Overview and Mission

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The purpose of the Science of Learning Center at Gallaudet University on “Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2)” is to advance the Science of Learning specifically involving how aspects of human higher cognition are realized through one of our most central senses, vision. We seek to determine the effects of visual processes, visual language, and social experience on the development of cognition, language, reading and literacy for the benefit of all humans. We especially pursue new perspectives on these learning processes through the widened vantage point of studying deaf individuals and sign language as a window into the flexibility and structure of the human mind. We study these learning processes in monolinguals and bilinguals across the lifespan in order to promote optimal practices in education in both formal and informal settings.

We are unique in our focus on the role of visual processes, visual language, and social experience underlying learning involving core content areas at the heart of human higher cognition.  These areas are vital ingredients for achieving productive, successful lives for all humans, and include: visual and cognitive systems, language (embracing monolingual and bilingual contexts), and reading and literacy. The uniqueness of our purpose is threefold. First, great scientific focus has been on lower level visual processing and its role in, for example, object and face recognition. Here we seek to contribute new knowledge about learning through the visual medium and its role in building core content knowledge central to higher cognition. Second, much scientific focus has traditionally examined the role of the ears and auditory processes in building abstract linguistic representations underlying language learning and reading. Here we seek to contribute new knowledge about visual processing and its role in building these core linguistic representations. Third, our strongest revolution in purpose derives from the strength and depth of the involvement of and collaboration with deaf individuals in this research endeavor – individuals who rely significantly on vision and who effortlessly acquire naturally occurring visual languages (signed languages), and who learn how to read and write fluently without prior mastery of the spoken form of written languages.  The formal properties of visual languages, the enabling learning contexts, and the multiple pathways used to derive meaning from visual languages and print, have yet to be fully understood. Hence, a better understanding of visual language and visual learning is essential for enhancing educational, social, and vocational outcomes for all humans, deaf and hearing individuals alike, consequently transforming the science of learning.

VL2 Mission

The Center’s primary mission is to improve learning through an understanding of the behavioral and brain mechanisms of learning primarily through vision and visual processes, with our scientific questions being motivated and informed by an exciting balance of advances and questions in science and advances and questions in learning and social environments.  Our mission is to create a science of learning using a two-way discovery model in which practitioners and scientists exchange ideas freely and mutually identify core questions in educational and social practice that would be fundamentally advanced with knowledge from the behavioral and brain sciences.

The mission involves the advancement of three overarching, mutually interacting, and complementary groups involving affiliated researchers, translation experts, and a Center-wide commitment to the education of students. The goal of our affiliated researchers conducting behavioral and/or brain science studies in Strategic Focus Areas 1, 2, and 3 is to advance fundamental knowledge in the cognitive and educational neurosciences (Petitto, 2009). Here, the focus is on three scientific areas (i) visual and cognitive plasticity, (ii) language development and bilingualism, and (iii) reading and literacy. The goal of our translation experts (and our translational products and tools) in our Strategic Focus Area 4 (Translation in Education: Translational Products, Tools, and Dissemination) is to build meaningful integration between discoveries in our science labs and translation, and to do so in a manner that facilitates two-way mutual growth spanning the lab to classroom and classroom to lab. Rising up from this richly integrated two-way endeavor between our science and translation, we further seek to advance the creation of principled and meaningful translational products and learning tools, as well as the dissemination of vital information, which will contribute to the advancement of the science and society, especially regarding educational innovations for young visual learners. In this SFA 4, there are innovative translational products, tools, and public and educational services, and key personnel to ensure vital translation and wide scale two-way communication and dissemination of information. The goal of our Strategic Focus Area 5 (Student Education and Training for the Next Generation) is to develop a great expanse of creative and exciting innovations and opportunities for the education and training of students who will comprise the next generation of scientists, professional practitioners, and educators.

The Center’s successful achievement of its mission depends on synergistic interactions and collaborations among its researchers, translation team, and students. The intimate and extensive contact that we have initiated permits each to maximize their beneficial contributions to the advancement of the science of learning. Our Center is committed to the mission of continuing and expanding this fruitful marriage between advances in the science of visual language and visual learning and the principled application of its fruits towards resolving looming problems in contemporary education in a manner commensurate with the exciting goals of today’s Educational Neuroscience (Petitto, 2009).

Our ultimate mission, of course, is to improve the education and lives of all visual learners. Be they deaf or hearing, we hope to benefit the lives of the young visual learner learning language and learning to read, the teacher trying to create new teaching strategies for visual learners, the parents of visual learners, the schools that seek to build programs for visual learners. Crucially, we also wish to highlight the unique and distinct gifts and needs of being a visual learner, especially young deaf children learning natural signed languages.