Sound researcher receives highest honor for decades of work in hearing science

ASU professor's expertise still sought by industry leaders, fellow researchers

July 18, 2018

We learn the basics of hearing — sound waves, ear parts, and the effects of pitch and volume — sometime around third grade, but there are still mysteries to unravel, including how we process where sounds are located, especially if there are a lot of different sounds at one time, or how we handle sounds that are moving.

William Yost has spent almost 40 years trying to solve those mysteries. william yost receives the gold medal from ASA president marcia isakson William A. Yost, research professor of speech and hearing science, receiving the 2018 ASA Gold Medal from ASA President Marcia Isakson in May. Download Full Image

In recognition of this work as well as his service in the hearing and acoustics fields, Yost, a research professor of speech and hearing science in Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, received the Acoustical Society of America’s (ASA) Gold Medal, the society’s highest honor.

Yost was among the first sound researchers in the late 1980s to describe the brain’s role in perceiving sound when the ear is confronted with many different sounds at the same time. Before then, sound study and hearing science focused mostly on the basic attributes of sound, such as pitch, loudness and sound quality, but Yost’s research showed that it is actually the brain and ear working together which determines how people hear in complex environments. Termed “auditory scene analysis,” this discovery has had important implications for how cochlear implant patients and hearing aid users process sound.

Since joining ASU in 2007, Yost has continued to build on this research with ongoing study of what is known as “sound source localization,” or how a person locates sound if both the sound and the listener are moving.

“Since being at ASU, I have realized that in the real world where sound sources and listeners move, the brain has even more challenges in determining sound source location,” Yost said. “How does the brain know where a sound source is if it moves as compared to when it and/or the listener moves? We can’t answer that question yet, but we’re getting close to an answer.”

Yost’s research embodies ASU’s spirit of innovation, said Michael Dorman, professor emeritus of speech and hearing science, and a colleague of Yost’s who collaborated with him on more than a dozen publications involving sound source localization and cochlear implants.

“Bill’s basic science work on spatial hearing fits perfectly with ASU’s emphasis on translational research," Dorman said. "Many companies, including those working in virtual reality, have come to him for advice on how we locate sounds both in space and moving through space.”  

Google and Apple have used some of Yost’s work in developing their sound-related products, and Oculus VR, manufacturer of the virtual reality system Rift, is funding Yost’s current research on how to better process sound for use in virtual reality contexts. In addition to technology applications, his research has also informed policies on the protection of marine mammals.

While both Oculus and the National Institute of Health fund Yost’s current research, his work has received continuous funding since 1968 from many agencies including the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Environmental Protection Agency and several private foundations and industries.

“Most of us have gaps in our funding,” said Nancy Scherer, professor of speech and hearing science and current program chair. “The fact that Dr. Yost has had continuous funding speaks volumes about how solid his research is.”

Teaching and service are other important components of Yost’s long career. His textbook, "Fundamentals of Hearing: An Introduction," first published in 1977 and now in its fifth edition, is considered a seminal text. He has been a member of almost every professional and scientific organization associated with hearing and sound, including the American Auditory Society and the American Speech Hearing and Language Association, and he served as president of both the Acoustical Society of America and the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.

Yost received the Gold Medal at the ASA’s 175th meeting in May.

Kelly Krause

Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions

Effective teaching course a game changer for College of Health Solutions faculty

Inaugural group takes advantage of ASU's push to increase teaching excellence

July 18, 2018

Smartphones, apps, social media and other technology innovations have forever changed our lives, and that includes higher education.

The current university learning environment is vastly different from even a few years ago. Today’s students expect their classroom experience to be as fast-paced, personal and responsive as the electronic devices they use, challenging faculty to revisit teaching methods and work to continually improve their courses in order to keep their students’ attention.   college professor and students in class Teachers learn techniques to increase student engagement as part of the online course in effective teaching practice from the Association College and University Educators. Download Full Image

To that end, five faculty members at the College of Health Solutions recently completed the inaugural online Course in Effective Teaching Practice through the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), a pilot teaching improvement program ASU joined earlier this year.   

Colleen Cordes, assistant dean and clinical professor in the Doctor of Behavioral Health program, was in the group and was impressed by the course.

“It absolutely changed the ways I think about teaching,” Cordes said.

Cordes completed the rigorous 28-module course, earning ACUE’s Certificate in Effective Teaching Practices, along with Sue Dahl Popolizio, also a clinical professor of behavioral health, Sarah Martinelli and Simon Holzapfel, clinical assistant professors of nutrition, and Adela Grando, assistant professor of biomedical informatics. While they reported dedicating a fair amount of time to the course, all said it was a transformational experience.

“It’s the best job training out there,” Holzapfel said.


Each lesson consisted of a video that demonstrated a research-based, active learning technique. After watching the video, faculty implemented the practice in their classrooms and then reflected on the experience, both in writing and with colleagues via online discussion boards. Faculty estimated they spent between three and eight hours a week per module.  


For all, the best part of the course was seeing how their classrooms changed when they used some of activities.

“Students really reacted well to concepts like breaking class up into smaller pieces with active work or teamwork dispersed between lecture,” Martinelli said. “I also now make an effort to engage more students and add things like skeletal notes and end-of-class feedback.”

“I’m lecturing much less and incorporating group discussions more,” Popolizio said, adding that the course has given her many more ways to deliver content. “I used to lecture from a PowerPoint, and I would see some of the students struggling to stay awake, even if they were interested in the material. I understood why this was happening, but I didn’t know what to do differently.”


Reflecting on each activity and being able to discuss it with fellow teachers who were also going through the program was equally valuable, Grando said.

“I liked that we could see each other’s assignments. I enjoyed hearing how my colleagues applied the techniques and we discussed what went well, what did not go well and what could have been improved.”


In addition to increasing student engagement and expanding their teaching repertoire, the certificate reflects a commitment to professional excellence. As the new assistant dean of nontenure-eligible faculty, Cordes said she wants to model the importance of continued professional improvement.

“It’s too easy to keep doing what we’re doing when teaching, particularly if we’re accustomed to good teaching evaluations.”

All were very positive about the learning gained from the program and agree that this type of professional development is a resume builder.

“I’m immensely proud of receiving this certificate because it’s evidence of job qualification,” Holzapfel said. “If I were on a committee to hire faculty, I would look for ACUE certification.”

Kelly Krause

Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions