The University of Iowa

Professor creates special education program

September 24th, 2014

From The Daily Iowan

Youjia Hua is changing the lives of both educators and parents in China, but he teaches from the University of Iowa.

Hua, a UI associate professor of education, was awarded a Strategic Global Initiatives Award, which gave him $10,000 to develop a class sequence to teach classes for special-education teachers and parents of children with disabilities about behavior analysis.

He said he was motivated to create the program due to a severe lack of special education in China.

Youjia Hua

Youjia Hua

“Schools and principals just turn away any child with disabilities,” he said. “Autism is almost 100 percent turned away by schools.”

After the program, students will take an exam through the Behavior Analysis Certification Board to become certified applied behavior analysts, which is the science- and evidence-based process of changing behavior.

Hua said for students with disabilities, especially autism, it is about changing their quality of life to be more positive.

He said in China, children turned away because of disabilities must then either be put into a private school or educated by parents who have no formal special education training.

Although there are laws that do require schools to educate all children, there is no mechanism to enforce it, he said.

Noticing this issue, Hua worked to create a four-class distance-education program that currently has 25 students, and as far as he knows, it is the first of its kind.

The class consists of 23 Chinese students, one Japanese student, and one Taiwanese student. Of those students, one-third are parents of children with disabilities.

Hua starts his days early because he said the 13-hour time difference creates a challenge.

He starts class around 7 a.m. in Iowa City, which makes for a late class for his overseas students, but they are also aided by recorded lectures.

“The class is really flexible,” Hua said. “They have to watch two to three hours of lecture, and then after, we offer online discussion.”

With the grant money, Hua has even brought over a special-education doctoral student Chengan Yuan to be a teaching assistant for the class.

College of Education Dean Nicholas Colangelo said what Hua is doing is important for the university, especially because information gathered through research isn’t useful unless it can be shared.

“The U.S. is ahead of most of the world with students with disabilities,” he said. “We need to share that information with other parts of the world.”

The program will continue to potentially grow through a partnership with East China Normal University, one that Hua said the UI has valued.

He said there are plans to add a new second level to the program, which would educate beyond the basics of the behavior analysis program in place.

Downing Thomas, the associate provost for International Programs, said in an email that Hua’s program has expanded the relationship with East China Normal University, which is a good thing.

“The potential broad societal impact of the online course sequence he developed was also identified as a key strength of the project,” he said.

Hua said the work of his students is something he didn’t expect when going into the program.

“These are the most dedicated students I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Some of them have even rented a separate apartment just for studying for these classes.”