Human technology, such as smart voice assistants or computer-based intelligent tutoring systems, has become crucial to people’s private lives, education, and the workforce. This technology is largely based on standard American English and the misconception that there is a single, idealized variety of American English, which conflicts with the true diversity of language users. Many U.S. speakers use a regional variety of American English, African American Vernacular English, or a signed language, use a language other than English at home, or have some form of communication disorder. As the US population is becoming older, age-related hearing loss and language impairments will also increase. The linguistic sophistication of technology has not kept pace with the growing linguistic diversity within the U.S., even though that technology is intended to improve the lives of humans and society at large, and people increasingly depend on technology for access to governmental, community, health and educational services. To address the discrepancy, this National Science Foundation Research Traineeship award to the Pennsylvania State University will educate a new generation of experts in human-technology interaction. The traineeship anticipates providing a unique and comprehensive two-year training to 48 graduate students, including 23 funded trainees, from graduate programs in Psychology, German, Spanish, Communication Science and Disorders, Computer Science and Engineering, Information Sciences and Technology, and Learning Design and Technology, to address key challenges in human-technology interaction to ensure the full participation of individuals with diverse language backgrounds, thereby fostering an equal, diverse, and inclusive society.
By applying the principles of integrated learning and transdisciplinary team science, students will be trained to bridge the gap between language science and technology, and think beyond disciplinary boundaries—an approach that has been evidenced as the optimal way to prepare the next generation for the future of work. In a two-year program culminating in the new graduate certificate ‘Linguistic Diversity and Technology’, trainees will complete cross-disciplinary courses, a course on professional development in language and technology, and work on transdisciplinary team research projects that address a tractable goal and produce a clear product, such as a design project, pilot application, or research study focused on integrating language science and human-technology interaction. Trainees also will participate in collective seminars, research events, and mentoring, and in a linguistic diversity outreach program. They will complete the program with an internship with academic and private sector extramural partners to support careers bridging linguistics and technology, both inside and outside academia, in national and international settings. Trained to work in diverse teams, trainees will be competent in creating knowledge and translating research outcomes into technological solutions that alleviate social, educational, and economic disparities for linguistically diverse populations.