NSF funds science of learning center at Dartmouth


Center for Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience will study the mechanisms of human learning across contexts

ARLINGTON, Va.--The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $21.8 million to Dartmouth College to establish the Center for Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience (CCEN). The CCEN comprises a multidisciplinary team that includes cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and education to explore how the human brain's learning processes interact with educational experiences across the lifespan.

The CCEN team will address such complex questions as:

  • What are the "windows" for learning as a child develops?
  • How do social, emotional and cultural factors influence learning?
  • Why are some things hard to learn?
  • What factors contribute to the successful transfer of learning from one field of knowledge to another?

"Questions like these call for the kind of integrated, interdisciplinary work fostered by a Science of Learning Center," said Soo-Siang Lim, lead program officer for the NSF's Science of Learning initiative. "With the Dartmouth center and the other three centers at University of Washington, Boston University, and Carnegie Mellon University, NSF is poised to see breakthrough research in fundamental questions about how people learn."

Lynne E. Bernstein, the SLC technical coordinator for the Dartmouth center, added, "CCEN is coordinating research in four content areas language, science, reading, and math with close partnerships in education research and classrooms. Advanced methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will be used to identify the brain mechanisms involved as people learn in these basic content areas."

Integrative research will begin in the four content areas as the center begins operation on April 1. Researchers in the area of language will emphasize bilingualism. Bilingual students pose educational challenges that need to be understood and met as such students become more numerous in classrooms. In the science content area, research will focus on how scientific knowledge is stored, and what brain sites are activated when students demonstrate misconceptions in physics, chemistry and biology. In reading, scientists will explore how brain imaging can contribute to knowledge of deficits, such as dyslexia, and provide a basis for designing interventions for poor readers. The goal of research into numeracy and math is to understand how cognitive problems in these areas develop over time; data will be collected from the same group of children and adults for four years. Fundamental learning processes will be investigated, including the process by which learning is transferred across domains. Research will also focus on how brain organization interacts with learning complex skills.

CCEN has established institutional partnerships that address the needs of various types of students. In addition, CCEN is partnering with the Montshire Museum of Science, which has developed expertise in providing services to rural areas, to provide workshops to schools, students, and teachers in these often underserved and under-resourced areas. The center will also develop a Native American Living Cultures Archive and explore cross-cultural questions in education; this work will be performed in partnership with Dartmouth's Native American Studies Program and the college's library.

"We want to build bridges between the researchers who study brain activity involved in learning and the teachers who need a deeper understanding of learning processes," says Michael Gazzaniga, CCEN director. "Our goal is to carry out basic research on how people learn and to connect scientists with the practitioners to effect meaningful change in the lives of students"

The Science of Learning initiative is now conducting its second competition for both centers and catalyst research.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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