Sign Language Program Structure and Content in Institutions of Higher Education in the United States, 1994-2004

Article excerpt

THE POPULARITY and prevalence of sign language1 courses in postsecondary institutions have increased dramatically since they appeared on campuses in the early 1980s (Brod and Huber 1997; Welles 2004). Administrators who oversee these programs face unique issues associated with the evolving pace and place of this discipline within postsecondary institutions. As sign language classes have become more entrenched in university curricula, old ways of allowing the faculty to teach whatever and however they choose are giving way to more coordination, structure, and standardization.

Administrators who direct these program have had limited resources with which to seek guidance to help their sign language programs grow in a positive direction. A comprehensive review of the literature between 1993 and 2007 identified minimal research in the area of administration of sign language programs, supporting the idea that this area has received little attention from researchers over the years. However, programs have continued to develop and grow despite the lack of research, leading to the existence of diverse sign language programs in postsecondary institutions around the country.

To establish a baseline of information about sign language programs on college campuses, Cooper (1997) conducted a study of sign language program coordinators. From a comparison of surveys of sign language programs (Cooper 1997; Cooper, Reisman, and Watson 2008), it appears that many sign language programs are now more structurally established. The emphasis appears to be shifting from the establishment of sign language classes and programs to identifying and standardizing philosophies and trends in the field, enabling administrators to make decisions that provide a higher quality of education.

Review of the Literature

A comprehensive review of the literature on the administration of sign language programs was prepared by Cooper (1997) and was updated in 2007 (Cooper, Reisman, and Watson 2008). Previous research included studies by Shroyer and Holmes (1980), Battison and Carter (1982), Cogen and Moseley (1984), Delgado (1984), Cokely (1986), Newell (1995a, 1995b), and Jacobowitz (2005). These studies identified the motivations of students taking sign language classes, the types of classes available, some characteristics of the faculty teaching the courses, and the availability of programs to train these teachers.

Cooper (1997) established a baseline of information about characteristics of postsecondary programs offering any type of sign language classes in the United States during the 1994-1995 academic year and repeated the study in 2004, allowing examination of the growth and change in the ten-year interval. This work was formatted on research conducted by the Modern Language Association on the administration of modern language programs (Huber 1989) and on research on the academic acceptance of other emerging fields, such as women's studies and black studies, whose growth parallels that of sign language and Deaf studies classes.

Cooper, Reisman, and Watson (2008) identify the characteristics of the institutions of higher education offering sign language and the academic status of sign language at these institutions. Additionally, they describe the characteristics, qualifications, duties, priorities, and concerns of administrative personnel in sign language programs in institutions of higher education and identify the characteristics and expectations of teaching staff in postsecondary sign language classes. The current article presents the results of the ten-year comparison of program structure, program content, and program administrators' opinions on coordinating sign language programs.

Methods

Cooper (1997) reported on an analysis she had conducted as part of her doctoral studies. The 2004 study was a replication of the initial study to identify changes over the ensuing decade.

Participating Programs

To identify existing sign language programs, a mailing list was developed from several lists of postsecondary programs from the American Annals of the Deaf (April 1994), interpreter-preparation programs Usted in the 1994 directory of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers, Speech Pathology, and Audiology programs listed in the 1994 directory of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, postsecondary programs with specialized support services for deaf students listed in the 1994 College and Career Guide for Deaf Students , colleges and universities known to teach sign language through the Less Commonly Taught Languages Project at the University of Minnesota, and other programs known to the investigator or that responded to inquiries through the Sign Language Linguistics List (SLLING-L) and DEAF-L on the Internet throughout 1994. …