NTID Receives $2.3 Million to Study Sign Language, Cochlear Implants and Learning

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The Center for Education Research Partnerships at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf has received a $2.3 million research grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

The four-year project, “Language, Learning, and Cognition among Deaf Students with and without Cochlear Implants,” is aimed at understanding the complex interactions among language, learning and cognitive abilities of deaf students with cochlear implants.

It is believed that RIT/NTID has the largest concentration of people with cochlear implants anywhere. More than 350 RIT/NTID students have a cochlear implant, essentially a “high-tech” hearing aid inserted into the cochlea (part of the inner ear) that allows some deaf individuals to hear sounds, often well enough to understand speech and use a telephone.

Marc Marschark, director of CERP and primary investigator on the project, says there have been many studies examining language and reading achievement among individuals with cochlear implants, but there are large unexplained individual differences in outcomes. So, while children with implants generally perform better than deaf children without implants, most do not do as well as hearing peers.

To better understand how to educate deaf students in both public schools and schools for the deaf, the four-year project will examine relations among spoken language and sign language skills, cognitive abilities and learning.

“Beyond spoken language and reading abilities, far less is known about the effects of cochlear implantation on learning, especially in students from middle school onward,” Marschark says. The project will involve deaf students with and without cochlear implants as well as hearing students at RIT. There also are plans to extend the project to younger children in the near future.

“We know deaf individuals are somewhat different than hearing people in cognitive abilities such as visual perception, memory and problem-solving,” Marschark says. “But not all of the differences are related to being deaf. Some relate to whether or not (deaf and hearing) individuals use sign language. We will be exploring how sign language and the differing abilities influence classroom learning in all three groups of students.”

The grant will support eight studies that include measures of academic achievement, social-emotional functioning, cognitive abilities, English skills and deaf students’ language and cochlear implant histories.

The results will help to better focus services for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, making them more efficient and effective, while enhancing educational and employment opportunities as well as physical and emotional health.

NTID President Gerry Buckley said the project fits well with NTID’s continuing research promoting education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

“This is the first study of its kind that will help educators understand how cochlear implants and language skills affect learning so we can optimize student success in academic settings,” Buckley says.

Created nearly 10 years ago, the Center for Education Research Partnerships has received more than $5.5 million in research grants to further its goal: “To change the world through better understanding and improving the education of deaf students.”