Research & Scholarly Achievement
at Gallaudet University

PhD in Educational Neuroscience (PEN)

Students in our pioneering PEN program gain state-of-the-art Cognitive Neuroscience training in how humans learn, with a special strength in the neuroplasticity of visually guided learning processes. While Cognitive Neuroscience includes studies of learning and higher cognitive processes across the lifespan, its sister discipline, Educational Neuroscience, includes intensive study of five core domains that are crucial in early childhood learning, including language and bilingualism, reading and literacy, math and numeracy, science and critical thinking (higher cognition), social and emotional learning, and includes study of action and visual processing. PEN students become expert in one of the world's cutting-edge neuroimaging methods in the discipline of Cognitive Neuroscience (e.g., fNIRS, EEG, fMRI, and beyond), study Neuroethics, gain strong critical analysis and reasoning skills in science, and develop expertise in one of the core content areas of learning identified above. While becoming experts in both contemporary neuroimaging and behavioral experimental science, students also learn powerful, meaningful, and principled ways that science can be translated for the benefit of education and society today.

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, Chair, PEN Steering Committee
Dr. Thomas Allen, Program Director, PEN
Dr. Melissa Herzig , Assistant Program Director, PEN


Signing Avatars & Immersive Learning (SAIL): Development and Testing of a Novel Embodied Learning Environment

ID: 3573
Status: Ongoing
Start date: August 2018
End Date: July 2020

Description

The aim of this project is the development of a system in which signing avatars teach users ASL in an immersive virtual environment. The ultimate goal is to develop a prototype of the system and conduct a cognitive neuroscience experiment to test its use in a sample of hearing non-signers. The project team pioneers the integration of multiple technologies: avatars, motion capture systems, virtual reality, gesture tracking, and EEG in order to develop an entirely novel method of sign language learning.

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Developmental Neuroplasticity and Timing of First Language Exposure in Infants

ID: 3608
Status: Ongoing
Start date: February 2018
End Date: August 2020

Description

This research project seeks to understand the mechanisms that underlie learning (i.e. language acquisition) in the developing brain in order to improve understanding of typical and atypical cognition. Much controversy exists in both science and speech, language, and hearing professionals regarding the optimal age (if at all) to expose young children to a visual signed language. This study promises to have high impact to broader society as our understanding from this study will ameliorate barriers to the successful use of hearing enhancement technologies by identifying optimal developmental timing of language exposure in conjunction with cochlear implantation. We utilize functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and behavioral techniques that are compatible with young children and particularly recipients of cochlear implants to capture the modulation of the language neural networks as a function of different language exposure experiences. Congenitally deaf infants with cochlear implants provide scientists with an extraordinary natural experiment in which exposure to auditory-based and visual-based language permits investigation into controlled timing of linguistic exposure. Thus, in this first-time targeted study of brain tissue development in young cochlear implanted infants, we will better understand the neural network that underlies language acquisition and processing in terms of its neurobiological maturational sensitivity as well its neuroplasticity and resilience to modality of language.

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Neural Bases of Tactile and Visual Language Processing

ID: 3609
Status: Ongoing
Start date: April 2017
End Date: December 2020

Description

The proposed experiments in this project build towards addressing questions about neuroplasticity and resilience in the human cortex. To understand the neuroplasticity and resilience of the neural systems that underlie human communication, it is vital to include in a program of study populations with variations in (1) timing of first and second language exposure, (2) modality of language (i.e. tactile, auditory, visual), and (3) sensory experience (deaf-blind, hearing, and deaf populations.) The proposed project here focuses specifically on a DeafBlind population that uses a tactile language (i.e. ProTactile ASL, PTASL). We know that human language processing neural networks are constrained, yet flexible, and permits our species to learn and use a wide range of language structures and languages encoded in multiple modalities (visual, tactile, and auditory) and by including DeafBlind PTASL signers in the corpus of cognitive neuroscience literature, we advance understanding of the mechanisms that make this possible and, vitally, we illuminate possible overarching principles that guide human neural reorganization and resilience. Furthermore, the proposed experiments in this project begin to address key questions that have very strong relevance to society (particularly DeafBlind populations) surrounding debates about whether observed neural reorganization are instances of "maladaptive plasticity" or "functional resilience." By clarifying the scientific principles that underlie neuroplasticity findings and their interpretation, policies revolving around learning (e.g. optimizing language acquisition, sensory intervention for infants, reading practices, etc.) can be optimized greatly and the community may benefit indirectly from this proposed research project.

