Learn-IT explores future of teaching tech

Science fiction fans call May 4 “Star Wars Day” – as in, “May the Fourth Be With You” – but that particular Saturday this year centered on science reality for 120 regional teachers and instructional technology specialists.

NIU’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment hosted its ninth annual Learn-IT conference, offering a glimpse at “low-cost, high-impact” tech for modern classrooms.

“We have cutting-edge tools in instructional technology, along with the latest trends they might not see coming in their districts or that they might not get in traditional classes,” says Judy Puskar, academic program advisor in the department.

Educators in attendance were able to get hands-on with robotics and experience augmented reality and virtual reality, she says.

They also enjoyed a wide variety of workshop sessions, covering such topics as Sphero SPRK+; video captioning and accessibility; Microsoft 365 applications; iPad management; telling stories with technology; LEGOs; and more.

Presenters included ETRA’s own Fatih Demir; NIU eLearning Services Director Aline Click; NIU P-20 Center Director of Professional Development Kristin Brynteson; and NIU STEM Outreach Educator Sam Watt.

Norman “Storm” Robinson III
Norman “Storm” Robinson III

Keynote speaker Norman “Storm” Robinson III, executive director for Teaching and Learning at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, delivered an address on “From 3-D Prototyping to A.I., Using Design and Technology in the Classroom.”

Robinson discussed strategies that use “design thinking and technology” to prepare students for career readiness in a society driven by high technology.

“I really enjoyed the keynote. He really has an interesting background in science, mathematics and robotics from NASA,” Puskar says. “He had a nice highlight of a little girl who made this device in India – for under $20 in U.S. dollars – that would help to measure poison contaminants in India’s water systems.”

Puskar and Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the department, are grateful for the support of Bob and Mary English, friends of the NIU College of Education. Their initial gift, and their continuing support, makes the conference possible and accessible while demonstrating their belief in the importance of educators having the tools they need to help all learners achieve their potential.

Mary F. English Technology Award winners, meanwhile, attend Learn-IT.

The students – all full-time, degree-seeking undergraduates in teacher-licensure programs –receive current technology equipment for their academic, personal and professional use along with professional development opportunities.

“It’s always nice to see the young undergraduates,” Puskar says. “They’re a special part of the conference.”

She and Hung also deeply appreciate the assistance of the ETRA-Graduate Student Association, the members of which help to make the day run smoothly.

GSA member Sena Bulak, who is pursuing her M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology, handled much of the day’s planning. GSA President Chris Kraner provided valuable technology support. “We have a great group of volunteers from the GSA,” Puskar says. “The students really get involved.”

Learn-IT 2020 will take place Saturday, May 2.

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