Beatsville, Musical about Greenwich Village in 1959, Will Have a Workshop at Steinhardt, Mar. 26 – 29

Beatsville, a bebop-inflected musical about the beatnik generation, will be presented by NYU Steinhardt’s Program in Vocal Performance in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, March 26-29. The show features music & lyrics by Wendy Leigh Wilf and book by Glenn Slater. John Simpkins directs.

Beatsville takes place in Greenwich Village, 1959—playground of goateed artists, turtlenecked poets, and bongo-playing jazzbos. When hopelessly square Walter Paisley accidentally kills a cat and hides it in a lump of clay, the beatniks declare “Dead Cat” a masterpiece, and Walter a genius. More “sculptures” bring more acclaim—but will the world discover that Walter’s body of work consists of actual bodies?

Beatsville is part of an annual project that pairs a new and developing musical with NYU Steinhardt. “We are particularly excited about working with Wendy and Glenn,” said Director John Simpkins. “This piece has one of the most unique sounds of the new musical theatre landscape and we are thrilled to help give it a first ever staging.”

Glenn Slater is one of the co-creators of Tangled, Sister Act, The Little Mermaid, Home on the Range, Leap of Faith, and Love Never Dies. Wendy Leigh Wilf is a composer, lyricist, and jazz musician whose music has been performed in New York, The Berkshires, and at the William Inge Festival – where she was also Artist-in-Residence.

NYU’s production of Beatsville runs March 26-28 at 8 p.m. and March 28 & 29 at 3 p.m. at the Provincetown Playhouse at 133 MacDougal Street, between Washington Square South and W. 3rd Street.. Tickets are $15 general admission and $5 for students/senior citizens/ NYU faculty/staff/alumni. For tickets, contact NYU Box Office at, (212) 998-4941, or in person at 566 LaGuardia Place (at Washington Square South).

Beatsville features choreography by Richard Stafford, music direction by Eric Kang, scenic design by Josh Smith, lighting design by Chris Dallos, costume design by Michelle Eden Humphrey, and sound design by Kumi Ishizawa. The production stage manager is Ashley Rodbro. The cast features NYU Steinhardt students Kelsey Andridge, Catherine Ang, Aaron Banes, Hayley Biegel, Joe Conceison, Emma Davis, Josh Greenblatt, Naree Ketudat, Lauren Krauss, Brandon Nase, Javi Romero, Nikhil Saboo, and Jake Satterfield.

Beatsville is the 15th annual new musical that has been workshopped at NYU Steinhardt. Past projects have included writers Joe Iconis, Rachel Sheinkin, Joshua Salzman, Ryan Cunningham, David Kirshenbaum, Gaby Alter, Tommy Newman, Daniel Goldfarb, Kate Thomas, and Joey Contreras. Shows have gone on to further development and productions at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Barrington Stage Company, Theatre Under the Stars, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Sharon Playhouse, and the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).


Program in Vocal Performance to Present Cendrillon, Opera Story of Cinderella, April 2 – 5

NYU Steinhardt’s Program in Vocal Performance will present Cendrillon, Jules Massenet’s opera of the story of Cinderella, April 2–5, 2015. The libretto is by Herbert Cain, based on Charles Perrault’s 17th-century version of the fairy tale. Dallett Norris is the stage director and Christopher Zemliauskas is the music director.

The wicked stepmother, evil stepsisters, fairy godmother, charming prince, midnight curfew, and glass slipper of Cinderella are familiar to everyone. While all of these elements are present in the opera, Massenet and his librettist have emphasized the human elements, adding poignancy to the tale. This production offers a fresh perspective on the story by setting the action in Monte Carlo in the mid-1950s.

NYU’s production of Cendrillon runs April 2–4 at 8 p.m. and April 5 at 3 p.m. at the Frederick Loewe Theatre (35 West 4th Street). Tickets are $20 general admission and $5 for students and seniors. For tickets, contact NYU Box Office at, call the box office at 212-998-4941, or visit in person at 566 LaGuardia Place (at Washington Square South).

