Tag: undergraduate research

Future elementary teachers find good ideas within interventions

Courtney Rieb explains her project during the Student Research Symposium.

Courtney Rieb explains her project
during the Student Research Symposium.

Courtney Rieb could not help but notice the boy.

“He was frequently off-task,” says Rieb, a junior Elementary Education major from Antioch. “He was trying to talk to his friends, or taking laps around the classroom. I identified him as needing some help.”

The first-grader, a student in the classroom where Rieb completed a clinical placement during her first professional seminar, inspired Rieb to develop and deliver an intervention.

And she had help – from the young boy himself.

“I wanted to help him self-manage his behavior. I worked with him to come up with some goals for what it would look like for him to be on task, to keep his ‘eyes on the prize.’ Classroom rules. Doing homework. Being a model for his peers,” she says.

“We put that on a chart,” she adds, “and we used that along with a timer to check his behavior every time the timer would go off, which was every minute on the minute for 10 minutes.”

Rieb turned her work with the boy into a research project, one she shared not only at the April 18 Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day but at the College of Education’s Student Research Symposium two days later.

Eight students joined her in poster presentations.

Annie Malecki and Bill Pitney

Annie Malecki and Bill Pitney

Annie Malecki, of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE), took the undergraduate award for Outstanding Poster Presentation. Sharif Shahadat, of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), won the graduate-level award.

Other presenters included Dalal Alfageth, Kylie Cousins, Rania Kokandy, Alexandria Patinka, Addison Pond, Kathryn E. Rupp (a master’s student from the NIU Department of Psychology) and Steven Smart.

Graduate students Joshua Pak and Wilson Hernandez Parraci, from KNPE and ETRA respectively, gave table talks.

Bill Pitney, associate dean for Research, Resources and Innovation, calls this year’s symposium “an excellent display of what is possible in every academic program.”

“Students presented studies from didactic and clinical classes as well as extracurricular engagement. I was very proud to see the expertise and effort that went into their work,” Pitney says.

“Engaging students in the process of research builds their capacity to think critically and creatively. Having them disseminate the findings of a study enhances their ability to communicate,” he adds. “These skills will transfer into their professional lives and set them apart from other graduates.”

For Rieb and Patinka, a junior Elementary Education major from St. Charles, their research projects showed what “their passion to better understand kids with disabilities who will likely be in their general education classrooms in the future.”

Natalie Andzik presents at the Student Research Sypoisum.

Natalie Andzik discusses “Research to Practice”
at the Student Research Symposium.

So says Natalie Andzik, an assistant professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“It was very rewarding for me to see pre-service, general education teachers take such an interest in developing interventions for students with disabilities in their clinical placements,” Andzik says.

“By having them complete a case study research project, these ladies not only were able to experience the rewards of putting an individualized intervention into place for one of their students,” she adds, “but they also got to go through the entire research process from idea, to method development, to implementation, through presentation and, hopefully, publication.”

Patinka adapted a kinesthetic intervention for a first-grade girl struggling with “sight words” – high-frequency words that young readers should recognize without sounding out or decoding.

“I looked at baseline data from the district’s test for sight words; there are 68 words, and first-graders are supposed to get 68 out of 68,” she says.

Unfortunately, the best Patinka’s student could achieve was nine of 68 – a 13 percent success rate. “There was definitely a need there,” she says.

The intervention involved a tiny sandbox that Patinka’s cooperating teacher had but rarely used because of the mess factor. Patinka asked her student to write the sight words in the sand, either with her finger or with a stylus.

“It was something very engaging and something she really enjoyed doing, which I think is really crucial in student learning,” she says. “I would work with her a few times each week. We would work together for about 15 minutes and cover 10 to 15 words that we would really focus on. I would read them, spell them with her, have her write them for me, sound them out, read them back to me.”

Sharif Shahadat and Bill Pitney

Sharif Shahadat and Bill Pitney

Eventually, she scored a 62 on the sight word test – an impressive 91 percent that took her from far below the class average to above it.

And while the child drew words, Patinka drew conclusions.

