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Editor’s Note
: This is a comprehensive and well documented study regarding distance learning for deaf populations. Videoconferencing designed especially for Deaf elementary and high school students facilitates visual communication and American Sign Language (ASL). College and career-age students with language proficiency – whether English or ASL - prefer to receive information first-hand. A wide range of programs and strategies can be employed with positive results for Deaf students and the instructors and interpreters that serve them.

Distance Education Brings Deaf Students,
Instructors, and Interpreters Closer Together:
A Review of Prevailing Practices, Projects, and Perceptions

Becky Sue Parton


Distance education is becoming increasingly common in the general population – a trend that is mirrored in programs for students and professionals involved in Deaf education. A review of the literature reveals three distinctive target groups within Deaf education for which distance education serves to advance learning agendas: Deaf students, instructors, and interpreters. This paper will first endeavor to identify and describe the ways in which distance education is positively contributing to Deaf education and training. As a secondary goal, the special considerations and modifications necessary for successful implementation of a distance-learning module targeted toward Deaf students will be discussed. Videoconferencing designed especially for Deaf elementary and high school students, appears to be the most common and successful form of distance education currently since it accommodates American Sign Language communication.

Keywords: deaf, hard-of-hearing, distance education, video conferencing, American Sign Language, interpreters, distance learning, computer technology, special populations, deaf education teachers, captions, instructional technology.



Distance education is becoming increasingly common in the general population – a trend that is mirrored in programs for students and professionals involved in Deaf education. Hubbard (1999) extols the virtues of this medium, “Education of the deaf can benefit from distance learning fully as much, if not more, as education of the hearing” (p.6). Distance education can be defined as technology-aided instruction occurring when teachers and students are physically separated (Eilers-Crandall, 2000). A review of the literature reveals three distinctive target groups within Deaf education for which distance education serves to advance learning agendas: Deaf students, instructors, and interpreters. Each of these groups has experienced successful instruction through a variety of distance techniques including videoconferencing and web-based initiatives. The purpose of this paper is to review prevailing practices, projects, and perceptions regarding distance education in the realm of Deaf education. It will first endeavor to identify and describe the ways in which distance education is positively contributing to Deaf education and training. As a secondary goal, this paper will discuss the special considerations and modifications necessary for successful implementation of a distance-learning model targeted toward Deaf students. By gaining a broad understanding of these issues, the interested reader will be better prepared to conduct investigations into specific areas of interest within this discipline.

Target Groups and Projects Identified

Deaf Students

Deaf students from elementary age to college age are experiencing the additional opportunities that distance education affords them. Many projects and approaches are underway. Researchers agree that, in particular, videoconferencing is beneficial for Deaf students due to its visual nature (e.g., Hazelwood, n.d.; Juhas, 2001). At the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD), videoconferencing grants students the opportunity to explore via virtual fieldtrips to museums, zoos, and other sites. Students can collaborate with peers in their native language, American Sign Language (ASL) versus exchanging comments through written English (Hazelwood, n.d.). Additionally, Deaf children and teenagers are exposed to Deaf adults. These role models may serve as mentors or experts to assist in job interview role-playing or to depict the art of ASL poetry for example. Students at TSD share presentations, present ASL stories, and debate all at a distance. They can receive instruction on a wide-variety of topics, even the study of other languages, such as Spanish, by using the document camera to display a written representation of the foreign language (Hazelwood, n.d.). At the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind (CSDB), Deaf students use videoconferencing to connect with Deaf adults who answer questions about life in the ‘real-world’ including relationships and employment (Rose, 1999). Although many of the activities permissible through videoconferencing at these and other schools are not unique to Deaf students, it is the dramatic improvement to communication that is noteworthy. Text-telephones (TTYs) and email rely on written English, but Eilers-Crandall (2000) states, “Videoconferencing provides remote participants with face-to-face familiarity that comes with physical presence, including facial expressions, body language, and eye contact” (p.10). The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) – a school within the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York - arranged a panel discussion between students, Gallaudet University, and the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness (GLAD). NTID also participated in a joint venture with the Rochester School for the Deaf (RSD) whereby high school students at RSD took college-level science and math class from NTID through videoconferencing during the 2000-2001 school year (Robinson & Aidala, 2002). An initiative entitled the Shared Reading Video Outreach Project (SRVOP) was initially developed by Gallaudet University and has subsequently been adapted by states such as Washington to fit the needs of the community. SRVOP is a reading enhancement program that promotes literacy by presenting stories from children’s books to Deaf students. These families, who live in remote areas of the state, might otherwise not have the chance to meet and participate with Deaf adult storytellers (SRVOP, 2003).

