to children and youth in Taiwan or China while mastering the curriculum and methodology for teaching English as a Foreign Language.
  • Exposure to different cultures.
  • Immersion in teaching to diverse populations and an NIU faculty member on site to coach that process.
  • A differentiating accomplishment on a resume.
  • Round-trip airfare, housing and meals covered.

For up to 30 students in the NIU College of Education, that opportunity is coming soon through the Educate Global program.

Thanks to agreements with the Miaoli County Government Education Department in Taiwan and the Beijing Royal School in China, an application-and-interview process will begin this month to send 20 students to Taiwan and 10 to China.

NIU’s Asian partners are willing to underwrite student-teachers from the United States because they regard English as “the world’s language,” says Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External & Global Programs.

Terry Borg

Terry Borg

“Learning English as a Foreign Language is a highly sought-after skill in Asia,” Borg says, “and close to learning English is the opportunity to interact with native speakers, preferably U.S. native speakers.”

Students selected for Taiwan will teach English for four weeks in July at a day camp. The private Beijing Royal School, meanwhile, will host students for six weeks from early July through mid-August.

Both groups will also enjoy opportunities for cultural field trips on the weekends.

Applicants who are native English speakers and have completed their third year in a teacher-preparation program with some classroom experience under their belts are eligible, Borg says. Graduate students with pre-K-12 teaching experience are also invited to apply.

College administrators and faculty will choose travelers based on their applications. The process begins in February. For more information, call Barbara Andree at (815) 753-8697 or email globalcoe@niu.edu.

Meanwhile, as the NIU College of Education’s relationship with Taiwan and China grows, other opportunities are blossoming.

Leaders of the Miaoli County Government Education Department hope to offer NIU students who have graduated and secured licensure the chance to teach English for a year in Miaoli elementary schools and middle schools.

passportPending signatures on a Memorandum of Agreement this month, the program would launch this fall. Miaoli will pay round-trip airfare, a generous subsidy for housing and a salary for terms that begin in mid-August and end in mid-July.

For those NIU students who’ve interacted with Miaoli County high-schoolers who’ve visited DeKalb via the Open Imagination Program, and then perhaps taught English during the July day camp, the year-long opportunity brings the international experience full-circle.

“The concept is to provide global career opportunities for our students,” Borg says. “It could make them more valuable in their marketability. We’re developing a niche in preparing students for teaching jobs beyond the Chicago area, and that gives us a competitive edge in Student Career Success.”



Z Nicolazzo: Schools need more than just policies on bullying

Z Nicolazzo

Z Nicolazzo

For K-12 educators who attended NIU’s Oct. 26 professional development conference on “Bullying: How Schools Can Respond,” a quotation presented by keynote speakers Z Nicolazzo and Molly Holmes painted a difficult picture.

“The dominant narrative (of LGBTQ bullying) depends on an inaccurate premise,” Nicolazzo said, reading from a 2013 study by researchers Elizabethe Payne and Melissa Smith.

“It assumes schools to be neutral sites where all students have an equal opportunity to succeed and that barriers to success appear when individuals’ injurious behavior or attitudes create a ‘negative’ school climate where student safety and belonging are threatened.”

What’s more, the presenters said, the increasing visibility of trans* people in the United States is matched by a growing vulnerability, risk of harm and threat of harassment.

LGBTQ students are experiencing educational environments that are less than ideal. They continue to face a lack of acceptance. Their lives are not reflected or affirmed through school curricula – and they are aware of that deficit.

One recent study found that 22 percent of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from other students often or very often; 25.5 percent of students heard school staff make negative remarks related to gender expression.

“School officials condone this cruel dynamic through inaction,” according to the 2001 “Hatred in the Hallways” report from the Human Rights Watch, “or in some cases because they, too, judge gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth to be underserving of respect.”

ask-my-pronounsDespite all this, said Nicolazzo, who uses the pronouns of ze and hir, America’s “gender expansive youth are resilient. They continue to live they lives they want to.”

For example, ze said, the number of people younger than 18 who are identifying as gender-expansive is three to six times greater than the number of adults doing so. Meanwhile, gender-expansive youth are connecting online for kinship as well as exploration of gendered possibilities.

Encouragement is also available in the “trickle up” philosophy: If schools focus on their most vulnerable populations, the positive effects should “trickle up” and potentially impact all students.

Co-sponsored by the College of Education Office of External & Global Programs, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences External Programming and the University Center of Lake County, the conference covered a variety of topics on bullying.

Nicolazzo, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, and Holmes, director of NIU’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, spoke on “Expanding Our Approach to Gender-Based Bullying.”

Among their key messages was the necessity of “enumerated” non-discrimination policies at schools – policies that outline not only the rules of conduct and the penalties for violating them but also statements of values.

Molly Holmes

Molly Holmes

Students who attend schools with enumerated non-discrimination policies report that they hear fewer homophobic and racist remarks than those in schools with no – or generic – policies. They also are less likely to perceive bullying as a problem at their schools or to feel unsafe.

But Nicolazzo and Holmes made clear that schools that are striving to create effective places for learning must update their policies at least every two years and actively enforce them.

Otherwise, Nicolazzo said, the policies are merely “caution tape.” They tell people what not to do, ze said, but they don’t really stop people from doing what they purport to prohibit.

“Pinkwashing” creates another problem, ze added, when schools and other organizations market policies of gender-inclusiveness but fail to carry them out.

The duo provided several other critical ideas for conference participants to ponder.

  • Educators must be diligent in the ongoing work of unlearning gender, specifically the how gender binary discourse structures school environments.
  • Educators need to remember LGBTQ students have agency to name their own lives, experiences and identities.
  • Educators need to seek and amplify counter-stories to LGBTQ deficit-based rhetoric and illogic.
  • Educators should infuse notions of gender throughout their curriculum.

“If we stop at having a policy,” Nicolazzo said, “we aren’t going to change.”