By Melissa Smith
A passion for science fiction and education led Fluid Content, a transmedia marketing company, to approach Donna Kiel, instructional assistant professor and director of the Office of Innovative Professional Learning (OIPL), with a novel concept. Together, they collaborated to develop a science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) curriculum with a science fiction and transmedia technology twist. “The concept of meeting students where they are in the world of transmedia in order to teach STEAM creates learning experiences that are pioneering and exciting,” says Kiel. “That’s what we hope to do with all of our work at the OIPL, whether it’s in a classroom or a meeting room.”
Housed in the College of Education, the OIPL provides consultation, professional development and mentoring services, among other offerings, to businesses, schools, organizations and individuals. “People need to learn how to train their staff in appropriate ways,” says Paul Zionts, dean of the College of Education. “They all have the content, but they don’t have the teaching skills. That’s where the OIPL comes in, and we’re excited to extend the mission of the university into new avenues.” Kiel continues, “The goal of the OIPL is to engage all forms of learners who seek a strong skill set in how to teach, lead, research or improve practice. It’s a one-stop shop for anything a school or organization might need.” College of Education faculty lead the sessions, which are customized to the organization. During the past two years, the OIPL has successfully engaged with public and private schools, nonprofits and international educational associations and will be expanding operations in the future.
Educating the Medical Community
In 2014, the OIPL hosted a six-week professional development program for Rush Medical College at Chicago’s Rush University. The sessions covered curriculum management, development and assessment for faculty members who lead clinical education in the medical school. After the program’s resounding success, Rush administrators and Kiel collaborated to provide support to faculty across the university as Rush adopts a new academic calendar starting in fall 2017. Sessions this past fall provided faculty a grounding in educational best practices, curriculum development and curriculum redesign, and each session was customized to fit the needs of Rush faculty.
“This was a good opportunity to look at the actual infrastructure of our programs and assess what would be the best practices going forward,” says Marvell Nesmith, university registrar at Rush and coordinator of the OIPL and Rush collaboration. “It afforded us the ability to work with an entity known for producing quality education.” The series ran for nine weeks with each session comprising two parts: a two-hour workshop followed by two hours of one-to-one mentoring. “This model of professional development is very innovative and collaborative in structure,” explains Kiel. “We provided not only the knowledge and theory regarding teaching and learning, but also the opportunity to apply the skills as they redesigned curriculum.” In addition, each of the individual learning sessions has been transformed to an online course within Rush’s learning management system.
Sessions were limited to 100 participants, and attendance was voluntary. “It was extraordinarily successful,” says Kiel. “Participants said that DePaul was truly helping them to become skilled instructional practitioners and that they needed more experiences like this.” Plans are underway to expand the offerings not just at Rush, but also at other medical universities in the area. “The College of Education is all about good teaching, and that’s what this partnership is all about—teaching doctors to be good teachers,” says Zionts.
Internationalizing the College
The OIPL has been extending the mission of the university abroad through its work with international organizations based in China. In August 2014, 32 educators from Beijing visited the College of Education to learn about best practices in teaching. “At the end of their two weeks, they said, ‘We need to change the way education is in China,’” says Kiel. The OIPL has developed relationships with the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) and MindXplorer, two organizations dedicated to internationalizing China’s educational system.
In June 2015, the OIPL sent curriculum studies doctoral student Melissa Bradford and Patrick Cobb (MED ’00), science teacher at The Stanley Clark School in South Bend, Ind., to Beijing to lead two five-day sessions on STEM education for 12th grade teachers. Preparation for the stringent university admissions exam in China leaves little room for curricular innovation; however, hands-on activities like building toothpick bridges, bottle rockets and propeller cars inspired participants. “They could see how it makes you take an abstract idea and turn it into a practical application,” says Bradford.
The OIPL is in the process of planning to welcome students and teachers from China in summer 2016 for additional STEM training. “In China, teaching involves a great deal of direct instruction,” Kiel explains. “STEM education in the U.S. tends to focus on experiential practices and engaging students in active learning through project-based activities and problem-based learning.” The OIPL has also worked with educators from Como, Italy, who sought the expertise of DePaul to build best teaching practices and processes to implement in Italy. “The international experiences of sharing professional development and of collaborating on best practices provide a vehicle for our faculty and students to gain international perspectives and a true global experience,” says Kiel.
Preparing Future Educators
Many K-12 schools in the Chicagoland area have adopted International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, a rigorous curriculum set by the IB, an international educational organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. Special training is required to teach in IB schools, and thanks to Kiel’s efforts, the College of Education has been recognized to offer the International Baccalaureate Educator Certificate (IBEC) in Teaching and Learning for the Middle Year Programme and the Diploma Programme. The IBEC will be integrated into the undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation programs and is also available to practicing teachers through an online format. At the conclusion of the DePaul program, teacher candidates will be eligible for the IBEC. “Our preservice teachers now have an added advantage of being trained in IB, which makes them more marketable to IB schools,” explains Kiel. “The DePaul students are getting the best of both worlds: the practical experience in the field and the theoretical from our faculty.” Current teachers who are seeking employment in IB schools, or who are in IB schools and need training, may take the four online IBEC courses through the OIPL. These courses are taught by DePaul faculty and supported by IB teachers in the field.
Reimagining the Future of Teaching
During each initial planning session, Kiel asks all potential partners the same questions. “What are the current challenges you’re facing? What’s interfering with you actualizing your mission and vision? In many cases, what it came down to was the skills and practices of leadership, teaching and assessment, which is what we do in the College of Education,” she says. As the OIPL continues to build a strong reputation for professional excellence in the field of teaching, learning and development, Kiel remains excited for the work ahead. “We’re really looking at what we do in the College of Education with a different mindset,” she enthuses. “We’ve always prepared teachers well, but those skills and expertise can also do something else.” Zionts adds, “The OIPL allows us to serve people in Chicago and around the world that the College of Education hasn’t traditionally served, as well as those we have in innovative ways. It’s so attuned to our mission, and we’re excited to see what the future will bring.”