Videoconferencing is but one method of implementing distance learning. Web-based is another approach that is gaining popularity. The familiarity of the Internet to most students makes it a comfortable medium (Eilers-Crandall, 2000). At NTID, some programming courses are now offered on-line and were specifically designed for Deaf students. They integrate captions and signed videotaped lectures (NTID, 2003). In the broader community of RIT however, Deaf students often elect to take courses for which an interpreter traditionally translated the discourse. When the format of some of the aforementioned classes became web-based, they were made accessible to the Deaf students through text-based dialogue. A recently conducted survey posed questions regarding Deaf students embracement of this approach. Hearing and Deaf students did equally well statistically and rated many contributing factors to success similarly. Long (2003) reflects:

. . . most deaf and hard of hearing respondents felt that the on-line learning format provided important communication-related advantages. Compared to a more traditional class, students were less dependent on interpreters to capture the important concepts in class and then present them in sign, in a way that
was comprehensible to the students (p.397).

It is worth noting that the Deaf students did not necessarily indicate that they preferred text material over ASL, but rather that they preferred first-hand information over messages filtered through interpreters. One student summarized the essence of this concept by saying, “Now through distance learning I get the exact same material presented in the exact same way as everyone else in the class” (Long, 2003, p.398). This statement would support the notion of leveling the playing field - an inquiry of the research project – at least among students with an excellent command of written English. Another strategic advantage of the web-based courses was the flexible pace at which students could address course discussions and content. Ninety percent of the students enjoyed being able to read, review, and process material prior to participating in on-line meetings. Students also had the option of seeking live tutoring from professors or peers – a service that Deaf learners valued more than did their hearing classmates (Long, 2003).

Conversations with the lead researcher, led this author to hypothesize that the derived benefit from these live tutoring sessions was explanations given in ASL. A similar, but somewhat different approach by DeSales University is to modify, primarily through captioning, their current MBA on-line program to accommodate Deaf students (Mangan, 2001). Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts college for the Deaf, is also at the forefront of distance education delivery. Their online learning system is called the Gallaudet Dynamic Online Collaboration (GDOC) and encompasses tools, such as Blackboard, to offer web-enhanced and web-based courses. Seventy percent of the students and forty three percent of the faculty are using this system (King, 2002).

For schools not accustomed or attuned to the needs of Deaf students, however, the tendency may be to produce inaccessible on-line courses. Kessler (1999) writes, “The ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] does not mandate that distance-learning programs be provided, but where they are offered, the accessibility requirements are no less stringent than for standard educational programs” (p.44). Therefore, the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have teamed up for a three-year project involving “Access to PIVoT” (Physics Interactive Video Tutor). The research team will, “. . . issue a set of guidelines recommending procedures for creating Web-based educational resources” (Freed, 2001, p.3).

