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Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center

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NSF Award:

Temporal Dynamics of Learning  (University of California-San Diego)

Research Focus

How do humans learn, and how is the element of time critical for learning? The Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC), headquartered at UC San Diego (UCSD), aims to find out. Founded in 2006, the center's interdisciplinary team of scientists and educators includes over 40 individuals at 17 partner research institutions in three countries and several San Diego schools.

TDLC investigators believe that part of the current crisis in education is a lack of scientific understanding of how the brain learns, and the lack of translation of this scientific understanding to the classroom. They seek to understand the role of time and timing in learning, on time scales ranging from milliseconds (the time scale at which brain cells connect) to years (the time scale of learning to be an expert). The ultimate goal -- gaining a better understanding of how we learn – could lead to improved educational practices and technologies that would give children a better chance of success in school, and ultimately in life.

The center's projects are diverse and cutting-edge. Researchers delve into topics that include: How does our brain change as we become experts, and can we train kids with autism to become "face experts" to improve their social skills? Can robots be endowed with the ability to "read" a student's facial expressions, to improve intelligent tutoring systems? What are the best interventions for children struggling with English language and reading skills? How does musical training affect brain development, and can music interventions improve language and cognitive development? Answers to these questions and more could have far-reaching consequences.

Research Outcomes

In addition to asking important questions, TDLC investigators are beginning to answer them:

  • Investigators at Rutgers University have discovered that they can predict later language difficulties by measuring babies' brain waves

  • At UCSD, researchers are investigating ways in which brain-computer interfaces (BCI)—which process brain waves to command computers and other external devices like artificial limbs—can assist people with injuries or diseases affecting their ability to move and communicate. For example, they found possible ways in which BCI might assist Parkinson's Disease patients with walking.

  • At the University of Victoria, British Columbia, scientists developed the Let's Face It! Program to train autistic children to recognize facial expressions, and the program has been shown to be successful in controlled studies.

Education & Outreach

The Center's researchers strive to ensure that their work will be relevant to the real world of the classroom. TDLC meets regularly with star teachers and administrators from around San Diego County. They are planning a book to describe the teaching practices they have found to be effective. In addition the Center sponsors the following student and educator opportunities:

Student Opportunities:

  • Laboratory assistantships and other student positions -

  • San Diego Fellowship Program - awards two fellowships annually for UCSD graduate students -

  • Small Grants to TDLC Fellows and Trainees for research/activities related to Center initiatives -

  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site - NSF funded award to give 8-12 undergraduate students per year the opportunity to train in TDLC specific research areas, including machine learning, cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience.

Educator Opportunities:

  • The Educator Network - a network that designed to join educators and TDLC scientists in conversations about teaching and learning especially as it relates to timing.

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  • Test subject at computer
Researchers aim to create an innovative, non-invasive approach for rehabilitation of Parkinson's disease patients.
Howard Poizner, Institute for Neural Computation, University of California, San Diego