[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 30-Apr-2012
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Contact: Michelle Cometa
macuns@rit.edu
585-475-4954
Rochester Institute of Technology

Grant awarded to help improve problem-solving skills for deaf and hard-of-hearing students

Researchers look to transform the approach used to teach essential skills in STEM fields

Researchers have found that differences in the way deaf and hard-of-hearing students learn are multifaceted: from the development and mastery of early language skills in both American Sign Language and spoken languages, to the organization of knowledge and individual learning strategies.

Further understanding of these unique differences and providing solutions to improve learning outcomes, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM fields, is the focus of new research at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The university has received a $198,172 grant from the National Science Foundation for "Integration of Experiential Learning to Develop Problem Solving Skills in Deaf and Hard of Hearing STEM Students."

A multidisciplinary research team will develop a series of classroom and laboratory modules that rely on experiential learning and structured, visual problem-solving approaches. This will immerse students into a context-rich, industry-like environment with hands-on activities in the Toyota Production Systems Laboratory, located in RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering, says Andres Carrano, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and principal investigator of the grant. He is joined on the research team by Wendy Dannels, lecturer in engineering studies at RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and Matt Marshall, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering.

"The project represents a critical step in translating knowledge of deaf education into effective pedagogy," Carrano says. "Using experiential learning and a structured, graphical problem-solving methodology, the modules address the barriers that deaf and hard-of-hearing students face in developing problem-solving skills."

The modules will be part of foundation-level engineering courses required for students pursuing engineering and technology degree programs at NTID. Despite an understanding of how deaf and hard-of-hearing students differ from hearing students in the development and application of problem-solving skills, progress lags in the development of effective pedagogy for educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the STEM fields, Carrano says.

Critical to the development of problem-solving is the fact that deaf and hard-of-hearing students typically bring less content knowledge to the classroom and often fail to comprehend how variables in a complex system are interrelated.

The team will develop the modules this summer, implement the material over a three-year period and assess learning outcomes by the Center for Education Research Partnerships, a center specializing in deaf and hear-of-hearing education based at NTID. Particular emphasis is placed on the concepts of teamwork, problem solving and process improvement by studying the fundamental behavior of production lines.

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About RIT

Rochester Institute of Technology is internationally recognized for academic leadership in computing, engineering, imaging science, sustainability, and fine and applied arts, in addition to unparalleled support services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. RIT enrolls 17,500 full- and part-time students in more than 200 career-oriented and professional programs, and its cooperative education program is one of the oldest and largest in the nation.

For more than two decades, U.S. News & World Report has ranked RIT among the nation's leading comprehensive universities. RIT is featured in The Princeton Review's 2012 edition of The Best 376 Colleges as well as its Guide to 311 Green Colleges. The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2012 names RIT as a "Best Buy," and The Chronicle of Higher Education recognizes RIT among the "Great Colleges to Work For 2011."

About NTID

The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of nine colleges of RIT, was established by Congress in 1965 to provide college opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who were underemployed in technical fields. Today, a record 1,547 students attend NTID; more than 1,350 are deaf or hard of hearing. Others are hearing students enrolled in interpreting or deaf education programs. NTID's Center on Employment assists NTID students with finding co-op and permanent jobs. NTID has consistently placed 90% of its graduates. More than 100 interpreters, tutors, and note-takers support students in and out of the classroom.

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