Other educational entities have either combined, expanded, or taken a different approach to educating their Deaf students through distance learning. SOAR-High (Science, Observing, and Reporting-High School) “. . . is a web-based earth systems science course involving collaborating teachers and deaf students at high schools in California, Washington DC, and Indiana” (Barman & Stockton, 2002, p.5). In this hybrid environment, students continue to meet in person with their own teacher and classmates, but the course materials and activities are web-based. By its very nature and design, SOAR-High increased students’ exposure not only to the science content but also to technology. The students learned to use digital cameras, scanners, videoconferencing, web search mechanisms, web page development tools, and on-line courseware for discussions, quizzes, and research exchanges (Barman & Stockton, 2002; Ellsworth, 2001). Barman & Stockton (2002) find, “All of the ISD students seemed to feel that they had learned to be more independent as a result of the SOAR-High project” (p. 8). These skills will endow a broader range of students to be more successful in mainstream on-line courses in the future (Ellsworth, 2001).

Although low-ability English readers had difficulty with some of the units, studies have shown that students are motivated by the technology and will attempt reading tasks on a computer that they would find daunting in a text book (Juhas, 2001). At the post-secondary level, NTID has a variety of distance learning approaches. They adopted a hybrid approach including videotape-supplemented instruction, in sign language, as far back as the 1960s. The disadvantages of this medium include the requirement to physically keep track of the tape, the lack of uniformity between video players around the world, and the inability to index the material (Mallory, 2001). Recently, instructors have experimented with a new approach – video streamed instruction delivered via the web. Video streaming can be defined as the progressive download of a video file that is either live or prerecorded. Mallory (2001) forecasts, “Although streaming video with captioning is not quite perfected and is not yet widely used on the web yet as a stand-alone instructional tool for the deaf and heard of hearing audience, it will be soon” (p. 6). NTID hopes to entice working adults in remote areas to receive training in this manner. Video streaming is becoming more viable in part due to friendlier editing software, inexpensive digital camcorders, and high-speed Internet connection. Having separate streams for the signing instructor, the audio, the captions, and the computer displays is preferred due to limited bandwidth considerations (Mallory, 2001). Still there are disadvantages such as the cost and complexity of production and the clarity required for readability of sign language. Mallory (2001) summarizes, “There is a trade off between what file size is adequate to be able to understand sign language and the instruction when it is streamed to the user’s desktop and what is a practical file size to store and stream video over a broadband connection” (p. 5).

Outside the United States, a recent study was conducted at the Open University in the United Kingdom to compare the perceptions of academic quality of a distance education program between hearing students and students with a hearing loss (Richardson and Woodley, 2001). The distance-learning courses were distributed primarily through broadcast television. Although both groups rated the quality of those classes high, the group with a hearing loss was not reflective of a typical Deaf student in that only three percent listed signing as their preferred language. The diversity of the various distance education projects discussed thus far is impacting schools around the nation and around the world. When implemented correctly, Deaf children and adults appear to benefit from these scenarios.


Just as Deaf students themselves are participating in distance learning ventures, so are their current and prospective teachers. Teacher preparation programs and in-service initiatives have interwoven the distance-learning dimension into their agendas previously, but only recently on a large scale. In 1992, a survey was issued to remote graduate Deaf education students taking courses via videoconferencing (a.k.a. interactive video) from the University of Kansas (Luetke-Stahlman, 1994). Of the thirteen students, twelve were hearing and one was Deaf. Luetke-Stahlman (1994) finds:

Subjects generally agreed that the camera and monitor were not distracting,
that being on “TV” did not make them feel self-conscious, that it wasn’t hard
to ask questions during class, that the professor didn’t spend too much time attending to the “other” group, that the audiovisual materials were presented adequately, and that they didn’t find it difficult to concentrate (p.100).

Thus the program was a successful experience for these teachers-in-training and a preferred alternative to correspondence study due to the live interaction. This study did not address the communication method of the one Deaf student.

