Providing Online Course Opportunities for Learners Who Are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Hearing

Article excerpt

FOR MORE THAN 20 years, two courses, History, Education, and Guidance of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Introduction to Instructional Methods for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, have been taught at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania using a traditional lecture format. A state grant provided funding to explore the use of technology to teach online courses to college-age learners who are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing. Saba Centra software was used as the online tool for the synchronous presentation of course content, which included PowerPoint lecture material, text chat opportunities, sign language-interpreted video, and other forms of class participation (e.g., signaling for questions raised, responding in a "yes/no" format). The present article covers recent successes and challenges in offering online courses in a "virtual classroom" format to deaf and hard of hearing learners, as well as hearing learners, from a qualitative research perspective.

The two courses mentioned in the present article, History Education, and Guidance of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Introduction to Instructional Meth- ods for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, which are both taught at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, are ap- proved by the Council on Education of the Deaf and are applicable toward na- tional teacher certification in Education of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing. The his- tory course was taught in the 2006 fall semester and included 2 deaf students as well as 9 hearing students, and the instructional methods class was taught in the 2007 spring semester and in- cluded 1 deaf student and 25 hearing students. Students attended classes from a variety of locations, including Scranton, PA, Hazelton, PA, Pittsburgh, PA, Bloomsburg, PA, and Hawaii. In ad- dition to the professor (S. Slike, the lead author of the present article), inte- gral parts in the online course offerings were played by three instructional tech- nology staff members at Bloomsburg University (R D. Berman, T Kline, and K. Rebilas, coauthors of the present ar- ticle), one graduate assistant from the Education of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Program at Bloomsburg (E. Bosch, also a coauthor), and two sign language in- terpreters. Each course was conducted in a 3-hour once-a-week format with additional help from the instructor offered via Blackboard and e-mails. The present article covers successes and challenges in offering online courses in a "virtual classroom" format to both deaf and hard of hearing learners and hearing learners from a qualitative research perspective.

Choosing an Appropriate Online Synchronous Tool

The original intent of the offering of the online courses was to provide a "virtual classroom" for the students with a common meeting time each week for lectures as well as time outside of class for e-mailing and uploading of assignments to Blackboard (a course management and delivery system). Tallent- Runnels and colleagues (2006) conclude that "a key element in online courses is providing effective communication and interaction" (p. 117), and that this should be the forefront of online course design. Saba Centra software provided just such a "synchronous" format. Synchronous is defined in the present article as the real-time presentation of lecture material to students at a distance.

Audio and video components were used for both courses. Voice Over IP (VOIP) was used to allow hearing participants to convey information during the class, and video via a webcam was used to show an interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing participants. Live interpretation not only allows deaf and hard of hearing students an opportunity to participate and learn course content, it also allows other students to become familiar with sign language.

Saba Centra 6 included the video portion of the class in the archives of the sessions. This meant that students could view a playback of each class, which included the video of the interpreters. It was very important to have the video of the interpreters included in the playback so that deaf and hard of hearing participants could remain fully involved in the class. …