By Dr. Samuel B. Slike, D.Ed., Director of Special Education Online Programs at Saint Joseph’s University. Next month, Dr. Slike will present on this topic at  Collaborate Now, a free one-day event in Philadelphia featuring presentations by higher education and K-12 Blackboard Collaborate customers.

The field of Deaf Education has been my home for the past 37 years. I began as a teacher of the deaf and then worked as a professor and director of a Master of Science Program for the preparation of teachers of the deaf. My first career goal was to determine best practices for teaching deaf and hard of hearing students and, more recently, my focus has changed to best practices for teaching deaf and hard of hearing college students in synchronous online environments. Currently I am the Director of Online Special Education Programs at Saint Joseph’s University where I use Blackboard Collaborate for virtual faculty meetings, faculty training in the use of Blackboard Collaborate, and to teach a synchronous real-time course in American Sign Language.

Most people with a hearing loss depend on vision to provide them with information. This is not only true for profoundly Deaf students who may have no useable hearing, but it also can be true for hard of hearing students who use a hearing aid. (As a hearing aid user myself for the past 14 years I can attest to my constant need for visual information in my environment.)

That said, students with a hearing loss in a classroom setting benefit greatly from the presentation of visual information including, but not limited to:

  • Sign Language (This could be American Sign Language (ASL) or a Signed form of English (known as “Contact Signing,” Signed English,” or “Pidgin Sign Language”)
  • Closed Captioning
  • Speechreading (the old term is “Lipreading”)  or…
  • A combination of all of the above

Creating a “real-time” synchronous online course for students with a hearing loss requires that we provide them with the same access to information as hearing students. (Note: equal access of information is also required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)). In developing my Blackboard Collaborate course I used the following checklist.

  • The course must provide visual information in a variety of ways.
  • PowerPoint slides or an outline of lecture material (in Blackboard Collaborate, the white board is good for this) need to be provided so that students with a hearing loss can follow along by reading important lecture points.
  • The course must take into consideration the needs of all members of the population of individuals with a hearing loss…Signing Deaf; Oral Deaf; Hard of Hearing… and be appropriate for hearing students as well.
  • The course must be closed captioned for those students who have a hearing loss, but who don’t use sign language.
  • For Deaf students who sign, the course may need to be interpreted (using a certified interpreter for the Deaf is a must!) unless the students feel that closed captioning provides them with appropriate information.
  • All students in the class should be encouraged to use the Blackboard Collaborate chat box so that students with a hearing loss can read the comments of everyone in the class.
  • The course must have volume loud enough for hard of hearing people to hear what the professor is saying. (Because of my hearing loss, I have attached an external speaker to my computer so that I could increase the volume.)

Along the way I also discovered that professors need to realize that synchronous courses require lots of multitasking. This includes the ability to lecture while focusing on: PowerPoint slides and/or manipulating items on the white board; reading the comments in the chat window; being cognizant of the time lag inherent in synchronous online communication and giving extra time for your words to be received by all course participants (including interpreters).

I also learned that closed captioning is not error free. The professor may need to read the captioning as it is being typed to ensure the clarity of the message (e.g., when I used the word “Deaf” in my lectures, it would sometimes be captioned as “Death” which caused obvious concern from my students).

Additionally, another lesson learned was to use the archive feature of Blackboard Collaborate every class so that all of my students were able to review each lecture as necessary. Interestingly, my hearing college students gave as much positive feedback about the use of the archived classes as the students with hearing loss. Everyone benefited from the option of reviewing class lectures for exams.

I enjoy using Blackboard Collaborate as a synchronous online tool for many reasons, but most of all I appreciate its flexibility in allowing me to teach real-time online in much the same way that I taught for years in a traditional classroom. Especially important to me are the options that Blackboard Collaborate provides for offering students with a hearing loss the same equal access to information that their hearing peers enjoy. I’m looking forward to presenting at Penn on October 10, 2013, so that I can share what I’ve learned over the years!

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