To gain a sense of the current state of distance teacher training and professional development, two nationwide, influential projects will be examined. The need for said initiatives is established by the declaration, “The primary problem in Deaf Education is not a lack of information, innovation or effort, but rather a persistent and growing problem in achieving critical mass of individuals, knowledge and resources” (Join Together, n.d., ¶ C). The PT3 Deaf Education Catalyst grant was subsequently awarded to the Association of College Educators – Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (ACE-D/HH) and links the nation’s 70 Deaf education teacher preparation programs through the Internet. The overall goal of the grant is to: “Establish a seamless on-line community of learners that collaboratively share information, resources, and opportunities for the common purpose of recognizing excellence and enhancing performance within the field of Deaf Education.” (Join Together, n.d., ¶ B). Membership enrollment at is over 4,300 and includes pre-service teachers, mentor teachers, college professors, and parents. A typical exchange of knowledge between “Cyber Mentors” might consist of a teacher in the field sharing ‘real-life’ anecdotes and in return receiving contemporary literature on a topic from a pre-service teacher (Join Together, n.d.). Additionally, the grant has begun investigating the potential use of Internet based videoconferencing including its ability to render signed conversation adequately. At a bandwidth of 384 kbs, the technology is capable of performing the required tasks and will be used to connect expert teachers of the deaf with teacher preparation programs. Presently, 54 Polycom ViaVideo systems are in place throughout 21 states with more to be added (Join Together, n.d.). A future hope of the project is the expansion of the community of learners to include state schools for the Deaf, large public schools with Deaf education programs, deafness related national organizations, and selected corporations. With additional funding, the Deaf Education Network could also facilitate the recruitment of individuals to become Deaf educators, setup a “Virtual Professional Network” for statistical tracking and mentorship, and create a “Virtual Learning Environment” for Deaf students and adults to broaden their learning and collaborating opportunities (Join Together, n.d.). In general, this network fulfills and facilities a previously untapped source of national networking opportunities.

A second project that spans multiple states and is impacting Deaf educators and students alike is the Star Schools Project. This five-year grant, which began in 1997, is one of seven from the United Star Distance Learning Consortium (USDLC). According to Rodgers (2003):

[It is] one of the most comprehensive, education-focused research and development projects in the history of deaf education . . . The ASL/English
Bilingual Staff Development Project effectively applied engaged learning
principles and a technology-based learning community approach to increase teacher and staff knowledge and skills related to bilingual approaches for
deaf students (p. 3218).

The primary school, the New Mexico School for the Deaf, along with eleven other residential schools for the Deaf and several university teacher-training programs have been impacted. The learning community that has developed out of this venture includes researchers, parents, dormitory personnel, mentors, and teachers. They share materials through web-based lessons, videotapes, CD-ROMS, videoconferencing, and other avenues (Rodgers, 2003). Hubbard (1999) concurs, “Distance learning and videoconferencing are especially useful for making subject matter experts available to students and for enabling collaboration and staff development activities over distances” (p. 1). One example on the student side was the connection of Deaf youth and a panel of veterans who had served the country. During the course of the five years, distance learning took place in staff/mentor meetings, seminars, and classroom instruction and moved from a precursory use of the Internet for such tasks as email to an in-depth use of complex, broadcast technologies such as videoconferencing and online instruction (Rogers, 2003). The project, which also sparked international interest, has generated self-sustaining practices that can continue to develop even after the official grant comes to a close.

In the same spirit, other smaller-scaled initiatives have followed suit in the race to keep educators and support personnel connected and informed. In 1997, Gallaudet University initiated an in-service project called THREADS (Transformations for Humanistic and Responsive Education for all Deaf Students). Theories of multicultural education and constructivist methodology were presented live during a one-week summer course and subsequently reinforced throughout the school year via distance education (deGarcia, 1997). CSDB has used their videoconferencing capabilities not only for the student-centered activities discussed previously, but also for workshops on bilingual-bicultural pedagogy methods, conference planning, audiology meetings, sign class distribution, and more (Rose, 1999). At NTID, a new outreach effort under the auspice of the distance education department, is labeled “COMETS” (Clearinghouse on Mathematics, Engineering, Technology, and Science). It is an online educational resource and network for pre-service and in-service development programs aimed at both K-12 and college instructors (NTID, 2003). The project is funded by the National Science Foundation. NTID also uses their videoconferencing capabilities for staff development and recruitment efforts. Finally, SKI-HI (Sensory Kids Impaired Home Intervention) is:

a specialized in-service training model to prepare early interventionists, special education teachers, and related service personnel to provide family-centered programming to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are deaf or hard of
hearing and their families. The in-service course was specifically designed for practicing professionals and paraprofessionals (SKIHI, n.d.,¶ Home).

