The Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University brings together deaf and hearing researchers and educators from a variety of settings. The Center advances the science of learning by investigating how humans acquire and use language and develop literacy when audition is not an available mode for learning. Scientists from different disciplines explore collaboratively how deaf individuals learn to read and investigate how visually based learning strategies can be extended to general educational practice. Current theories on language acquisition and literacy development assume a central role for speech and audition. The role of visual learning in this process has been neglected, yet deaf people effortlessly acquire visual languages (signed language) and are able to learn how to read and write fluently. The activities of VL2 seek to explicate how these activities occur.
Gallaudet University, under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Allen, is the hub of VL2. Gallaudet has instructed deaf students using visual language since it was founded in 1864. Gallaudet has on its faculty the largest number of deaf scholars working in different disciplines and produces the largest number of deaf PhDs relative to any other institution. Its teacher-training program prepares teachers for working in visually-based classrooms. Drs. Guinevere Eden (Georgetown U) and David Corina (U of California, Davis) serve as Science Directors for VL2. Dr. Eden's prior work has focused on characterizing visual processing in individuals with and without dyslexia using fMRI and extending this approach to other sensory domains. Dr. Corina's research has focused on understanding the neural bases of higher cognitive function, specifically language and memory, and he has conducted numerous studies that compare language processing in deaf users of American Sign Language and hearing users of spoken language. Partnerships among Gallaudet University and three Centers contribute to its success: The Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging at Georgetown University, the Computational Biomedicine Imaging and Modeling Lab at Rutgers University, and the Center for ASL-English Bilingual Education and Research, a network of schools and teacher training activities.
VL2 researchers and partners are organized around three disciplinary perspectives: 1. Language and the Brain seeks to understand underlying neurological mechanisms of visual languages; 2. Language Structure and the Visual Modality focuses on studies of language structure and cognitive processing for a wide variety of visual symbol systems; and 3. Developmental and Sociocultural Processes of Visual Learning examines learning environments for visual learners in natural settings. Research projects are organized around three research initiatives and are comprised of collaborative teams from multiple disciplinary perspectives: 1. Visual Language Acquisition seeks to chart the course of development for individuals who acquire a visual language as their first language; 2. Literacy Development explicates the varied means by which profoundly deaf individuals may achieve excellence in reading; and 3. Inter-Language and Inter-Modal Language Mapping seeks to understand optimal methods for mapping visual linguistic and visual knowledge domains.
VL2 allows deaf scientists to contribute significantly to knowledge about language. Their input to the scientific study of language development, given their own unique linguistic histories, is of inestimable value to the creation of new knowledge. The Center fellowships and assistantships contribute to the training of deaf scholars and scholars from other minority backgrounds to remediate their under-representation among researchers and teachers. The work of international scholars helps establish cross-cultural linguistic and educational principles. Novel paradigms that incorporate a visual basis for reading development and print-literacy are tested and evaluated throughout the Center work, and will lead to the development of educational principles and methods that are well-designed for the needs of visual learners. The collaborative teaming of researchers from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, and a strong connection to networks of teachers and schools help to ensure that VL2 will transform both knowledge and practice.
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