Research at Gallaudet continues to flourish. Dr. Deanna Gagne of the Department of Linguistics, along with researchers from the University of Maryland at College Park and Howard University, has received a National Science Foundation grant to develop a collaboration between Gallaudet and area universities, and with Planet Word, a new start-up museum here in Washington, D.C. 

According to Dr. Gagne, this project is unique among researcher-museum partnerships. A few language researchers currently work in museums, but they tend to be researchers from a single university establishing a presence at general science museums, where language is an outlier theme. Planet Word’s focus on language makes much closer integration possible. Museum visitors are already curious about language, but might not realize the breadth of fields that language touches. For example, they may bring an interest in language arts, but leave their interaction with our team with a new excitement for language sciences.

The project has four main activities:

Research: Museum visitors (children and adults) will participate in studies as part of a “living language laboratory.” This helps language research by engaging more diverse populations.

Public engagement: Placing research inside a museum allows visitors to see how discoveries are made. The public understands that we are constantly making new discoveries about biology and technology. But it is more surprising to learn that researchers are constantly making new discoveries about language.

Student experiences: Many of the studies will be conducted by students, who will enroll in an innovative course in public-facing research, offered directly at the museum. This will broaden access to research opportunities for students from Gallaudet, Howard, and the University of Maryland. 

Best practices: Partnerships between universities and museums are attractive, but they present daunting challenges for individual researchers and for smaller institutions, including minority-serving institutions and smaller museums. The project will create a network of researchers who together will test models for effective and scalable partnerships. This will broaden participation in research and public access to research.    

Also according to Dr. Gagne, the project broadens participation of underrepresented minority students in the language sciences. The unique public-facing setting for the project can train students in multiple skills that are valuable for their future careers.

The project also engages visitors in activities that expose them to active science about language as a part of their visit to the museum. In doing so, we will raise the profile of linguistics and allied fields among the general public, and promote scientifically informed attitudes about language, as well as more broadly sharing our research findings.

Finally, the project enables collecting kinds of data that are often hard to do in the laboratory, but that are crucial to the field, including more diverse populations and real-world environments.

The project builds infrastructure for research and education by developing best practices for conducting language-based research in institutions such as museums, removing barriers for future researchers to engage in public-facing work.

Grant activities will begin next summer, with preparation work beforehand. The overall grant amount is $439,293; Gallaudet’s portion is $73,236. Congratulations to Dr. Gagne and her fellow researchers!

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