The distance education distribution methods for SKI-HI include two-way audio conferencing and videotape correspondence shared in three 10-week units. This paper suggests that the time has come for teachers to stop reinventing the wheel and start getting plugged into the ever-increasing community of distance collaborators that can propel Deaf education forward in terms of success and influence.


The last group of people involved in Deaf education that this paper will address is interpreters. The Distance Opportunities for Interpreter Training (DO IT) Center offers a three- year program, at a distance, for sign language interpreters who work in K-12 classrooms (Johnson, 2001). Of the 70 interpreter training programs, only two offer specialization in educational interpreting. The rationale, therefore, for this program is that school districts, especially rural ones, often must hire individuals who are ‘under-prepared’ for the task. Thus, “Educational interpreters who have limited or no opportunities for professional growth are able to access state-of-the-art information via technology without compromising jobs or families” (Johnson, 2001, p. 9). The program, as of 2001, had over 200 students from twelve states with an expected increase in subsequent years. The learning approach by DO IT incorporates a wide variety of distance techniques. Courses in the fall and spring are typically six weeks long and are sent to students in a “Box” format that includes a study guide, video and audiotapes, readings, teacher insights, assignments, and other information. Seventy percent of the courses are actually based in WebCT, but students still receive the “Box” with initial material. Students then converse through email and web discussions with their instructors, reportedly creating more interaction than common in traditional classrooms. Most importantly, “Distance learners are not left in isolation to struggle alone with academic content” (Johnson, 2001, p. 11). During each course, there is usually one three-hour videoconference as well. “[These] synchronous presentations by instructional staff members can be made to enhance or clarify instructional content; panels can be recruited with members from various states to provide multiple perspectives on an issue; modeling of specific assignment expectations can be done”, states Johnson (2001, p. 11). The videoconferencing session does require travel, sometimes of over a 100 miles, on the part of the student. Besides the academic content, there is a mentorship component of the program (comprised of master interpreters and Deaf individuals) that is delivered totally at a distance by exchange of videotapes through the postal system and of comments through electronic mail (Johnson, 2001). Finally, there is a three-week, mandatory, in-person summer session. Johnson (2001) finds:

The on-site segment proves that personal interaction adds a valuable dimension to the educational experience. Without it, the distance interactions might well remain more impersonal and less appealing; with them, both students and faculty look forward to the on-going distance interactions with little notice of the distance dimension (p. 13).

The DO IT Center has future plans to videoconference to home computers, add computer-assisted sign language enhancement to the courses, and provide an on-line resource for continuing education. In summary, “It [The Educational Interpreting Certificate Program] illustrates that distance education is an effective means of providing interpreter education. It is possible to teach interpreting at a distance” (Johnson, 2001, p.13).

A closely related group, students taking ASL as a foreign language, share a common goal with interpreters - to become proficient in signed communication; therefore, a brief look at programs addressing this subset is required. In 2001, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), ASL was delivered through the blended technologies of the Internet, videoconferencing, and streaming video (Lehman & Conceicao, 2001). The researchers asserted, “ASL is highly visual and interactive and, therefore, an excellent type of content for videoconferencing.” (Lehman & Conceicao, 2001, ¶ Implications). Similarly, the Baxter School for the Deaf employees a Deaf instructor to teach ASL to other high schools in Main (Kessler, 1999; Mara 1999). The course is distributed over a high-speed, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network at speeds of 45 megabits per second – the equivalent of 30 telephone lines. The exchanges are high quality and instantaneous. Mara (1999) explains, “ATM is especially good at carrying video, voice, and data simultaneously because it can prioritize different kinds of information and manage them efficiently. Other wide area technologies, like ISDN or T1 lines, don’t have this capability”
(¶ Infrastructure). The videoconferencing equipment and the ability to now offer courses such as ASL, is hoped to increase enrollment at the rural high school by enticing neighboring cities without high schools to choose Baxter for their students.

