Tag: online learning

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.



U.S. News extols College of Ed online grad programs – again

laptop-keysAnother year, another celebration of a Top 5 ranking from U.S. News & World Report for the NIU College of Education’s online graduate programs.

NIU is tied for fifth with the University of Houston and Utah State University this year, bringing the Top 5 streak to six consecutive years. The College of Education also made the “honor roll” in 2012, the first year that U.S. News began collecting data on online graduate education programs.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper is proud, but not surprised, that NIU tops all other Illinois and Mid-American Conference colleagues.

“Being ranked in the Top 5 for the last six years really affirms the quality and consistency of our NIU College of Education online graduate programs,” Elish-Piper says.

diploma“One aspect of the ranking that I’m most proud of is the ranking for faculty qualifications,” the dean adds. “Our faculty and staff are on the cutting edge of online learning, and it’s exciting to see their great work being consistently honored.”

Indeed, NIU scored 94 out of 100 in the Faculty Credentials and Training category. The college also earned high marks for Student Engagement (89 out of 100) and in Student Services and Technology (79 out of 100).

Meanwhile, the college earned a Peer Assessment score of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5.

U.S. News creates and offers its list of Best Online Graduate Education Programs to inform those teachers who aspire to grow their careers.

The NIU College of Education offers three online master’s degrees within the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung, who is quick to credit faculty members for their continued dedication to excellence in online education, reports that his department has achieved a desirable milestone.

“Some of our students say they feel no difference between face-to-face and online because they feel that the dynamics of the interaction is always there between students and faculty,” Hung says.

“Our students receive the best instruction and learning opportunities in online environments, and most students are not surprised by that. They say, ‘Of course!’ That’s the first reaction they have,” he adds. “I believe this is due to the faculty’s high qualifications to teach these courses online and their incorporation of innovative teaching methods.”

Faculty in ETRA strive to retain the U.S. News ranking by participating in professional development to stay up to date on their skills, he says.

Naturally, he adds, the professors and instructors also care deeply about fostering student success and doing what is needed to ensure that.

“Last year, we were very purposeful to initiate a quality measures training,” Hung says. “As a result, every faculty member who teaches online was also certified to teach and to design and develop online courses. Some even went on to become certified reviewers of online courses to support other faculty members who want to develop online courses.”

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim, chair of LEPF, calls the latest ranking “a clear reflection of the expertise that we have teaching in the program area.”

“We have a really nice blend of faculty members and instructors who’ve had years of experience in the field,” Pluim says, “and there is a strong commitment to making the online program very applicable to the needs of working students. Our flexible online program enables students who would otherwise not be able to take two years out their professional lives to participate.”

She credits the department’s close and strong relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) for recruiting top students and faculty to NIU.

Between 20 and 25 new students begin the program every other semester, she says, with at least three cohorts progressing through the curriculum simultaneously.

“I have yet to see an end of people who want this degree, to be honest,” Pluim says.

“We adhere to routine course updates to remain relevant and to reflect current best practices that are very applicable to that the students are going to be facing in the field,” she adds. “We’ve also got people in the program who are often grappling with the same kinds of questions that our courses are asking them to problem-solve around. The blend of theoretical knowledge and practical applications makes for a richer classroom dialogue.”

Other Illinois schools ranked include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (25), the University of St. Francis (36), Concordia (88), McKendree University (107) Roosevelt University (125) and the University of Illinois at Springfield (131).

Mid-American Conference schools in the rankings include Buffalo (15), Ohio (18), Ball State (36), Central Michigan (46), Bowling Green (88), Kent State (107), Toledo (107), Eastern Michigan (148) and Western Michigan (150).



CoE online graduate programs earn high U.S. News rankings for fifth consecutive year

Laptop and coffeeOnline graduate programs in the NIU College of Education continue to perform near the top of the country, according to new rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

NIU places fourth (tied with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) in the current honor roll of 200 schools, earning a fifth consecutive spot among the nation’s Top 5 and its sixth nod overall.

Among the nine other Illinois schools ranked, only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (tied for 10th) and the University of St. Francis (tied for 29th) are in the Top 50. Ten universities in the Mid-American Conference are ranked, including Buffalo and Ohio, which are among the five institutions tied for 10th.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper considers the college’s annual recognition as “evidence of our high-quality online graduate programs.”

“Our faculty are at the cutting-edge of designing and delivering online education that is rigorous, engaging and interactive,” Elish-Piper said. “Our faculty, advisers and support staff are available to assist students in our online programs every step of the way so they can be successful in their programs and in their professions.”

The NIU College of Education offers three online master’s degrees within the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

•    Educational Research and Evaluation (ETRA)
•    Instructional Technology (ETRA)
•    School Business Management (LEPF)

ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung heralds a continued and collective effort “attributed to faculty credentials, both academic and specifically for teaching online courses, and student engagement.”

Wei-Chen Hung and Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Wei-Chen Hung and Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

“One particular highlight this year is that we further enhanced our assessment approach by working closely with Research and Assessment faculty to develop assessment instruments and rubric that help us better prepare our students for job markets,” Hung said.

“We are also in the process of updating our curriculum to integrating emerging practices and technologies in the field.”

Acting LEPF Chair Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) calls the six-year streak of U.S. News recognition a “nice salute” to the hard work of students as well as talented faculty, including Patrick Roberts, who chaired the department from 2013 to 2016, and full-time professors and adjunct instructors who bring decades of diverse and practical experience.

“We’re committed to continually improving our modes of delivery, to making sure that our course content is relevant and current and to engaging students in what they need to know as school business officials,” Pluim said. “We also have a fabulous relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials that helps us to recruit top students to the program.”

U.S. News & World Report began collecting data on online programs in 2012 – NIU made the “honor roll” that first year – on the belief that “online learning is becoming integral to all types of education, including higher education, and that consumers are hungry for information related to online degrees.”

Its rankings make no distinction between not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.

Rankings are based on five categories, which are weighted: student engagement (35 percent), student services and technology (20 percent), admissions selectivity (15 percent), faculty credentials and training (15 percent) and peer reputation (15 percent).



Are MOOCs democratizing higher education?

Amy Stich and Todd Reeves

Amy Stich and Todd Reeves

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.