Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will create and test a solution that addresses the academic language barrier in physics by producing a series of short, conceptually accurate signed videos.
Each video is focused on a singular physics concept. The team will vet and share signs for technical vocabulary. The project is funded by a $295,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Research revealed that people who learn English as a second language, including deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math fields because of academic language abilities required to compete in those disciplines.
“Participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in STEM fields is limited due to the presence of significant academic language barriers,” said 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 the meaning of the concept being taught. At the same time, most interpreter training is focused on acquiring ASL. 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 first will 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 accessible and 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.