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Volume 8, Number 3: December 6, 2001

Involving the Deaf Community in Distance Learning
Using Blended Technologies and Learning Objects

by Rosemary M. Lehman, Senior Outreach/Distance Education Specialist,
Instructional Communications Systems, UW-Extension,
Simone Conceição, Instructional Design/Technology Consultant,
School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee



There are nearly 20 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States and 500 million worldwide. More than 43 million Americans have one or more physical or cognitive disabilities. Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvement, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious, pervasive, and persisting problem.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Telecommunications Act, Section 508 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act Amendments, and the Workforce Reinvestment Act mandate that we address technology accessibility and curriculum design. A summer 2001, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) ASL distance education pilot course, utilized the blended technologies of the Internet, videoconferencing and newly created ASL streaming video learning objects, to begin to address this need.

UWM currently has the strongest program in Wisconsin for teaching ASL as a foreign language. All of the teachers are native ASL users, certified by the National Certifying body of the ASL Teachers Association. UWM initiated the ASL pilot course and extended it to a site at The Pyle Distance Education and Conference Center. Instructional Communications Systems (ICS), University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX), located in The Pyle Center, worked closely with UWM in all project phases and was responsible for the videoconferencing training. Funding from the University of Wisconsin System was used to develop and archive the streaming video learning objects, for use in the course and for eventual sharing nationally and internationally.

The project involved a three-phase process: Phase I--Instructor Design and Preparation, Phase II--Implementation, Monitoring and Assessment, and Phase III--Analysis of Findings and Implications for Practice.

Phase I

The focus of the course was on: 1) the natural acquisition of ASL as a conversational language, 2) a knowledge of aspects of the Deaf Culture, and 3) everyday communication practices as demonstrated by American deaf people. Blackboard CourseInfo was chosen as the Web management and discussion technology and videoconferencing was selected as the major instructional technology. Streaming video was selected for the creation and archiving of the learning objects.

ICS developed and implemented an initial meeting with personnel involved in the course and an Orientation Training Workshop for the deaf instructor, site coordinator, and evaluator. The course was scheduled in the UWM catalog and sites were selected on the Milwaukee campus and at The Pyle Center in Madison. A brochure was developed to promote the course and ASL sign language interpreters were hired for the training sessions and the first class session. The interpreters assisted the trainers in both understanding and clarifying any questions or concerns.

The course timeline began in March 2001 for course setup and training. The course ran for seven three-hour sessions during the university summer session. The timeline will end in June 2002 with a data analysis summary and the final report.

Phase II

A required ASL text and videotape formed the course framework, and an extensive management and discussion Web site was developed. Streaming video learning objects of the instructor signing ASL words and phrases were produced and archived on the course Web site for learner review and rehearsal. A comprehensive evaluation system was developed that included: surveys, observations, learning assessment (quizzes, journals, and papers,) and a software program, integrated to provide evaluation statistics. The staff included: a deaf instructor, site coordinator and evaluator, and two hearing videoconferencing/ evaluation experts. Eight learners participated in Milwaukee and six in Madison.

Phase III

This phase is still in progress. Preliminary course feedback resulted in the following:

  • All participants of the course shared positive remarks about the relevance and usefulness of the blended technology course.
  • For the Web component of the course, the "learning objects" appeared to be a very helpful medium. Participants, however, expressed a lack of interest in utilizing the Web Coffee Shop discussion, but liked checking the Web announcements area. The intent of the Web Coffee Shop was to provide socialization space for the participants.
  • All but one of the participants stated that they would recommend videoconferencing courses to a peer, with the exception of one participant who stated it would depend on the course type.

An analysis of all of the evaluation tools will appear in the final report in June, 2002.

Implications for Practice

This course was a unique experience and broke new ground for distance learning. A number of challenges presented themselves and were resolved to produce positive results. Selected implications for practice included:

  • The need to change room configurations at both sites from that of traditional tables and chairs, with the instructor in front, to chairs (without arms) in semi-circles. The instructor was often a part of the semi-circle;
  • Keeping camera pre-sets and camera movement to a minimum. We discovered that excessive visual movement was disorienting to the deaf instructors, perhaps because of their sensitivity to the visual world. Shots also needed to include enough room for body movement and arm extension, yet be close enough for facial expressions (facial expressions and body movement play a critical part in sign language;)
  • Considering color and contrast. Instructors chose to wear black so that their clothing would contrast with their hands and arms, allowing the signs to be more clearly visible to the learners.
  • For the most part, eliminating microphones. Microphones were on mute for the full course, except during the training sessions, the first class session orientation and when noise was necessary to change the site view for taping purposes.

American Sign language is highly visual and interactive and, therefore, an excellent type of content for videoconferencing. Interaction took place on many levels: 1) instructor to learner, 2) learner to learner (between sites and within sites,) 3) instructor to instructor and 4) learner and instructor to technology and materials. The use of the blended technologies of the Web, videoconferencing, and streaming video were excellent component tools for this course and worked well together to provide an in-depth learning experience.

Next Steps

As we progress toward the closure of this project we will continue to: work on the final project report, develop articles and presentations for the dissemination of the findings and work with the University of Wisconsin CO Lab to archive the learning objects for use nationally and internationally.



Dr. Rosemary Lehman is Senior Outreach/Distance Education Specialist at Instructional Communications Systems (ICS), University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX) at the Pyle Center, Madison, WI. Rosemary holds a Masters in Communications/Television and a Ph.D. in Distance Education/Adult Learning. She is the author of The Essential Videoconferencing Guide: 7 Keys to Success (1996 and 2001, ICS, UWEX, Madison, WI) and the owner/editor of the electronic newsletter, DESIEN. Rosemary has 29 years of experience in media production, design elements, training, materials publication, conference coordination and conference presentations both nationally and internationally. Rosemary is a member-at-large of the UCEA Futures and Change Community of

Dr. Simone Conceição is an Instructional Design/Technology Consultant for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) School of Education, and holds a Masters in Adult and Continuing Education and a Ph.D. in Distance Education/Educational Technology. She recently co-authored 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Online Groups: Essentials of Web-Based Education, (2000, Atwood Press, Madison, WI). Simone works with faculty providing training and consultation on instructional design and educational technology and has researched and contributed to many areas of good practice in online environments, as well as presented at numerous conferences nationally and internationally.

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