Cendrillon features scenic design by Brittany Vasta, lighting design by Jimmy Lawlor III, costume design by Karen Kinsley, and props by Nelly Reyes. The production stage manager is Brae Singleton. The cast features NYU Steinhardt students Raphael Anastasiadis, Eric Balboni, Lauren Barachi, Valentine Baron, William Baugh, Rebecca Blackwell, Aaron Cooker, Chase Cornet, Brady DelVecchio, Caitlin Duckworth, Will Evans, Jack Flatley, Victoria Graves, Jacklyn Grigg, Madeline Judge, Michael King, Lauren Langbaum, Alyssa LeClair, Molly Leonard, Emma Goldberg Liu, Xi Lyu, Jasmine Marshall, Ashley McHugh, Stephanie Meadowcroft, Sarah Merten, Juliet Morris, Brittney Mruczek, Maria Palombo, Mary Rice, Chad Schultze, Paul Speiser, Reka Szakars, Natalie Tyson, Joseph Valle-Hoag, Geddy Warner, Ashley West, and Katarina Wilson.


NYU Launches Prison Education Program Backed by Ford Foundation Grant

New York University has launched an initiative to bring college education to incarcerated individuals at the Wallkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in New York State’s Ulster County.

Backed by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, NYU’s Prison Education Program (PEP) offers credit-bearing, university courses that will enable students to earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree from the university.

“By expanding access to a university education to incarcerated students, the NYU Prison Education Program aims to help redress inequities that result from the fact that the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world–over two million–the great majority of whom are poor, African American, and Latino,” explains Nikhil Pal Singh, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and faculty director of PEP.

“NYU PEP strives to link NYU more deeply to the diverse communities of New York City and to offer an example of how a university can serve its community while advancing new models for education and citizenship,” adds Bryonn Bain, a visiting professor and artist-in-residence at NYU’s Gallatin of Individualized Study and PEP’s director for public affairs.

“Supporting high quality, postsecondary education programs in prisons is vitally important and will contribute in many ways to renewing communities, strengthening families and breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” says Douglas E. Wood, program officer at the Ford Foundation on Higher Education for Social Justice.

“I’m extremely grateful to both the Ford Foundation and New York University for investing and establishing a college program at DOCCS,” Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci says. “This private partnership will undoubtedly give inmates a second chance, future opportunities, and help break the cycle of re-incarceration. Since the central goals of replicating college behind bars are to prepare more inmates to be employable, to support their families, and to lead law-abiding lives both in their communities and behind the walls, the Ford Foundation and NYU have taken DOCCS one step closer to achieving these goals.”

Beginning in the Spring 2015 semester, 36 men will take one of two NYU classes taught at the Wallkill facility, with up to three additional courses offered during the summer of 2015. Classes will be taught by NYU faculty and offer both intensive liberal arts study and introductory courses from NYU’s professional schools.

Once released from prison, students enrolled in NYU PEP may seek to continue their college education at NYU or by transferring credits to another institution. This initiative will also include providing educational and employment counseling, community support for families, and other services such as legal assistance to address human rights, housing, and employment issues. The program is also working with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions (CNUS), one of the nation’s leading community-based organizations addressing post-prison release issues.

This semester, George Shulman, a professor in NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and Bain will co-teach “Critical Perspectives on Justice through Creative Writing”; Toral Gajarawala, associate professor of English in NYU’s Faculty of Arts and Science, will teach “Literary Analysis and the Politics of Interpretation”.

The leadership for this initiative arose from faculty and deans in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

“NYU faculty and staff have worked for several years to develop this program driven by the belief that the university has a special obligation to provide educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals,” says Gallatin Dean Susanne Wofford. “We’re delighted that the Ford Foundation has generously supported the university in this effort.”

“We at NYU are thrilled to be working to serve the people of New York State in this important way,” adds CAS Dean Gabrielle Starr. “Our program will offer New Yorkers a strong foundation for a new life, and helps to offer families, communities, and individuals a safer, better, and more productive future.”

NYU PEP is being coordinated with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and overseen by a steering committee composed of faculty from several NYU Schools: the College of Arts and Science, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the Silver School of Social Work, and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. CNUS, the Program’s community partner, is a nonprofit founded and developed by formerly incarcerated professionals.

