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In the Spotlight: James O'Meara, Professor, NCE

July 24, 2013

by Mark Donahue

James O'Meara has travelled farther than most to work at NLU — and he's brought a more global perspective with him. O'Meara, a native of Australia, worked there as a teacher-educator for 14 years after an equally long stint as a classroom teacher himself. Stops in Greece, India and South Carolina followed, along with stints back in Australia, before he arrived in Chicago.

Today O'Meara is the Lead Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning at NLU and Director of the Advanced Studies in Teaching. Outside the University, he serves as President of the International Council on Education for Teaching (ICET) and as an elected member to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Non-Government Organization (NGO) Liaison Committee.

O'Meara has seen synergies develop between both tracks of his work. The Office of Teaching and Learning has been instrumental in bringing the Global Education First Conference to Chicagoland, September 25–27. Inspired by the UN's Global Education First Initiative, it focuses on improving access to quality education and fostering global citizenship in post-secondary learning environments to promote quality, relevant and transformative educational experiences for all learners.

I spoke with O'Meara about what his office is up to and what part NLU is playing to help advance the cause of preparing globally competent teachers.

For starters, what is the NLU Office of Teaching and Learning?

Part of my background prior to coming to NLU was as the Associate Director of the Institute for Professional and Organizational Learning at the University of Ballarat, which is a similar institute to the Office of Teaching and Learning. So what I brought to this institution was a first-hand experience on how to establish something like this and also how to address some of the challenges. I've been working since July with [Vice Provost of Academic Programs and Faculty Development] Dr. Generosa Lopez-Molina on advancing the concept of an Office of Teaching and Learning to reality. One of the key priorities for the office is valuing and investing in the development of our faculty — NLU’s most valued asset.

One of the big issues here at NLU is finding faculty with the time to develop professional learning resources, so we've established a strategic partnership with the Wiley Learning Institute, which provides us access to international and national presenters on issues relating to improving the quality of teaching and learning at NLU. So any faculty — both full time and adjunct—and staff, as well, can access professional learning opportunities ranging from financial literacy and budgeting through to improving teaching online, leadership development and also research education. Our key three professional priorities for 2013/14 are: course design, assessment, student engagement. These local priorities echo the professional learning priorities for universities nationally.  

How did NLU become involved with the Global Education First Conference?

2015 is a pretty important year globally. That's the critical date for the assessment of the [United Nations] Millennium Development Goals. These are goals set back in 2000 to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. Education specifically, two areas in particular: education for all and gender equity. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September last year identified education as the critical thread tying together all our hopes for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. In terms of equity, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, believes teachers must play a central role suggesting. “Teachers are the single most influential and powerful force for equity, access and quality in education,” she said.

Every two years UNESCO has a world congress, and at that world congress they elect 11 NGOs to serve on their international liaison committee. Last September I was elected by the 300 member organizations to serve on that committee responsible for liaisoning between the NGO community and UNESCO. As part of my role, I suggested that the first forum that will be held at UNESCO HQ Paris in September should be around education, and I suggested the role of the Global Education First Initiative. This suggestion was based on the conference plans of NLU. The acceptance of this plan highlights how NLU and ICET are contributing to global thought leadership and beginning to shape the direction of the non-profit community.

What will the conference cover?

So there are three pillars: every child in school, the quality of learning, global citizenship. Day One and Day Two focus on the quality of learning, while on Day Three the focus shifts to global citizenship. NLU, with a history of teacher education and preparing teachers, has a strong role in improving the quality of learning by enhancing the preparation of teachers. This conference is the first step in shaping the preparation of teachers globally.

We're bringing in groups like CAEP [Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation] — our national teacher education accreditation body — talking about improving the quality through national standards. Also the Arab Association of Universities will look at what quality of education and faculty development looks like in the Arab world. We're also bringing in representatives of UNESCO to talk about how to prepare learners for the 21st century through programs and projects linked to the STEM [science, technology engineering and mathematics] disciplines.

Our goal is to provide a forum for bringing international ideas into NLU and the wider community. The second day looks at fostering global citizenship, and ICET's currently working with UNESCO Bangkok to promote their unique take on fostering global citizenship, which is "learning to live together." And given the diversity of Chicago, it seems a really nice match to be able to have Chicago contributing to this discussion.

Talk about the pre-conference event and the networking event.

Some of the other people brought to Chicago: One of UNESCO's focus areas is Africa — prior to arriving at NLU, I completed quite a bit of work in Africa with the African Union, BREDA-UNESCO and also the Australian Development Agency (AUSAID) in the area of teacher education. The trust and networks established during this has allowed us to secure the support of  Professor Jean-Pierre Ezin of Benin,  the former AU Commissioner, to raise awareness of the priority of Africa during a  pre-conference event held at the University Centre of Lake County.

The other group we're bringing on board is the STEM community. The African Scientific Institute will be hosting the STEM Learning Exchange Mixer, "Bridging the Divide," on the Thursday evening. We hope to attract a "catalytic community" of attendees interested in increasing the under-represented populations within the STEM fields. Catalytic communities contain educators, academics, NGOs, business, philanthropic groups all coming together around a common cause, which is increasing the capacity of teachers to teach STEM but also increasing the pathways for learners in the STEM subjects.

Is there going to be an online aspect to the conference?

Another unique aspect we're trying to profile here is what we call "inclusive internationalization." What that means is that we are providing both opportunities for face-to-face and virtual attendance. Many people would like to come to Chicago, but they might not be able to afford the airfare or accommodation or secure the visa, so working with the Wiley Institute again, all the sessions will recorded and beamed out to allow up to 1000 participants from around the world to participate in the sessions and/or watch a session later at their own pace in their own time.

How do you think the conference will impact NLU's efforts going forward?

The other thing I think we're trying to achieve is this notion of learning how NLU is responding to a globalized higher education space, and we're responding by improving the quality of learning through improving the quality of teachers and also fostering global citizenship by promoting ways where we can prepare learners on how people can learn to live together in diverse situations.

To register for the Global Education First Conference, please visit the conference Web site. Early bird registration ends August 15. Please note that attendance for the conference at the NLU campus is limited. There is also an interactive online option.


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