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No longer lost in translation: Videos depicting complex scientific concepts break barriers for deaf STEM students

4 Apr

On the left, a light skinned male in suit and tie, at right a light skinned female with long red hair in black sleeveless dress

Research has revealed that people who learn English as a second language, including deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, are underrepresented in STEM fields because of academic language abilities required to compete in those disciplines. A new project at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is helping to break down those obstacles specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

Researchers at RIT/NTID will create and test a solution that addresses the academic language barrier in physics by producing a comprehensive series of short, conceptually accurate, signed videos, each of which is focused on a singular physics concept. As part of this process, the team will vet and share conceptually accurate signs for technical vocabulary. The project is funded by a $295,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

“Participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in STEM fields is limited due to the presence of significant academic language barriers,” confirmed principal investigator Jason Nordhaus, a theoretical astrophysicist and assistant professor at RIT/NTID. “In the college classroom, American Sign Language interpreters must choose the correct signs to indicate meaning of the concept being taught. At the same time, most interpreter training is focused on acquiring American Sign Language. It is rare for interpreters to be an expert in the language and STEM concepts. However, being experts in both is necessary to properly translate. Compounding the issue is a lack of conceptually accurate technical signs in STEM disciplines. Quite literally, information is lost in translation.”

Conceptual understanding will first be measured in RIT physics classrooms and then at two external partner universities. The result of the project will be a sustainable online repository where the videos are freely accessible and will be shared with national interpreting organizations and universities that have interpreter training programs.

“It is our hope that this project results in a template that can be repeated for any discipline, thereby permanently eliminating the academic language barrier and increasing deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals’ engagement in STEM disciplines,” said co-investigator Jessica Trussell, assistant professor in the Master of Science in Secondary Education for Students who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing teacher preparation program at RIT/NTID.

Nordhaus is committed to increasing the participation of deaf individuals in physics and routinely involves deaf students in research work, including 11 undergraduate students and one doctoral student, thus far. He serves on, and is a founding member of, the executive committee for the American Astronomical Society’s Working Group on Accessibility and Disability.

Trussell, a member of RIT/NTID’s Center for Education Research Partnerships, has 12 years of experience teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students from preschool age to adulthood. Her goal is to grow the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing people entering STEM fields by enhancing their discipline-based reading and writing skills.

New York backs RIT’s life science initiative to upgrade Genomics Research Lab Cluster

3 Jan

A tan-skinned female w/white lab coat and safety goggles holds two discs while dark-skinned male in coat and goggles looks on.

Rochester Institute of Technology has received $1.5 million from New York state to equip its Genomics Research Lab Cluster, a suite of laboratories aimed at expanding industrial partnerships, commercialization and entrepreneurship activities, talent development and academic programs in the life sciences.

The funding was included in the $86.5 million awarded to the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. The award is part of the eighth annual round in which 10 regional councils competed for $763 million in state funding.

The $1.5 million in Empire State Development grant to upgrade RIT’s Genomics Research Lab Cluster will support and strengthen the growing life sciences industry sector in the Finger Lakes region by enabling RIT to expand its research, technology transfer and talent development capabilities in this field.

“We are thankful to the Council and Governor Andrew Cuomo for this significant support and for recognizing the contribution that the Genomics Lab Cluster will make to the state’s assets in the life sciences,” said RIT President David Munson. “Research and tech transfer in the life sciences represent a significant segment of the regional and state economy, spanning applications in multiple medical, energy, environmental and agricultural fields.”

The grant will help increase faculty research in the life sciences and enrollment capacity in RIT’s life sciences academic degree programs, producing graduates skilled in genomic data acquisition and analytics. The state award will support RIT’s $10 million investment in life sciences equipment. Matching funds will come from a combination of RIT resources and industry funding.

Access to sophisticated analytical and modeling tools will enhance research addressing antibiotic resistant bacterial strains and regional agricultural challenges related to crop development and production techniques and remediation of contaminated soil and water. The Genomics Research Lab Cluster will also promote on-site research collaborations with industrial partners. 

The lab cluster will occupy 8,000 square feet within the Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences in Gosnell Hall on the RIT campus.

RIT officially opens new MAGIC Spell Studios building

30 Oct

Night shot of two-story brick building with front sign that reads

Rochester Institute of Technology opened the newest building on campus—the 52,000-square-foot MAGIC Spell Studios. The building brings together RIT’s academic strengths in game design and development, film and animation, and digital media. The new facility—the only one of its kind in the Northeast—boasts the latest in technology and design, rivaling media production studios in New York City and Hollywood. More.

Imagine RIT highlights academic and artistic creativity

30 Apr

Two young females display their names in American Sign Language.

Tens of thousands of visitors came to Rochester Institute of Technology on April 28 to see the latest in technology, the arts and design. This year the festival featured a record 438 exhibits. More.

Researchers at NTID demonstrate accessible rower at Imagine RIT festival

24 Apr

Male student with beard and glasses writes on a clipboard while working on rowing skull.

As part of Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, researchers at NTID’s Center on Access Technology will demonstrate an accessible rower that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing rowers to follow verbal coxswain instructions during competitions. Festival visitors can sit in a canoe and test their reflex response times by using a game pad to reply to visual cues displayed on a smartphone.       

The idea for the accessible rower came about in 2016, with the addition of a deaf rower to the RIT men’s rowing team roster, with the possibility of other deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes joining the squad. In rowing competitions, rowers are required to follow commands from the coxswain, who determines the speed of the boat.

According to Wendy Dannels, a research faculty member in NTID’s Center on Access Technology and one of the project coordinators, the solution provides a visual display showing transcription and/or illustration of the coxswain’s commands. The application was developed to help the athletes synchronize with the coxswain by using a custom Automatic Speech Recognition engine. The engine is offline so the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes can utilize the technology without internet connection.

In addition to Dannels, project team members are Steven McClusky, a fourth-year software engineering student from Blue Springs, Mo.; Joseph Stanislow, instructional/support faculty member, NTID Information and Computing Studies; and Brian Trager, associate director of the NTID Center on Access Technology.