(Photo:  NYU has launched an initiative to bring college education to incarcerated individuals at the Wallkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in New York State’s Ulster County. Backed by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, NYU’s Prison Education Program (PEP) offers credit-bearing, university courses that will enable students to earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree from the university. ©iStock/demachi)

Study Finds A Summer Entrepreneurship Program Has Far-Reaching Benefits for Teens

New York University researchers evaluated the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s (NFTE) 2014 summer entrepreneurship programs, designed to introduce teenage students to the concepts of entrepreneurship while developing their academic and life skills.

“Summer learning loss is a significant problem for students who aren’t engaged during summer vacation. However, summer programs are a way to help students improve their academic skills in nonacademic settings,” said Meryle Weinstein, research assistant professor of education policy at NYU’s Steinhardt and the Institute for Education and Social Policy.

“In our report on NFTE’s summer entrepreneurship programs, many students indicated that the business-related skills they learned would help them in other parts of their lives, including academic areas such as writing and math, and even managing personal finances.”

Weinstein will report her findings today in a panel titled “New Ways to Measure Student Success” at the annual meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy in Washington, D.C.

Teaching entrepreneurship – how to create, grow, and run a business or organization – is a potential way to increase college and career readiness skills. NFTE’s 2014 summer programs, in which students learned basic business skills while developing an “entrepreneurial mindset,” served more than 450 at-risk teens in 10 cities across the country. Through classroom instruction, field trips to local businesses, guest speakers, working with mentors, and a business plan competition for seed funding, students worked to develop skills and knowledge essential for successful entrepreneurship.

Weinstein and her colleagues used both qualitative methods (interviews, observations, and focus groups) and surveys before and after the summer program to evaluate its implementation and benefit to students. The surveys were developed to measure business knowledge as well as “entrepreneurial mindset,” a collection of qualities and skills including communication and collaboration, initiative, persistence, self-direction, critical thinking, and problem solving.
Key findings of the report include:

  • Approximately 95 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that the skills they learned in the program would help them in their life and in business.
  • 90 percent of students indicated that the skills they learned and experiences in the summer program would help them in school.
  • Students reported an improvement in their communication and problem solving skills as a result of the program.
  • Although students reported they were more prepared to start a business after completing the program, they were less likely to be interested in starting one. Prior to participating, 91 percent of students reported wanting to own a business, which declined slightly to 85 percent after.
  • Funding, youth, and lack of business skills were commonly cited as barriers to starting a business prior to the summer program. After the summer program, students perceived their skills, ideas, or resources as less of a problem, but were more likely to report that they were too busy to start a business. Many students worried about the competing time demands of starting a business and going to school.

“In our research, almost all students remarked on the significant effort and time required to start and run a business, and often spoke about the important role of both persistence and passion,” Weinstein said. “Participating in the program may have served to clarify student career goals and interests.”

The study was conducted by Weinstein, Megan Silander, and Michael Chavez-Reilly of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, a joint initiative of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. The summer programs and NYU assessment were funded by a grant from the Citi Foundation as part of their Pathways to Progress initiative.

(NYU researchers evaluated the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s 2014 summer entrepreneurship programs, designed to introduce teenage students to the concepts of entrepreneurship while developing their academic and life skills. Photo courtesy of NFTE.)


Steinhardt Study Abroad: In Brazil, Music Business Class Experiences Market on the Brink of Explosion

Sam Howard-Spink knows a thing or two about global music markets.

Born and raised in the London, two years spent in Hong Kong, then ultimately landing in New York City, the clinical assistant professor of music business at NYU Steinhardt has experienced, purchased, and studied music on almost every continent of the globe.  In 2006, two years into his doctoral studies, he developed a fascination with the vibrancy and potential of the Brazilian music market that continues to this day.

“Brazil is poised to invigorate the global music industry, not purely because it’s South America’s juggernaut economy in terms of population and resources, nor due solely to its rich musical traditions, but because conditions are ripe for growth,” says Howard-Spink.  “Brazilian investors are finally looking beyond exploitation of natural resources in favor of leveraging the country’s cultural assets.  In terms of possibilities, it’s like Silicon Valley in the early 90s.”

This thinking led Howard-Spink to create an intensive on-site course for his Music Business graduate students, Emerging Models and Markets for Music, in Rio de Janiero in cooperation with Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), one of the top business schools in Latin America.   The goal was to enable students to learn the theory and current research on emerging music markets, while gaining first hand, practical experience that could provide them with both enhanced knowledge and on-site networking opportunities.

