Laura Hedin leaves no doubt of her feelings on engaged learning.
“It’s the best way for students to learn. That’s the bottom line,” says Hedin, who teaches Special Education in the Department of Special and Early Education (SEED). “If it’s just listening – and not doing – then students are not getting everything they could be getting from my expertise. Practicing their skills just bumps everything up in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.”
The associate professor is one of two College of Education faculty members chosen to present at NIU’s first Conference on Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship.
Natalie Young, an instructor of Early Childhood Education in SEED, is the college’s other “exemplar” at the Tuesday, March 6, event in the Holmes Student Center.
Several faculty and staff will present on best practices in engaged learning, teaching and scholarship. All are welcome to attend; registration is open online.
Lisa Freeman, acting president of NIU, will deliver the opening remarks as well as the keynote address: “Bringing NIU’s Mission to Life through Engagement.”
Concurrent “Best Practice” sessions begin at 9:15 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. A plenary session is scheduled from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m., and a poster session will begin at 11:45 a.m.
Participants will close the day with a discussion on “The Future of Engaged Learning at NIU.”
Hedin will discuss her department’s collaboration with Kaneland School District 302, where her teacher-licensure candidates in Special Education are collecting and analyzing assessment data to design and deliver effective lessons.
“We have so much positive feedback from our candidates, the district teachers and the school districts,” Hedin says. “It’s one thing to hear something from a professor, but it’s another thing for that information to come directly from your clinical site and your cooperating teachers. Our students get that reflection; they get that piece where they say, ‘You know, I just saw this in my clinical placement. Why do you do it that way?’ ”
Faculty, meanwhile, are on site in Kaneland.
“As we started working with the district representatives about what they need, we made them aware of the advantages of having a cluster of candidates working there so that we could bring our coursework to Kaneland,” she says. “We came up with some curriculum to deliver to their classroom teachers, specifically about writing IEPs and IEP goals.”
Open Doors has two motives, one to motivate the college aspirations of Lincoln’s first- and second-graders and another to expose NIU teacher-candidates to “understand the importance of having experiences in a setting where minorities are the largest population.”
“When reflecting on their experiences through the Open Doors program, my students express appreciation for additional hands-on, in-the-field opportunities with young students,” Young says. “Students collaborate on teams to create lessons specifically targeted to the needs of the students. We go, and we work directly with young students directly. Who doesn’t learn best by doing?”
Experiences like the ones provided by Open Doors are essential for undergraduate students before they become actual classroom teachers, she adds.
“I can give my students lots of articles and tell them to read about what others say it looks like to teach in predominantly minority schools. We can read, read, read, and we can discuss, discuss, discuss,” she says, “but it’s completely different when you meet that primary school child who’s right in front of you, connecting with you, and you’re connecting with them. It’s different when you’re sitting there crisscross-applesauce, working directly with and engaging with students of color in a way in which you may have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing.”
Hedin and Young are eager to learn from the other presenters, and are grateful for the opportunity to do so.
“I am a lifelong learner, and I need not only to continue to work on my skills but to engage with colleagues who are doing the same things. I also need to be a model of that for my students,” Hedin says.
“To have engagement initiatives like this come down from the president and the provost is terrific,” she adds. “It really shows a dedication of resources to actually make certain that engaged learning occurs and to help people understand how it can occur.”
Young, a doctoral student in her department, regards the ELTS conference as a university-based version of what goes on in K-12 schools all the time.
“I like to see what types of engagement activities and program others are doing,” Young says. “I’m always curious about what other educators are doing and how it’s working for them, and that’s what teachers do all the time. We get creative ideas from each other, and if we listen and collaborate, we continue to grow as professionals.”
For more information on the ELTS conference, call (815) 753-8154 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.