NIH grant supports NMSU research aimed at improving education for deaf students
Julie M. Hughes
May 18, 2014
LAS CRUCES >> New Mexico State University’s Communication Disorders Program is partnering on a $2.3 million research project to pinpoint the types of teaching and services that will help deaf students in their educational pursuits.
Linda Spencer, program director of the Communication Disorders Program in NMSU’s College of Education, along with her students are analyzing data for the project that is funded by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The four-year research project is a partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology and the National Technical Institute of the Deaf’s Center for Research Partnerships. Data for the project that started in 2012 is being collected in Rochester, N.Y., and sent to Spencer for analysis in her Phonology, Hearing, Articulation, Language and Literacy Lab, where her students are learning to analyze speech production by doing sound-by-sound level transcription.
Spencer said it is a great opportunity for undergraduate volunteers who have had transcription coursework and for graduate students to increase their experience.
“Their skills are being honed to listen and learn what is going on with the speech. Who knows what idea we are going to spark in a student?” she said.
Junior Annie Wood said she is learning a lot by getting to participate in the project.
“I’m very interested in the way hearing and speech connect with each other and how they rely on each other to work,” Wood said. “It is really exciting to work in the lab as an undergraduate.”
Wood said the experience she is gaining will help with graduate school applications and perhaps provide an opportunity to present at state and national meetings, but she said it has not been easy.
“It is really difficult to transcribe speech you are not used to hearing, but it is interesting to see how deaf individuals speak,” Wood said.
The study is looking at three groups of college students — deaf students who wear cochlear implants, deaf students who do not use cochlear implants and students who have hearing. Cochlear implants are devices that provide direct electrical stimulation to the auditory or hearing nerve in the inner ear. The cochlear implant does not result in “restored” or “cured” hearing. It does, however, allow for the perception of the sensation of sound.
Spencer said they are exploring how spoken language and sign language skills relate to and influence each other. They also are measuring verbal and nonverbal cognitive abilities and comparing how students learn from reading and from lectures that are spoken and/or signed.
“We’re hoping that by looking at the relationship between language and thinking in individuals who are deaf, we will get a better idea of how to teach those individuals,” she said. “We’re hoping what we learn can be instituted in their curriculum to achieve the highest level possible for these individuals.”
The research participants in Rochester come from all walks of life and are for perhaps the first time surrounded by other deaf individuals. Spencer said they will look at how mixing these types of students has impacted them.
“We want to discover how their background influences how they think,” she said. “We want to get a better idea of how thinking and memory and language combine.”
“Eye on Research” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by Julie M. Hughes of University Communications.