Response was overwhelmingly positive and immediate.  Within weeks of announcing the class, there were 37 applicants for 30 spots.  Students spent the day in classes at FGV, where guest speakers included music industry executives from such organizations as Som Livre, the music arm of Brazil’s largest media company Globo, and Queremos, a Rio start-up that crowdfunds concerts.

“Prior to signing up, I knew at the very least I’d enjoy being in Brazil, but I was genuinely struck by how quickly we came to understand the vast distinctions in music business practices,” said Isaac Stonberg, who worked in A&R for Warner Music Group before enrolling in the Music Business program in September 2014.  “In Brazil, performances are more participatory; touring practices – and therefore sponsorship opportunities – are significantly different; and the market hasn’t experienced the widespread dominance of a few major distribution players, such as iTunes, Amazon or Spotify.  It’s a completely different game.”

Cultural activities for the class included a visit to a samba school practicing for Rio’s famous Carnivale celebration, a percussion lesson for the entire group, a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain, and networking parties with music business professionals.

According to Howard-Spink, the J-Term course is just the first step in what is slated to become an ongoing partnership with FGV.  The course, which will be offered on alternate years, will later include Brazilian-based FGV students learning alongside NYU Students.  And later in 2015, FGV will send a group of music executives to NYU Steinhardt for an intensive music business course at the Greenwich Village campus.

“In Brazil, it’s still uncommon to educate students in the business of the music and media industries, and FGV intends to be at the forefront of that scholarship,” said Erich Dietrich, Associate Dean for Global & Academic Programs and Assistant Vice President for NYU Global.   “NYU and FGV make natural partners, because both have well-established and proven pedagogical approaches, as well as locations in the world’s most exciting music markets.”

Until training in music business practices is more widespread, Howard-Spink believes that entrepreneurial-minded Steinhardt music business students will be well positioned to make the most of this and other emerging market opportunities.   And for their part, the students agree.

“I’d always pictured myself getting a job in New York or Los Angeles,” said Stonberg.  “But I could definitely live in Brazil.”

-Shonna Keogan


NYU Symphony Orchestra to Perform Student Film Scores at Symphony Space, February 27th

A multi-media exhibition of award-winning compositions by students of the NYU Steinhardt Scoring for Film and Multimedia program and animated films created by students at the NYU Tisch Kanbar Institute of Film and Television will be presented at The Peter Norton Symphony Space on Friday, February 27 at 8 p.m. The film scores will be performed by the NYU Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the acclaimed German-born conductor Jens Georg Bachmann.

The screenings will also include the premiere of Ink-splash, an original work by Steinhardt Student Concert Composition Competition winner Weiwei Miao, followed by Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

“This event is an incredibly special one because it not only highlights the individual talents of our students, but it also serves as a potent reminder how they benefit from being part of a lively and diverse artistic community here at NYU,” said Ronald Sadoff, chair of Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions and director of the department’s film scoring program. “How better to showcase the fruits of these creative partnerships than to have the work showcased by our very own NYU Symphony?”

Dan Costales's animated short, Moon, will be screened.

The cross-school collaboration between the two departments we the outgrowth of an existing and fruitful professional relationship between Sadoff and John Canemaker, Academic Director of the animation program in the Undergraduate Department of Film and Television at NYU Tisch. Sadoff scored the music for Canemaker’s film, The Son and the Moon, which received the 2006 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The live screenings are a continuation of Toons, Tunes and Trikfilms, an annual event produced by Canemaker and Sadoff as part of Lincoln Center’s Golden Silent Series, which ran from 1998-2008.

“Film scoring in any film is an integral component to delivering a desired narrative, and in animated films – where animator and composer have a great degree of control over the finished product – this relationship is a pivotal one,” said Canemaker. “We’re in a wonderful position here at NYU to foster these relationships, and as educators, we can see first hand how it raises the game of artists in both camps, which is tremendously gratifying.”

Winners of the 2015 NYU Steinhardt Film Scoring Competition whose scores will be performed include Nicholas Buc, Sean (Shinwon) Kim, Mitch (Ming-Hsieh) Lin, Dong Liu, and Jordi Nus accompanied by imagery from animated films by NYU Tisch students and alumni, including: Bears(Dan Costales) Fighting Spirits (Gene Kim), Goodnight Boon (Jeremy Jensen), and Moon (Dan Costales).

