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Friday, January 9, 2009

Making Online Education Accessible for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This past year I had my first experience with online education when I got the chance to design and teach a course on Web 2.0 for my library's staff. I worked on this in collaboration with our library's web manager who I worshipfully refer to as the Web Goddess. She had taken two courses on online education and knew more than I did about Web 2.0. I was a novice but a fast study. Before long I could read and write some basic HTML code and upload files, organize our learning units, and comfortably navigate the course management software. The Web Goddess was a genius at finding source material and creating step by step instructions. I pulled my weight with ensuring our writing was clear, understandable, grammatically correct, and logically ordered. Both of us enjoyed the course design experience tremendously although it was certainly challenging for us.

Almost immediately I was struck by how much easier it would be to learn online than in a traditional classroom setting for those with a hearing loss. That got me to thinking about how online education could be made accessible to deaf and hard of hearing learners. Over the past year I've come across three different approaches to this challenge: 1)creating an audio presentation with captioning/transcript, 2)using a sign language interpreter on live video, and 3)using a speech to text translator tool. The first approach would be for a class that is not presented live and could be accessed at any time on the web. The second two approaches would be used for online classrooms like Wimba where the students are all logged in at the same time to attend a lecture.

At my library I am currently experimenting with the first approach. Let me explain how it's developed so far.

One of the great services at our library is that we offer free technology workshops for faculty, staff, and community members. Some are well attended but others aren't. When the attendance is low it's unfortunate because a great deal of time goes into preparing these workshops and the people who do attend always comment on how wonderful they are. So I thought making these workshops available through our library website would allow more people to benefit from them because they could "attend" at their own convenience. We started by posting PowerPoint slide presentations of a few library workshops on our website. Frankly I thought that left alot to be desired compared to attending the live presentations.

Then through preparing the web 2.0 course, I learned about podcasting. Having a podcast to accompany the PowerPoint slides would certainly be much more effective than the slides alone. I convinced the Web Goddess that we should make a recording of one of our newer workshops. This fall we took the plunge and created a podcast using Audacity, a free download on the web.

But of course, a podcast is not helpful to the deaf or hard of hearing unless it is captioned. Unfortunately, Audacity didn't have captioning capability. I needed to type up a transcript of the podcast. This took me hours even though it was my own voice and the Web Goddess' and most of my presentation material was scripted. Of course it didn't make sense to have the hard of hearing partner make the transcript but I was the one with the motivation!

Then we added the podcast and transcript onto the library website to accompany the PowerPoint slides. But this didn't sit right with me either. Now we had three separate pieces. Why couldn't we combine all this into one neat package?

When I was in Orlando at the Educause Conference I learned about Camtasia Studio 6, a software product that would allow us to combine all three parts into one. No more transcript. It would be captions to match the audio to match the slides. Perfect.

It's been a few months now and our request for the software has been approved and ordered. We just haven't received it yet. Hopefully soon. Then I can start experimenting again.

I'll post what I've learned about the other two options mentioned above next time. If you have an interest in online education, if you've had a good or bad experience with taking a course online, or if you have any information regarding accessibility and online education, please comment or email me. I really want to know more.


kym said...

I have never taken any online courses. Now, I know my wife has, several years ago I believe, but she is not deaf or hoh so I don't know if that would be helpful to you. But if you have any questions for her regarding online courses, you can get to her blog via mine (she's Puffy) if that might help.
Any classes I've ever taken, have always been at the facility.

Sounds like you are on a mission my friend! It will be interesting to see how you make out.


SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Kym,
Thanks for your comment. I see so much emphasis on pushing courses online that I wonder how much thought is being done about adding accessibility options to the material. I have met a professor who is legally blind who is informing me about how courses can be made accessible for visual limitations. He is a professor in special education so he also has information on making courses accessible to those with learning disabilities. We would like to create materials here that are accessible to everyone no matter what the student's personal situation is. If we can figure out how to do that, then we can show others too. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to ask for accomodations if they were just built right in? That's my idea here. I'm sure others are thinking about this topic so I wanted to blog about it and maybe capture their attention so they can share with me what they're doing too. I have more to write about as I mentioned in my post. Stay tuned.