Ohio State has taken language learning outside the classroom with the opening of a new lab at COSI in downtown Columbus.
Laura Wagner, an associate professor in the department of psychology and steering committee chair of the Buckeye Language Network, said research that will be done at the lab is mostly in the field of children’s language development, which makes COSI, a hands-on science center, an ideal place to work.
“This is pretty serious, cutting-edge science museum stuff,” said Wagner, who has been collecting data at COSI for several years. “It’s like we drown in data. There’s so many people who come here and everybody wants to do it.”
The lab, which opened last month, focuses on “four research stations, each targeting a different area of language research: language production, online language processing, language judgments and language acquisition,” according to an OSU Arts and Sciences website.
Wagner said they perform specific tests like eye tests, and tests to determine how fast individuals process language.
Katie Bauer, a fourth-year in linguistics and student employee with the Buckeye Language Network, said the results of the research are very useful.
“It’s handy because you’ve got people of all kinds here so you can get a diverse population,” she said.
Bauer is one of many students involved with the lab’s focus on education. These students, clad in white lab coats and armed with iPads, offer science demonstrations at the center with the help of mobile apps.
“I have an iPad that I carry around in my (lab coat) pocket, and there’s a bunch of stuff on it that we can do that teaches people about linguistics,” Bauer said.
One such app is used to measure speech and visually represent what a person is saying.
Short demonstrations are not only used to educate COSI visitors but to entice them to take part in experiments.
“One of our biggest goals here is science outreach, showing the community what real science looks like when it’s going, getting them as involved as they want to be in that,” said Mike Phelan, a graduate research assistant and OSU Ph. D. candidate in linguistics .
To encourage student participation, Wagner is teaching a course on engaging science outreach at OSU.
“It’s officially a course about outreach and science education,” Wagner said. “The focus of the course is to teach people how to talk to visitors at COSI about science.”
The three-credit course is listed as Psychology 5700, but will be cross-listed with other departments in the future. While it won’t be offered this spring, Wagner expects it will be available next year.
As of now, the only prerequisite is permission from the instructor, but Wagner urged students to consider their other time commitments before signing up for the course.
“If you have no interest in language, don’t take it because you’ll hate it,” Wagner said. “If you are so shy you are unwilling to talk to a visitor at COSI, don’t take it. And if you’re so busy you can’t commit to the hours then you can’t be in the class either.”
COSI is closed for cleaning until Sept. 24, but the language lab will be conducting experiments when it reopens.