Implementation Considerations Identified

Having now reviewed the various projects for the students and staff involved in Deaf education, this paper’s focus shifts to the practical strategies and suggestions for creating or modifying distance learning in this context. Johnson (2001) establishes, “Effective distance education requires a new perspective on learning and teaching, and new approaches to preparing teaching materials” (p.9). Eilers-Crandall (2000) concurs and asserts, “Educators of Deaf students have a definite advantage when it comes to distance education in that they already know how to adapt teaching for visual learning” (p. 14). Implementation considerations are broken down into two main categories – videoconferencing and Internet-based planning.


Hearing presenters must be instructed to not use ‘voice-over’ with their visuals. Deaf students cannot attend to the visual image and the interpreter at the same time; therefore, they must be allowed to look at it first and then pay attention to the discussion. Neither can Deaf students attend to a task, such as a web search, while listening to the presenter (Hazelwood, n.d.). However, “For Deaf participants, chromakey takes the place of ‘voice-over’”, continues Hazelwood (p. 10). In order to implement this technique, one needs a mixer with a chromakey generator and a background (typically a blue or green screen) so that the presenter can be superimposed over an image from the document camera or computer. A mixer is also critical because it allows an interpreter and hearing presenter to be spliced together to be displayed to the Deaf audience and recorded to tape for future viewing.

Juhas (2001) notes “Lack of visual clarity and latency or lag time can be problematic for hearing users but is an even greater disadvantage to deaf users” (p. 2). The lag time referenced above is due to technical limitations, but lag time, more accurately termed ‘processing time’, also manifests itself as a delay between original and translated language utterances. Thus it behooves the Deaf educator to explain to hearing presenters that students cannot, for example, answer questions immediately because both the equipment and the interpreter have to “catch-up” (Hazelwood, n.d.). Researchers have found that internet-based videoconferencing such as ‘Cu-SeeMe’ delivered through web cams do not currently produce high enough quality output to have a normal ASL conversation (Eilers-Crandall, 2000; Hazelwood, n.d.). The recommendation, therefore, is to use a T1 or ISDN-based network with a minimum of 384kbps and a preferred 512kbps. Especially, at the former rate, signers must slow down their communications, especially fingerspelling (Hazelwood, n.d.). Regardless of the rate the deaf students have available, if the museum or other school is only wired at 128kps, the signing will not be clear; it may be jerky or blurry (Juhas, 2001; Rose, 1999). Hence, Juhas (2001) recommends:

Due to the lag time that is inherent with videoconferencing, and the fact that
sign language is not smooth and natural at 128 kbps, it is essential that the interpreter be located with the deaf audience members and not in the
customary place, which is a the side of the presenter (p. 3).

However, even in the past couple years since much of this research began, there has been an increase in the speed and quality of connections consequently clearing the path for viable internet-based videoconferencing. For example, traditionally, Deaf and hearing persons have experienced phone conversations through a text relay process, but video relay interpreting (VRI) is growing in popularity. The logical progression to engaging remote interpreters even for in-person courses is one of the topics to be addressed by Gallaudet University and the University of Tennessee should they be awarded a new federal grant (Gallaudet University, 2002). The grant would also provide funds for creating a ‘cookbook’ of best practice guides and training for distance education.

