Tag: research

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!”



URAD and CES registration is now open

Student research poster copyNIU’s Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning will host the seventh annual Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day (URAD) and the third annual Community Engagement Showcase from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.

Any undergraduate student who has participated in a faculty-mentored research or artistry project is eligible to showcase his/her work at this year’s Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day.  This includes independent study, capstone projects, SEFEURAUSOARSROPResearch Rookies or any other related research/artistry projects. Students have the option to present their work in a poster, exhibit, and digital media display, or 15-minute oral presentation session.  Space is limited so interested students should apply early.  For more information about URAD and how to register, please visit the URAD website.

Undergraduate students currently enrolled at NIU who have participated in community-based project, including work completed during a service-learning course, internship, or with student organizations, are encouraged to showcase their work at the Community Engagement Showcase. Last year, students from various organizations, including Huskie Alternative Breaks, Huskie Service Scholars, NIU Service Leaders, Sophomores in Service, Lambda Sigma, and CAUSE, showcased their work at the CES. For more information about CES and how to register, please visit the CES website.

Summer Research Opportunities Program Application Open Now

The application for this year’s Summer Research Opportunities Program is available now online. The Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) gives NIU undergraduates the opportunity to conduct paid, faculty-mentored research during the summer months.  Students of diverse backgrounds, including underrepresented minority students, students from economically disadvantaged or underserved backgrounds and students with disabilities, are encouraged to apply.  The deadline to apply is Feb. 26, 2016.



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.