LAWRENCE — The Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) at the University of Kansas has announced a new center, Flexible Learning through Innovations in Technology & Education (FLITE), whose mission is to provide an integrated structure for emerging technologies aligned with student and teaching learning.
Led by Lisa Dieker, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor in Special Education, FLITE will focus on simulation and innovations in technology, including Dieker’s current funded projects in developing artificial intelligence agents to support students with disabilities in inclusive settings and creating observational tagging tools and harvesting resources for coaches and special education teachers in STEM instruction.
“I do not want to do what's already there. I want to do what no one else has dared to try yet, using technology grounded in best practices and education,” Dieker said.
Dieker comes to KU from the University of Central Florida where she was a Pegasus Professor and Lockheed Martin Eminent Scholar in the College of Community Innovation and Education. She served as the director of the Lockheed Martin Mathematics and Science Academy, program coordinator for the doctoral program in special education and co-directed the UCF Center for Research in Education Simulation Technology.
Her research interests include special education, STEM education, teacher training and professional development, artificial intelligence, virtual environments, and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
“Lisa is a well-known and respected leader in the field of education, and her addition to AAI is extremely exciting,” said Neal Kingston, director of AAI and University Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology. “FLITE is an exceptional addition to the institute, and I look forward to seeing what new discoveries and innovative approaches Lisa will take in her new role as director.”
Dieker’s work encompasses technological inventions, trademarks and patents, including software, simulations and artificial intelligence. Dieker said FLITE gives her even more freedom and opportunity to explore and experiment with emerging concepts.
“The beauty of being the director of my own center is the freedom to take risks, jump off cliffs and think differently,” Dieker said. “You can't take flight without an engine, and AAI will be the engine that helps FLITE take off and become a hub of innovation.”
Dieker has worked closely with faculty, researchers and students to improve professional development and the use of technology in classrooms. FLITE will have both affiliated and core faculty working on grants and projects that advance the center’s mission. Dieker said she hopes to continue making connections at KU to improve flexible learning and technology across all fields of study.
“I want FLITE to be a gathering spot for people,” Dieker said. “It will be a place that does its own innovation but also acts as a hub or a resource for other people that are not necessarily part of the center.”
Dieker has multiple degrees in special education, and much of her work since the beginning of her career has focused on students with disabilities and their education in science and math classes. Dieker’s work in emerging technology and its use in classrooms grew from her interest in the education of students with disabilities and seeing how technology helped her students with disabilities succeed.
“Technology is a game changer. I have graduated 24 Ph.D. students with disabilities, and many of them had really high-tech skills, so that's why I think technology is a pathway for access and equity,” she said.
An example of how Dieker is able to use emerging technology to benefit the education of students with disabilities in STEM is Project RAISE, a collaborative project between United Cerebral Palsy of Central Florida and the University of Central Florida to research how artificial intelligence can be used to teach children on the autism spectrum how to code and recognize social cues. The project involves an AI avatar and biometric monitoring to gauge students’ stress levels and emotions.
“I want to find ways to ensure equity and access in math and science classes by making sure students have the right technological tools and the right teacher with the right tools. My goal is for everyone to be at or above grade level,” she said.
Although FLITE focuses heavily on innovative technology, Dieker said she wants to make sure to include all learners of all abilities and preferences to ensure FLITE is being as equitable and accessible as possible.
“I chose not to use special education in the center’s name and chose to use flexible learning instead with the vision that students can be the ones who decide how to learn,” Dieker said.
FLITE’s vision and work is grounded in KU’s strategic plan, Jayhawks Rising, particularly in student success and research and discovery. Its addition this, it continues AAI’s mission of improving the lives of children and adults through academics and research.
“We are so excited and honored to welcome Professor Dieker to KU and the School of Education,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education & Human Sciences. “Her energy and passion for innovation and student success is apparent. I am excited to see her at the helm of FLITE and working together with AAI to improve and advance education for all students.”