Taking a more technical approach to combating the issues of transmission clarity, Muir & Richardson (2002) conducted a study to determine what portion of the signer a person looks at most. They found, “It may be possible to make better use of available transmission bandwidth by selective optimization of key features of the video sequence” (Muir & Richardson, 2002, p. 650). Through tacking of gaze point and eye movement data, the face was found to be the region of the image that was attended to most often and thus needed to be the sharpest quality. From a practitioner viewpoint, some more simplistic ideas to maximize readability include selecting appropriate contrasting colors for clothing and background and properly framing the shot (Lehman & Conceicao, 2001; Lightfoot, 2002). Establishing a few preset camera positions is best so that camera zooming is minimized as excessive visual movement is disorienting to Deaf audiences (Robinson & Aidala, 2002; Lehman & Conceicao, 2001). Finally, signers need to see themselves to ensure they stay in their sign space, but students often find it distracting to see their images so the protocol for videoconferencing may vary based on individual cases (Hazelwood, n.d.; Juhas, 2001). Juhas (2001) summarizes, “The value of these learning tools is dependent upon the strategies employed in planning and preparing for interactive and experiential learning” (p. 5).


Eilers-Crandall (2000) suggests that a transition time is necessary as web-based distance education instruction is introduced to Deaf students since it signals both a change in technology dependence and a change from guided to more independent learning. A professor at DeSales University, states, “For most Deaf … students, the language we’re going to use – mostly text-based, supported with graphics – is a second language for them. We need to think of these students the same way we think of international students who have another first language” (Mangan, 2001, p.A39). Modification of content to include more visual components is thus a recommendation. At NTID, Dr. Mallory creates innovative web-based distance education programs and asserts, “My teaching style has been to take distance learning to a more personal level, trying to create the same atmosphere that I am able to create in the traditional classroom” (COMETS, n.d.). That personal level for some NTID courses, means adding streaming video to the web presentations so that instruction can be given in ASL. As mentioned earlier in this text, the tradeoff for clearer video is larger file size so both factors must be considered. A recent teleconference in February of 2003, distributed by PEPNet (The Postsecondary Education Programs Network), detailed some of the design considerations and technical issues pertinent to on-line learning involving Deaf students that have been addressed in this paper (PEPnet, n.d.).


“Research studies clearly demonstrate that, properly executed, distance learning is, at least, as effective as traditional pedagogical approaches,” reflects Johnson (2001, p. 9). ‘Properly executed’ is the key word in that statement and the focal point for much of the contemporary research regarding Deaf studies. But is there one right answer? This paper takes the position that Deaf learners are a heterogeneous group comprised of individuals with unique backgrounds and skill sets necessitating different distant instructional approaches. Videoconferencing designed especially for Deaf elementary and high school students, appears to be the most common and successful form of distance education currently since it accommodates ASL communication. In examining college and career age students, however, the issues are more dynamic. As long as students have a certain level of proficiency in the language of the instructor – whether that be English or ASL - they appear to prefer to receive the information first-hand. Future research should address how to determine the pivotal point in terms of age, grade level, or language skill at which students develop this preference for direct instruction over their preference for instruction in their native-language. It is the same type phenomena that occurs when a hearing person would rather watch a movie in the original foreign language than with English dubbing because the payoff of receiving the nuances of the original outweigh any deficiencies in comprehension of the secondary language. With this type of data, educational entities would be in a better position to make accommodating implementation decisions such as captions versus interpreters. It would be interesting to research the connection between students who prefer interpreters versus real-time captioning in traditional classrooms and students who prefer text-based web-courses versus interpreted videoconferencing. However, a majority of the available research is descriptive, focusing on individual projects, rather than empirical studies. It is evident from that body of literature that a wide range of programs and strategies can be employed with positive results not only for Deaf students but also for the instructors and interpreters that serve them.


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About the Author

Becky Sue Parton

Becky Sue Parton  is a Ph.D. student at the University of North Texas. Her field of study is Educational Computing. Her research interest is technology as it relates to Deaf Education. She teaches an Intro to Computers class at a local two-year college and works as a programmer / database developer at the University of North Texas.

Becky Sue Parton
12825 Metz Rd., Sanger, TX 76266
W: 940-565-3889



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