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History of SmartSpace@NIU

SmartSpace@NIU began as The Virtual Lab School (VLS). The original concept was one of many proposals submitted in 2011 by NIU faculty and staff members to Great Journeys Strategic Planning and to Vision 2020. The Provost’s Office found the general concept to be innovative and worthy of seed money. Since many units across the university would be involved in testing its promise, responsibility for developing an online lab school initiative was assigned to the P-20 Center, which coordinates university-wide projects.

NIU faculty and staff played significant roles in launching The VLS during 2011-2013 to originate the VLS concept, work with partners across campus to write proposals, and provide guidance during the start-up period. These faculty members included Lara Luetkehans, Rebecca Hunt, Sharon Smaldino, and other faculty members in the Education Technology, Research and Assessment Department in the College of Education. 

Kristin Brynteson and Mary Baker of the Center for P-20 Engagement, acted as coordinators, created extensive documentation for the project, led project teams, and developed many of the initial online components.

Examples of these components include

  • eTutoring
    • NIU students who are interested in a career in education provide virtual tutoring services to students in the region.
  • STEAMspace
    • An online space that promotes creativity and allows students to share and discuss their art, design, and multimedia projects online.
  • STEM Teen Read Book Club
    • A science fiction fan book club meets virtually and in-person for group discussions and to talk with experts on the science behind the fiction.
  • Teacher Preparation and Professional Development Modules
    • Teachers and teacher candidates are able to participate in online modules that equip them with knowledge of best teaching practices.

In 2013, the Provost's Office restructured The VLS.  A steering committee renamed the project SmartSpace@NIU. Housed in the P-20 Center, SmartSpace@NIU continues to develop, pilot, and improve its university- and community-wide projects.