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The Role of Auditory Experience in the Neurobiological Systems for Effortful Listening

ID: 3587
Status: Ongoing
Start date: January 2018
End Date: December 2019

Description

Current models of auditory cognition suggest that cognitive resources for processing degraded acoustic information are limited, creating a trade-off between effort and comprehension. Indeed, everyday listening frequently occurs under a wide range of inescapable suboptimal and adverse conditions, challenges which are exacerbated by reduced hearing acuity and the use of imperfect hearing amplification and prosthetic devices. In a cognitive neuroscience experiment using optical neuroimaging, we assess: (A) the effects of early-life sensitive windows on the neuroplasticity and stability of language processing networks in response to early-life, chronic exposure to acoustically degraded speech; and (B) the strength of the relationship between self-reported global health, subjective mental effort ratings, and neural activation patterns for different listening conditions. Advancing these scientific questions allows us to better understand of the complex nature of neuroplasticity and early-life sensitive windows for language processing, and ultimately informs us of the underlying cognitive mechanisms that play a role in spoken language outcomes for hearing aid and cochlear implant users. This work has profound implications for transformative translational impacts across several domains, such as educational practice and policy, aural (re)habilitation clinical practice approaches, and assessment of clinical health outcomes. Ultimately, this work will advance several scientific and societal questions regarding the role of deafness mediated by hearing technologies in certain cognitive functions, such as language processing and comprehension, effort, stress, and fatigue. These advancements could improve overall health and quality of life outcomes in those with hearing loss.

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Products

White, B. E., & Langdon, C. (2018, August). Hierarchical processing of degraded speech: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language, Québec City, Québec, Canada.

White, B. E., & Langdon, C. (2018, January). Auditory experience and the neurobiological systems for effortful listening: A combined optical neuroimaging and thermal imaging study. Presented at the Mid-Atlantic Symposium on Hearing, College Park, MD.

White, B. E. (2018, May). The role of auditory experience on the neurobiological systems for effortful listening. Presented at the Neuroimaging with fNIRS: Basic to Advanced Concepts workshop hosted by NIRx Medical Technologies, Gallaudet University, National Science Foundation and Gallaudet University Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning, and the Gallaudet University Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) Program, Washington, DC.


Scholarship and creative activity

2018

Parks, A., White, B. E., Lancaster, L., and Bakke, M. (2018, April). The test-retest reliability of the Early Speech Perception Test in adults with severe to profound hearing levels. Poster presentation at the Department of Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.

Parks, A., White, B. E., Lancaster, L., and Bakke, M. (2018, February). The role of pure-tone average and auditory linguistic experience on word recognition and pattern perception ability in adults with severe to profound hearing levels. Poster presentation at the Department of Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.

White, B. E. (2018, April). Language development timeline (0-5 years old): A resource guide on vocabulary development in young deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Available at https://www.visvoc.bradleywhite.net/assets/files/white16-languagedevelopmenttimeline.pdf

White, B. E. (2018, April). Building the visual vocabulary: A resource guide on vocabulary development in young deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Available at https://www.visvoc.bradleywhite.net

White, B. E. (2018, April). Resting state functional connectivity: Methodological and statistical approaches for functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Presentation at the Language and Educational Neuroscience Laboratory, Washington, DC.

White, B. E. (2018, April). Tips for facilitating vocabulary development: A resource guide on vocabulary development in young deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Available at https://www.visvoc.bradleywhite.net/assets/files/white16-tipsforfacilitatingvocabularydevelopment.pdf

2018

Berteletti, I. (2018, June). Educational Neuroscience, what is it and what it's not. Presented at the University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy

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