Study weighs impact of various masks on learning


UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — A Speech and Hearing professor has released the results of a study on the best mask for “speech intelligibility” in the classroom.

Speech intelligibility is defined as the rating of the proportion of speech that is understood.

Dr. Pasquale Bottalico set out to find out how face masks, which are required in many schools around the world currently, impact learning. He found overall, the masks can have a negative impact on both ends of a conversation, with listeners struggling more to understand what is being said, and speakers having to work harder to clearly communicate.

The college students who participated in the study had to listen to dozens of words in a classroom environment, which often contains a fair amount of background noise.

Ultimately, the study revealed fabric masks are the least conducive to learning.

“Right now, pretty much everyone is trying to use fabric mask,” Bottalico acknowledged. “I think mainly in teaching environment, we should be aware of the fact that we should use surgical or N-95 masks in order to maintain a decent level or to have a minimal impact on intelligibility.”

Bottalico said the first step in learning a new subject is communication.

“If the students are not able to understand correctly the words that are taught in the classroom, definitely the learning process cannot start,” he said.

The study focused on college students, but Bottalico said he planned to expand the focus to also include younger children and students with cochlear implants.

“They are also losing, you know, the visual cue of the movement of the lips,” he said. “So also for that population, I’m very interested to understand how much they are losing in terms of intelligibility by losing the visual cues and also the high frequency component.”

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