Interactive Learning Environment for Optimizing Technology Use

Overview. The goal of this project is to develop a prototype training/counseling program to simulate a variety of real-life listening situations so that a person can experience both the benefits and limitations of their hearing devices, and develop realistic auditory rehabilitation goals and expectations. To accomplish this, the training program utilizes an interactive learning environment, consisting of realistic soundscapes covering a variety of listening situations with varying degrees of difficulty, and which change in realistic ways in response to user input. The program is based on self-directed exploration of the relationship between (i) acoustic factors that affect hearing/sound processing, and (ii) technological solutions and communication strategies that are aimed at improving sound detection, speech comprehension and the overall listening experience. It aims to provide an implicit learning alternative to the prevailing paradigm of supervised learning. Realistic simulations of real-life listening situations allow a self-structured direct experience that neither auditory training nor informational counseling provide. Such an individualized and interactive process is expected to lead to greater transfer of acquired skills, promote more realistic expectations and ensure that the aural rehabilitation goals are challenging yet attainable for the user.

Facilities. Acoustically treated room with audio-visual hardware, which includes digital audio synthesis system Kyma (Symbolic Sound Inc.), an array of eight loudspeakers based on the R-SpaceTM Real-World Sound System, WXGA video projector (Epson 575W), acoustically transparent 100" screen (Elite), Oculus Rift, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi 128 GB.

People. The laboratory is directed by Dragana Barac-Cikoja, Ph.D., and is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90RE5020) for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Improving the Accessibility, Usability and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Collaborators include Linda Kozma-Spytek (Gallaudet University), co-investigator on the RERC project; Kevin Cole (NOVA Web Development), software developer; Carla Scaletti (Symbolic Sound Corporation), Kyma algorithms developer; Stephen Julstrom (Julstrom Consulting and Development), audio recording and reproduction engineer. Andrea Kottlowski, Ashleigh Collis, and Kelsey Uguccioni (AuD students at Gallaudet) are research assistants.