As the initial dust of COVID-19 settled in the spring, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker began mulling what the virus meant for the near future of the college’s signature hands-on learning programs.
“It became pretty apparent that our entire Educate and Engage series, from local to U.S. to global, was likely going to go online and was not going to be in-person in the fall,” says Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs.
“We put in place plans for Educate and Engage Local and U.S., but we were still brainstorming about Educate Global,” Walker adds, “and Laurie said, ‘You know, David Nieto has some contacts with institutions in Spain and also in Mexico.’ ”
Nieto, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, was excited by call he received from Walker and the dean as well as the subsequent discussions with colleagues at La Universidad de Alcalá in Madrid.
The result of those talks – and of local planning with Jennifer Johnson, the NIU College of Education’s director of Teacher Preparation and Development – is this fall’s launch of the latest Educate Global experience.
Fifty Huskies will collaborate in the cultural and academic exchange with 50 counterparts from Spain during three online, synchronous seminars in September, October and November via Zoom.
Educate Global trips traditionally offer in-person, up-close, perspective-broadening experiences with different cultures, international colleagues and a support system for developing the practice of teaching and exploring the host countries.
COVID-19 currently prevents travel – normally, thanks to generous donors to the College of Education, students make these voyages at little or no cost to themselves – but this fall’s Zoom alternative multiplies the human impact by eliminating expenses of airfare, room and board.
“The virtual model presents an amazing opportunity for more of our candidates to participate in this transformational experience,” Johnson says. “The design is engaging, and they’re going to be able to connect with multiple teacher-mentors and multiple representatives from Spain.”
And, despite the circumstances of restricted travel, Nieto is confident that the fall agenda will prove meaningful.
“Hopefully,” Nieto says, “this will spark a conversation between students in Spain who are earning their degrees to be bilingual teachers and prospective teachers over here who are also interested, not only in bilingual education but in education in general in that they want to understand how the education system operates in another part of the world.”
Seminar One took place on Monday, Sept. 21, with welcomes and introductions, rules of engagement and icebreakers.
Participants received a comparison of U.S. and Spanish educational systems based on a template created by Patrick Roberts, associate professor in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations and faculty director of the Blackwell History of Education Museum.
Both institutions also presented biographical overviews.
Alcalá, founded in 1499, enrolls around 29,000 students in 40 undergraduate programs, 56 master’s degree programs and 30 doctoral programs.
The university is also home to the Franklin Institute, which hosts the “Teach & Learn in Spain” program that offers native English-speaking students the opportunity of pursuing master’s degrees while serving as language assistants in schools in the Madrid region.
Each session also will place participants in break-out discussions on ideas that “caught their attention,” Nieto says, as well as time for questions-and-answers and debriefings.
Nieto, who was born and raised in Spain but moved to United States for his higher education, is eager to begin.
“Our students will have a good idea of how to look at these concepts from a different point of view,” he says.
“Sometimes, you’re just looking from another perspective and believing, ‘This is how things are,’ ” he adds, “but I think it’s always enriching to hear others say, ‘Oh, there’s another way to knowing this same concept, or understanding this concept,’ and, ultimately, that’s what we want all participants to leave with.”
Walker also is excited for Educate Global in Spain in its promotion of collaboration between college students; previous incarnations in China, Taiwan and Finland have paired NIU students with K-12 children in those countries.
“This is more peer-to-peer engagement and interaction,” he says. “Some of the ideas are to use guided prompts and observations from the two educational systems to provide our candidates and their candidates some considerations to assist them in discovering varied approaches and value assessments of the two teacher-education models.”
After the pandemic subsides, Nieto and Walker hope to expand the program by sending NIU students to Madrid (and bringing Alcalá students to Illinois) and by renewing discussions with Universidad de Guadalajara in Mexico, where Nieto also has contacts.