The performance is free and open to the public. Peter Norton Symphony Space located at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in Manhattan. To reserve tickets, email


Teens From Single-Parent Families Leave School Early, Finds Study Led by Kathleen Ziol-Guest

A new study from researchers at New York University, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Chicago finds that that by the age of 24, individuals who live in single-parent families as teens received fewer years of schooling and are less likely to attain a bachelor’s degree than those from two-parent families.

The study, published in the journal Education Next, estimates the relationship between adolescents’ family situations and their future educational attainment, and finds that the education gap between young adults who lived in single-parent families and those who lived in two-parent families widened substantially between 1968 and 2009.

The number of single-parent households in the U.S. has increased markedly over the past 50 years. In 1965, Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a report that found that 51 percent of low-income children entering adolescence were living in single-parent households. Over the next three decades, this figure jumped to 75 percent.

Using data from the U. S. Department of Labor’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the researchers tracked the educational and economic life cycle of families and their children who were teens between 1968 and 1999. While the number years of school completed increased over time for children of both single- and two-parent families, teens from single-family homes received fewer years of schooling throughout the time period. The gap between the two groups widened from 0.63 years for those who were age 24 in 1978 to 1.32 years for those who were age 24 in 2009, with the widening accelerating in the 1990s.

“The negative relationship between living with a single parent and educational attainment has grown since the time Moynihan’s report was published, which is troubling,” said Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, research associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at NYU Steinhardt and one of the study’s authors.

“In other words, American children raised in single-parent homes appear to be at a greater disadvantage educationally than ever before.”

The data also reveal a disparity in college graduation rates. During the 1980s, the likelihood of graduating from college was 8 percentage points less among those who had lived in single-parent families than their peers with two-parent families. In the 11-year period ending in 2009, that gap more than doubled to 17 percentage points.

When the researchers adjusted their analyses for family income to see whether income was responsible for the differences between single- and two-parent families, they found that income accounted for about half of the education disadvantage facing students from single-parent families.

Other factors affecting educational attainment include mother’s age, mother’s education, and number of siblings. Mother’s education remains the most important factor associated with the number of years a child remains in school, and the age of the mother grew increasingly important during the period studied.

“While many factors contribute to gaps in educational attainment, our findings suggest that being raised by a two-parent household has become increasingly important since Moynihan’s report,” Ziol-Guest said.

In addition to Ziol-Guest, study authors include Greg Duncan of the University of California, Irvine, and Ariel Kalil of the University of Chicago.

(Photo:  Individuals who live in single-parent families received fewer years of schooling and are less likely to attain a bachelor’s degree than those from two-parent families. © iStock)

NYU Steinhardt and University of Michigan Study Finds Difference Between Games for Learning and Video Games

A new report on how teachers use video games in classrooms identifies features they find most useful to track student learning, as well as gaps where better tools could help link games more closely to the curriculum.

The report, released today by the A-GAMES Project of New York University and the University of Michigan, is unique in that it focuses on features common to many games, rather than the effectiveness of individual games. A-GAMES stands for Analyzing Games for Assessment in Math, English language arts/Social Studies, and Science.

In Citizen Science, a digital game designed for learning, students must uncover and solve pollution problems in a lake. Photo courtesy of Barry Fishman, University of Michigan.

“We looked at how various features support educators in knowing what students know,” said Barry Fishman, a professor in the U-M School of Information and the School of Education. “Our report is a call to the game development community about where they might focus next to make educational games even more useful.”

To conduct the study – the second in a series – the researchers observed and interviewed 30 fifth- through eighth-grade teachers in public and private schools in New York.

The first A-GAMES report, released in December, was a nationwide survey in which 57 percent of teachers polled said they used digital games at least weekly. Game-using teachers reported conducting more “formative assessment” than those who didn’t, and facing fewer barriers in doing so. Formative assessment refers to the various ways educators check in on students’ learning as it’s happening. This is in contrast to “summative assessment,” which measures learning at the end of the unit or term, or for high-stakes tests. Formative assessment is one of teachers’ main means of improving student learning.