“I learned that kinesthetic learning can be a great tool for sight word recognition. I’m a huge advocate for kinesthetic learning in general because humans were born to move. That’s how we’re built,” she says. “This really captivated my student’s interest. Her attitude did a 180. She loved the sand and really looked forward to it, and I think that having a student engaged in something they’re really looking forward to is the best education possible.”

Rieb also recorded a positive turnaround in her student as he checked his attention levels at the direction of the timer.

To start the process, Rieb taught the boy how to use the timer as well as the procedure.

Whenever the timer sounded, he was to document whether he was on task with a smiley face. His data sheet also contained another table where he would report whether his self-accounts were honest ones.

Dalal Alfageh explains her work to Zach Wahl-Alexander.

Dalal Alfageh explains her work to Zach Wahl-Alexander.

She also provided incentives for good behavior, including stickers and a bouncy ball, and soon stepped away to allow him to perform the tasks on his own.

“The goal was to get intrinsic motivation after we had used the little prizes as an extrinsic motivator,” Rieb says. “The intervention worked very well. In the data I collected before the intervention was implemented, I saw that he was on task zero percent of the time. He eventually reached 100 percent of the time.”

His classroom teacher “was very happy,” she adds. “She saw how it greatly impacted his behavior and his academic performance.”

Naturally, Rieb also grew from the interaction.

“I learned how to just make a connection with a student and to work one-on-one with him,” she says. “I learned how design and implement interventions. It’s extremely important to have their needs and interests in mind, and you can’t just impose an intervention on them. They have to be invested in making the change.”

Research road show: Cohen, Strid collaborate with students

irc-1Six NIU students affiliated with the College of Education were among the presenters at the 41st Annual Statewide Conference for Teachers Serving Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students.

Recently graduated master’s student Stephanie Eller and undergraduates Lorena Flores, Autumn Gathings, Christina Poe, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor joined Department of Curriculum and Instruction professors James Cohen and John Evar Strid in sharing research.

Eller and Flores joined Cohen for “Undocumented Immigrants: Myths and Realities,” which also served as the basis for a featured article in the Illinois Association for Multilingual Multicultural Education winter bulletin with the two students as the lead authors.

Flores then presented for a second time with Cohen and Strid, addressing the question of “Can Paradigm Shifting Occur in a One-Semester Diversity Course?”

Poe and Cohen presented “English Learners’ Writing Needs in the Elementary Classroom” to a full house.

“The room was good for 60 people but well over 80 showed up, with people sitting on the floor and standing in the doorway,” Cohen says. “Christina dominated the room with her wealth of knowledge regarding the research and practical applications of writing strategies for English learners.”

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor came well-prepared for their Dec. 7 talk on “Roadblocks to Bilingualism: How Teachers Become Bilingual.”

Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor present Dec. 7 in Oak Brook.

Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor
present Dec. 7 with their professors in Oak Brook.

The three already had gained solid footing during earlier appearances at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) Conference in Salt Lake City and at the Illinois Education Research Council Symposium at NIU-Naperville, where they described their findings on the language-related backgrounds of teachers.

Reponses to questions Strid posed to his students in an Applied Linguistics course provided the raw data; Cohen and the three students pored through the 126 essays to identify themes and commonalities and to discern conclusions and recommendations.

“I’m a nerd when it comes to organizing, reading and writing, so this project was made for me,” says Gathings, a junior Elementary Education major from Oswego. “I feel important. I’m using my free time to do something that I know is going to pay off later. This will help me stand out.”

Cohen began working with the trio a few semesters ago.

“I was never able to work with a professor as an undergrad,” says Cohen, who always wanted to offer that chance to those he taught.

So he made his pitch, telling students he was willing to add them to his projects or to lend his expertise to their research. Either way, he told the students, the goal was to get published.

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor chose the former option, learning that research is a long and difficult but worthwhile process.

James Cohen

James Cohen

“Dr. Cohen is so passionate. He just influenced me in a way that I felt a natural connection to what he was saying,” adds Stepter, a senior Early Childhood Studies major. “Knowing there was someone who believed in me gave me a boost in my confidence. It taught me that I can do more, and how to contribute that into a school setting.”

Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major specializing in English, was excited for the chance to publish.

“I said, ‘Oh, I can get something published? I can write something?’ That drew me in. That was intriguing for me,” Taylor says. “I love to write and to read, and this incorporates both of these things. I read the people’s stories, and I get to write a paper.”

Cohen feels like a proud father.

“They were tremendously helpful. They got so good at coding that I said, ‘OK, go on and do your thing.’ We’ve been expanding their role in the presentation every time,” he says. “They’re learning how to analyze qualitative data. How often does an undergrad get to analyze qualitative data? They’re learning how to present at professional conferences. We’ll be writing up the data soon.”

He sees benefits beyond the obvious.

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor have explored second-language acquisition theory and simultaneous vs. sequential bilingualism in a way deeper than any textbook can provide.

“They’ve internalized this information,” Cohen says. “When they go and become teachers, they’ll be able to articulate things most teachers aren’t able to articulate.”

John Evar Strid

John Evar Strid

“They’ve gotten an insight into the research process,” Strid says. “They did a phenomenal job – going through the data, finding the salient points, putting it together for the presentation, doing the actual presentation. It opens doors for them.”

Sure enough, Cohen and Strid say, the three students were a hit in Salt Lake City, where “the audience just fell in love with them. They’re so smart, articulate and passionate.”

In Naperville, they add, representatives from Elgin’s U46 and other school districts were handing over business cards and encouraging the students to call them after graduation.

“No matter which way they decide to take their careers, it’s a big win all around for them,” Strid says. “They really showed the initiative to follow through, and that really says a lot about them – all positive.”

Meanwhile, at Cohen’s encouraging, all three student applied and were accepted for the maiden voyage of Educate Global and traveled to teach in China during the summer. Eller also participated at Cohen’s suggestion, teaching in Taiwan.

“We agreed to go do one thing with Dr. Cohen,” Gathings says, “and now we’ve gone to China and to three different conferences.”

“I thought we were just going to get published,” Taylor adds with a laugh.

The students say they’ve grown in their confidence in themselves as well as in their belief in the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism.

Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn to Wayne  Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.

Networking: Professor Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn
to Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs
and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.


“We definitely need to advocate for not only bilingualism but biliteracy as well,” Taylor says, “and to replace judgment with curiosity.”

“I learned to advocate for others,” Stepter says, “who can’t advocate for themselves.”

The words are music to Cohen’s ears. “I am sincerely impressed. They got it. They got it!” he says. “They’re hungry for knowledge.”

April 21, 25 offer two great ways to back College of Ed students

Two upcoming events will provide great opportunities for NIU College of Education faculty and staff to show their support of students.

CoE Student Research Symposium

researchStudents, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the second annual CoE Student Research Symposium, scheduled from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, in the Learning Center of Gabel Hall.

As students learn about the process of research and academic inquiry, they can share outcomes of their research, creative works, scholarly activity and research ideas. They also can display their work during the poster session, explore research methods related to their own interests and learn how to become involved with faculty research.

Participants can present ideas at a Table Talk Session and obtain valuable advice on how to accomplish their research goals.

For more information, email Pat Weilert at pweilert@niu.edu or Bill Pitney at wpitney@niu.edu.

Student Appreciation Day

Student Appreciation Day 2016

Student Appreciation Day 2016

To celebrate CoE students, College of Education Student Services will once again host Student Appreciation Day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, at the main entrance of Gabel Hall and the second-floor south lobby of Anderson Hall.

Students will feast on free hot dogs, chips and beverages. They also can sign up for the annual raffle with prizes donated by local businesses.

Help is needed to make this a truly special day. Student Services invites faculty and staff to support this effort by handing out food and beverages and mingling with students.

To volunteer, email Brittany Hall at bhall12@niu.edu to provide your availability, contact information and preferred location.

Preferred location: Gabel Hall or Anderson Hall
Times you are available (please select one or more):

  • 11:30 a.m. to noon
  • Noon to 12:30 p.m.
  • 12:30 to 1 p.m.

For more information, contact Hall at (815) 753-8352 or bhall12@niu.edu.

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.