Monday, December 14, 2009

Empowering Deaf Online Learners with Video Discussions

Recently, I presented a workshop on my campus titled "Crafting Personalized Online Learning Experiences with VoiceThread." The main objective of my workshop was to showcase the effectiveness of VoiceThread as a "learning space" for students to share thoughts through voice and video comments, rather than text based comments alone as is the typical type of communications integrated into learning management systems.

The workshop was schedule for the end of the quarter and it was a quarter that was peppered with furloughs and a very low moral. I was not expecting a big turnout. However, I was hoping for at least a small group. What resulted, however, was one of those fortuitous experiences in life that one comes to covet and reflect deeply upon. I hope the story touches you in some special way, as it has touched me.

As I had expected, the faculty turnout for the workshop was small -- there was only one person who showed up. But this faculty member brought something very unique to my workshop. She was deaf. And she was there to learn about VoiceThread. Hmmm.

Her objectives were to identify a way to communicate effectively with her students using video for signing in an online learning environment. That is, she wanted her students to see her AND she wasnted to see her students. I could see her challenges with the Blackboard interface. Blackboard is far from user friendly when trying to integrate video. I understood the challenges of integrating still images alone as an art history professor so the need for a visually-centric learning environment had been a priority for me as well, although we certainly were coming at this from two different angles.

What I found so compelling about our conversation was our discussion about feeling "distanced" from our students with certain forms of communication. While I shared my sense of detachment from my students in an online teaching environment when I could only communicate with them via text, she shared with me that she feels distanced from her own students in class, there with her, when they don't have effective signing skills or a good interpreter. Wow. That really gave me a pause. I was learning more from this workshop than she would, for sure.

Embedded in my VoiceThread presentation, I had an example that Steve Muth, a Co-Founder of VoiceThread, had shared with me that showcases what I consider an amazingly innovative use of VoiceThread (from my perspective, anyway). What you see below is a VoiceThread that contains two slides. The first slide includes an introductory video comment by Rosemary Stifter. Then click on the "right arrow" icon to go to slide two. There you will view a discussion in which deaf children are empowered to engage in an online dialogue using sign language, rather than being required to type their thoughts. Imagine the liberating potential of this medium...



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