Monday, January 12, 2009

Making Online Education Accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing - part 2

In my previous post, I wrote about what I've been working on at my library - transcribing podcasts of library workshops. Now I'd like to introduce a second approach to making online education accessible that is particularly helpful to those whose first language is ASL - using a webcam to show an ASL interpreter.

Early last year I participated in a webinar (click for definition from Merriam-Webster Online) on "Using Wimba to Provide Equal Access of Information to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in On-line Courses". This workshop was presented by Dr. Sam Slike and Pam Berman of Bloomburg University of Pennsylvania. They are affiliated with Bloomburg's Education of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Program.

For those unfamiliar with Wimba, this software provides a central white space for a professor to show his lecture slides or demonstrate a website. At the bottom of the screen there is a chat box for ongoing text based discussion between participants and the lecturer. Students can even send messages to each other. There is also an area on the screen for students to click if they want to ask a question.

At Bloomburg University, Dr. Slike uses a webcam of a sign language interpreter, a Sorensen videophone, and closed captioning via Colorado Captioning to make his lectures on Wimba as accessible as possible to both deaf and hard of hearing students.

The webinar on "Using Wimba to Provide Equal Access of Information to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in On-line Courses" was to be a demonstration of how this setup works. Unfortunately as so often happens in life, there were technical difficulties. In this case, the interpreter's signing was unclear due to pixelization effect (click for definition from Wikipedia). Instead of being able to see her hands all we saw were individual pixels. So frustrating. The problem was probably complicated by the fact that interest in the webinar was enormous with hundreds of people logging in from all over the world.

Nevertheless, it was extremely interesting to me to learn about Bloomburg University and what they are working on there. Let me be clear that their approach has been successful for their actual classes (which of course have a much smaller number of people logged in). If you would like to know more, you can view the PowerPoint slides used in the webinar, see a photo of the setup, and read feedback from three of their hard of hearing students at this webpage.

In April 2008, the United States Distance Learning Association awarded Dr. Slike and Professor Berman its Best Practices for Distance Learning Programming – Online Technology in Higher Education. You can read more about the award here.

Next time, I'll write about another approach I learned about from one of the readers of my blog.


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic idea! With distance learning growing at so many universities due to the economic status, more non-traditional students, and the like, innovative ideas like this can be a tremendous asset! Kudos to you and those professors for making us aware of the potentials!

Eddie (Thumpaflash)

kim said...

This is really cool! Thanks for reporting on it. I'm always amazed at how new technologies can make things more accessible for us. Now it's just a matter of convincing the rest of them to try it out!

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Eddie and Kim,
Yes. That's exactly my point. If I can be involved some way in modeling how this can be done, I think it would be really worthwhile. It would be wonderful if accomodations were built right into course design so no special arrangements had to made by the individual student. I plan to blog more about that soon.
Thanks for your support.

kym said...

It is amazing at what technology can do for us, who need accessiblity.
Your blog on this has been enlightening and educational.

I'd like to keep reading more about this as you write on it.


SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks, kym.
I'm definitely interested in this subject and my blog posts are a way of my testing the waters to see if there might be any kind of future in this for me. For now, it's definitely a side project at work. Not something I'm permitted to put all my time and energy into. If there are people out there who work in this field who happen onto my blog, I would love for them to let me know what skills and knowledge are required to work in making online education accessible.