In the latest A-GAMES study, researchers identified specific game features that help teachers track student learning, including: feedback systems such as points or stars, which essentially keep score in a game; dashboards that track student progress over time; and screen capture tools that students and teachers can annotate to communicate about games. While these features were beneficial, the researchers saw areas for improvement.

“Games designed for learning, especially for learning in schools, require features that differ from those in games for entertainment. The design of such features requires a deep understanding of classroom practice. Our study sheds light on such practices and features and it reveals to what extent existing features are useful,” said Jan L. Plass, a professor at NYU Steinhardt.

Dashboards, for example, were often hard for teachers to configure, and as many of them were within individual games, they amounted to separate grade books for each assignment. That’s not ideal for teachers, who need overviews of each students’ progress. And in many games, scores weren’t linked closely enough to learning goals.

“The most surprising finding for me was that the most common mechanisms in games for reporting progress – things like points and stars – are not that useful for teachers,” Fishman said. “For many of the teachers, it was hard to tell from these progress markers what the students were learning. So a student has 100 points. Does that mean they are learning addition?”

The study also found that potentially useful features can live outside the games themselves, in wrap-around materials either provided by game designers or by third parties. For instance, a screengrab tool called SnapThought was provided through educational resource developer BrainPOP’s digital game portal called GameUp. (All teachers in the study accessed the games through this portal.)

Nearly all the teachers who used SnapThought reported that they valued it. Teachers could, for example, assign students to capture screens at certain points in the game to record their progress. The tool also let students explain under the screenshot what they were thinking at various stages, and, perhaps, what they think went wrong. The tool served as an antidote to the transitory nature of games, and it helped give educators a window into game-playing students’ learning process.

Other useful wrap-arounds included curriculum integration guides, related worksheets, quizzes, and review questions. These external pieces, the study says, could enhance educational opportunities not only for individual games, but across multiple ones.

Games themselves aren’t new to school. Fishman, who recalls his fourth-grade teacher hosting Jeopardy rounds, says they play an important role in engaging students. “In order for someone to learn something, they first have be focused and paying attention.” What’s increased over the past decade is the use and development of digital and online games. Today, they represent one of the fastest growing areas of venture investment in education.

“The opportunities represented by digital media are exciting and a lot of them are untapped – such as tracking learners over time, personalizing education, and letting students learn different topics at different speeds,” Plass said. “Games provide support for all these innovations.”


NYU Researchers Use Crowdsourcing to Collect Data on Speech Disorders

Crowdsourcing – where responses to a task are aggregated across a large number of individuals recruited online – can be an effective tool for rating sounds in speech disorders research, according to a study by NYU Steinhardt.

“Because large crowdsourced samples can be obtained quickly, easily, and inexpensively, speech researchers could find it beneficial to use crowdsourcing technology in place of traditional methods of collecting speech ratings,” said Tara McAllister Byun, an assistant professor in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders and the study’s lead author.

Research in linguistics and psychology has reported that using crowdsourcing not only saves time and money, but can actually enhance scientific rigor. The NYU study, published in the Journal of Communication Disorders, suggests that these benefits can also be extended to studies of the nature and treatment of speech disorders.

In speech disorders research, unbiased listeners are needed to evaluate patients’ progress over the course of treatment by listening to speech sounds and rating or coding them. Because speech language pathologists and other trained professionals are often used as raters, collecting the ratings can be costly. It can also be a challenge to find raters who are not part of the research and are therefore unbiased.

Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) is an online crowdsourcing platform developed by Amazon as a tool for completing routine tasks better performed by humans than computers. Now with hundreds of thousands of workers, and roughly 10,000 requestors or employers, anyone can use AMT’s standardized interface to post or complete electronic tasks. While not originally designed for conducting behavioral research, AMT has been successfully used in linguistics and psychology research.

Modeling studies have shown that even when individual responses to a task are not highly accurate, aggregated or crowdsourced responses from a large number of people generally converge with those of experts. In this study, the researchers tested the validity of having AMT users rate speech sounds, compared with ratings collected from experienced listeners.

Listeners were asked to rate recordings of 100 words containing the “r” sound, collected from children with trouble pronouncing the sound and working to correct it in speech therapy. Twenty-five experienced listeners and 153 AMT listeners scored the “r” sounds as correct or incorrect. Data from experienced listeners were collected over a period of three months, while data gathering using AMT took a mere 23 hours.

