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Johns Hopkins engineers receive seed grants to further our understanding of how humans learn

September 14, 2017

The Science of Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins University will support six new interdisciplinary projects with two-year seed grants.

This is the fifth round of seed grants for the institute, which launched in 2013 to foster better understanding of all levels of learning.

“Our latest round of grants continues to showcase the highly innovative and intensely cross-disciplinary collaborations that have become the hallmark of our Science of Learning grant program,” said Barbara Landau, the institute’s director. “These collaborations come from partnerships between psychology and philosophy, public health and brain sciences, engineering and medicine, among others. As a whole, the grants beautifully illustrate the importance of funding superb basic science as the foundation for translation.”

Projects with ties to the Whiting School of Engineering include:

Can technology enable effective and efficient learning of surgical technical skills?

Gregory Hager, a professor of computer science in the Whiting School, will lead a research study that examines the practicality of providing novice surgeons with expert-level coaching through virtual reality. The work brings together scientific principles relating to peer learning in adults, machine learning, and surgical skill assessment to make virtual reality-based surgical training more effective and efficient than conventional training, thereby reducing the time it takes to get surgical trainees operating room-ready.

Other investigators include Anand Malpani, an assistant research scientist at the Malone Center for Engineering in HealthcareGina Adrales, chief of the Division of Minimally Invasive Surgery; Swaroop Vedula, assistant research professor at the Malone Center; Bethany Sacks, assistant professor of surgery in the School of Medicine; and Christina Harnett and Linda Tsantis, who are both associate professors in the School of Education.

How can we characterize individual differences in learning behaviors as a function of motivation?

The project—led by principal investigator Sridevi Sarma, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering—addresses fundamental questions of cognitive neuroscience regarding the interactions among motivation, attention, learning, working memory, and cognitive control—areas which are often studied in isolation. Understanding the mechanisms underlying these relationships could help improve educational practices and public policies, and help develop automated tools for individualized classroom or computer-based learning. Sarma will be joined in her research by Susan Courtney, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the Krieger School.

View the full list of seed grant recipients at The Hub.

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