NIU to open center for cutting-edge research in educational technology

Northern Illinois University is launching a new research center in 2019 to cultivate, support, harness and promote cutting-edge scholarship at the intersection of education and technology.

As the first research center opened under the leadership of NIU President Lisa Freeman, CREATE (Cross-disciplinary Research on Engaging Advanced Technology for Education) promises to address current and urgent challenges in education for learners of all ages and backgrounds.

Housed in the NIU College of Education, and supported by the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships, the CREATE Center will bring faculty and researchers from across campus, industry and organizations both local and global, to collaborate on multidisciplinary projects that create new knowledge and transform ideas into practice.

Faculty and student affiliates of CREATE also are charged with the design and research of innovative ways to support teaching and learning of marginalized groups of students in traditional education settings.

Faculty from the NIU colleges of Education, Engineering and Engineering Technology, Health and Human Sciences and Liberal Arts and Sciences already are planning research projects. NIU student-researchers are assisting in the work.

President Freeman calls herself “very enthusiastic about this initiative. CREATE embodies all aspects of NIU’s mission and speaks directly to values that distinguish our university.”

Lisa Freeman and Laurie Elish-Piper
Lisa Freeman and Laurie Elish-Piper

“The center builds on NIU’s history as a normal school committed to producing teachers capable of using state-of-the-art knowledge to address educational challenges for learners of all ages. The center will take full advantage of relationships as resources by fostering cross-disciplinary research and by engaging with practitioners in education and industry, locally and globally,” Freeman said

“I am excited by the possibilities and eager to see what develops from the bright and creative minds who will work with technology in this space,” she added. “That those minds will include our students makes this an even more productive undertaking – one that will advance NIU as an engine of innovation, creativity and social mobility.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, also sees the bridge between the university’s heritage and ongoing mission.

“Faculty in the NIU College of Education are advancing a long and rich tradition of preparing our graduates for the diversity of learners they will encounter in their careers. We know that children learn in many different ways, and we know that educational technology can help to address those needs,” Elish-Piper said. “I am proud that the NIU College of Education is taking the lead in this mission to investigate and develop new and innovative technology-based strategies to educate the students of today and of the future.”

CREATE is the vision of Yanghee Kim, LD and Ruth G. Morgridge Endowed Chair, who came to DeKalb in January and will serve as the center’s director.

Yanghee Kim
Yanghee Kim

“Through the innovative use of technology, the programs will seek to address educational challenges we face in the real world and also create new opportunities for marginalized groups of students and teachers in conventional settings,” Kim said.

She expects CREATE will “nurture continuous development of innovative ideas” – and that visitors to the physical research spaces in Graham and Gabel halls eventually will encounter “robots that purr, talk and move around.”

“I hope to see the CREATE research programs initiated and developed organically by faculty researchers,” Kim said. “The door is wide open; the center will welcome any NIU researchers who have solid ideas and are passionate about implementing their ideas.”

“We expect NIU students to be involved in CREATE as well,” added Jerry Blazey, vice president of Research and Innovation Partnerships at NIU. “The center will offer opportunities for exceptional hands-on research experiences, not only for future teachers, but for students in a wide range of disciplines at NIU.”

Kim, a native of South Korea, arrived in the United States in 2000 to pursue graduate studies in instructional technology at Florida State University, where she earned a Ph.D. degree in educational psychology and learning systems and an M.S. degree in instructional systems design.

Grants from the National Science Foundation funded her 2004 project to design avatar-based instructional teaching tools as well as 2016’s “Inclusive Design for Engaging all Learners (IDEAL): Designing Technology for Cultural Brokering,” which explores the use of robots as collaboration facilitators.

She believes robots and other educational technology can free and empower teachers to focus their talents more on students rather than reciting the lessons of the day.

“Research on advanced technology to tackle real-world educational challenges involves a myriad of research topics, which also involve diverse groups of learners and teachers in various domains of learning,” Kim said.

Jerry Blazey
Jerry Blazey

“Moreover, new educational problems constantly emerge as our societal needs change,” she added. “Therefore, the goals for the center can only be achieved effectively with multiple research strands that investigate both educational and technological issues.”

A strand is a group of researchers who collaborate to write project proposals around a research problem or theme for external funding. This research problem or theme is closely aligned with the center mission and, importantly, is considered having strong potential for securing external funding.

Each strand will be developed organically by faculty researchers and led by a strand leader who will initiate the development of a research program and the formation of the research team.

Once a strand secures external funding, it becomes a research project of the center.

Faculty researchers currently are developing six strands:

  • Strand 1: Project IDEAL (Inclusive Design for Engaging All Learners)
  • Strand 2: TATE (Technology Augmenting Teamwork Efficacy)
  • Strand 3: DACA (Dearly Adroit Companion & Aide)
  • Strand 4: AVAUS (STEM Success at Community Colleges: A Virtual Advisor for Under-represented Students)
  • Strand 5: GIKS (Graphical Interface of Knowledge Structure)
  • Strand 6: ART DECO (Action Research with Teachers: Deliberate, Efficacious, Collaborative, & Organic)

Potential impacts of the center “will be broad, hopefully stimulating innovation on the NIU campus and support of NIU’s leadership in academic research,” Kim said.

“The center’s transdisciplinary research programs involve diverse expertise in teaching, learning, technology design, and socio-technical dynamics converging to address focal research themes,” she said. “This multidisciplinary research may stimulate innovative mindsets among NIU faculty and students, leading them to be open-minded beyond their disciplinary frame of thinking.”

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