Embodiment Awareness, Mathematics Discourse, And The Blind

Start Date: 10/01/2004
End Date: 09/01/2009

When we speak, our embodied behavior of gesture, gaze, posture, and facial expression are brought into the service of the communicative process. This research is grounded in psycholinguistic theories of multimodal human communication. One path from multimodal behavior to language is bridged by the underlying mental imagery. This spatial imagery, for a speaker, relates not to the elements of syntax, but to the units of thought that drive the expression (vocal utterance and visible display). Gestures reveal the focal points of the accompanying utterances, and relate to the meaning of the newsworthy elements of the unfolding discourse. This is the underlying premise of the current project, in which the PI will focus on math discourse and education for blind students.

Mathematical reasoning is rich in spatial imagery that is revealed in gesture. Furthermore, gesture has the capacity to create images of the math concepts that serve as "objects of contemplation." When a graphic/illustration is available for math instruction, the discourse stream is typically situated with gestures of spatial reference into the graphic. Research with individuals who are blind suggests that they have remarkable capacity for visual imagery, memory, and conceptualization. However, students who are blind tend to lag behind sighted students in mathematics education. The PI posits that a significant impediment to math instruction for students who are blind lies in the lack of visual access to the embodiment of the instructor. He notes that we have, in such students, a population that is able to access graphical content (through tactile image technology), but is not visually aware of the embodied behavior of the interlocutor. He proposes to remedy this problem by affording blind students a sense of embodiment awareness, with the help of augmentative communication approaches that employ tactile devices to provide elements of embodiment awareness. To this end, the PI will perform a series of "perception and action" experiments to assess the efficacy of such devices, followed by a second series of experiments with blind and sighted students in mathematics instruction, to be captured on video, and with pre- and post- tests, to assess the quality and quantity of imagistic content both conveyed by the teacher and by the student in the course of the instruction, and to determine the correlation, if any, between these and the formation of math conceptualization.

Grant Institution: National Science Foundation

Amount: $712,100

People associated with this grant:

Francis Quek