The researchers found that when responses were aggregated, there was a very high level of overall agreement. When items were classified as correct or incorrect based on the majority vote across all listeners in a group, the AMT group and the experienced listener group were in agreement on all but seven of 100 items.

In a further analysis, the researchers sought to understand how many AMT listeners were needed to still get valid responses that converged with those of experienced listeners. They found that samples of nine or more AMT listeners demonstrate a level of performance consistent with typical expectations for experienced listeners.

While using AMT for speech ratings poses some limitations, including a lack of control over sound quality and inattentive or uncooperative raters, the researchers concluded that using AMT for speech language pathology research could have a substantial impact on the process of gathering speech ratings.

“A key advantage of using crowdsourcing to recruit listeners for speech rating tasks is the speed and ease with which ratings can be obtained,” said McAllister Byun. “However, using crowdsourcing for speech data rating is not merely a question of convenience; it also has the potential to improve speech research by expanding access to independent listeners, thereby reducing bias.”

In addition to McAllister Byun, study authors include Peter Halpin, an assistant professor of applied statistics at NYU Steinhardt, and Daniel Szeredi, a doctoral student in NYU’s Department of Linguistics. The National Institutes of Health supported this research (NIH R03DC 012883).

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(Photo:  Crowdsourcing can be an effective tool for rating sounds in speech disorders research, according to an NYU Steinhardt study. ©iStock/Daria Karaulnik.)


Carding of Minors Buying Cigarettes is Lacking in Some New York City Neighborhoods, Finds Study Led by Diana Silver

An investigation by the Steinhardt School found that more than a quarter of New York City retailers did not request identification from young adults buying cigarettes. The study, published online in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control, was conducted in anticipation of the minimum purchase age for cigarettes rising from 18 to 21.

“Our findings suggest the need for intensive monitoring, oversight, and support to help retailers comply with existing and new cigarette laws,” said Diana Silver, associate professor of public health at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

On August 1, 2014, New York City raised the minimum purchase age for cigarettes from 18 to 21. The new law is intended to decrease current smoking rates among youth and prevent them from starting to smoke.

“One benefit of restricting tobacco sales to those 21 and older is that it makes it more difficult for younger high school students to rely on friends who have turned 18 to purchase cigarettes for them,” said Silver. “Reducing access to such ‘social sources’ offers the potential to make progress in reducing smoking among teens.”

New York City also has the highest cigarette taxes in the country, a combination of local and state taxes, resulting in minimum prices for cigarettes of $11.02 and above.

“Given evidence of price sensitivity among young smokers, taxes are particularly effective in decreasing smoking initiation – even as tobacco companies use discounts to buffer price increases,” said Silver.

The study examined compliance with minimum sales price and purchase age laws among retailers in New York City in advance of raising the legal age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21. Ten youthful-looking field investigators, ages 18 to 21, purchased cigarettes from different types of retailers in 92 retail-dense neighborhoods throughout all five boroughs. In 421 purchases, investigators noted the price for cigarettes and whether they were asked for identification.

The researchers found that in 29 percent of purchases, retailers did not require identification to buy cigarettes. In 70 percent of neighborhoods sampled, the investigators were able to buy at least one pack of cigarettes somewhere in the area without being asked for identification.

Chain stores had significantly higher odds of complying with minimum age laws than independent vendors; investigators were 32 times more likely to be asked for identification at chains.

Despite variation in price across New York City, only 3 percent of sales were at prices below the minimum legal sales price for cigarettes. Chain stores had, on average, lower prices than independent vendors, and cigarette prices were significantly higher in Manhattan compared with other boroughs.

While the investigation was conducted before the new minimum legal purchase age increased to 21, the researchers concluded that a lack of consistent identification checks for cigarette purchases could undermine the new law.

“Active monitoring of compliance with the new minimum legal purchase age will be necessary in order to realize the new law’s public health potential,” said Silver.

In addition to Silver, study authors include Jin Yung Bae, Geronimo Jimenez, and James Macinko. The Institute for Human Development and Social Change at NYU funded the study.

(Photo:  n 29 percent of cigarette purchases, investigators (ages 18-21) were not asked for identification. Image courtesy of the researchers/Tobacco Control.)