Sunday, April 17, 2005

Giving a Helping Hand

Barnes, P. (2003). Giving a helping hand. Tech Live Washington. Available at:

The above link takes you to an article describing a future technology not yet in production. Rebollar, a researcher at George Washington University, is in the process of designing gloves that have built in sensors that "read" the gestures of American Sign Language. It translates the gestures into written or spoken English. However, at this point in time it is only one hundred percent accurate on simple words and phrases. The article mentioned that it is a work in progress and they hope eventually it will be a complete translation system for American Sign Language to English for anyone wearing the gloves.

Although the article was gearing the use of the gloves toward use in medical emergencies or other areas of more critical needs, I could see it as a beneficial tool in assisting deaf and hard of hearing students with developing literacy. Students using the gloves would be able to see real time translation of ASL to written English. This allows them to have meaningful experience with the English language and immediately see the differences between what they are signing and how it is written in English. The gloves provide a way to make translation visible. Other software I have discussed in previous posts makes meaningful written communication available through real time typing (i.e. ENFI and Tele-Web), but use of the gloves would allow students to visually see the translation of ASL to English, and it could provide teachers with a mode of pointing out to students grammatical differences between the languages. Although I am sure the manufacturing of the gloves would be extremely expensive, it would be a nice "dream" for such a technology to be available to schools in the future (if it worked accurately of course).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

HiP Chat Pals

Website/Project Review: HiP Chat Pals

Found at:

The above website is produced by HiP Publishers, a nonprofit organization that develops print and electronic material for deaf and hard of hearing students. This particular website offers information on how to start a "Chat Pal" program between your classroom and another classroom of deaf and hard of hearing students. The site offers information on how to get started, specific information for teachers, and information on available chat programs. Although it is aimed at middle school aged children, I believe it could be used for upper elementary school children as well. However, if used with younger children the teacher would have to be more specific about what was required, expectations, and strictly monitor its use.

The idea behind this website is that students will partake in a thirteen week long "Chat Pal" program in which they communicate via Internet resources with other students across the country who are deaf and hard of hearing. Through interaction with other students of the same age and reading/writing level, students will be able to discuss specific topics (assigned by teachers most of the time) while enhancing their reading and writing skills in an authentic atmosphere. My personal experience with teaching deaf and hard of hearing students leads me to support the use of authentic reading and writing. Many times deaf and hard of hearing students are presented with literacy instruction that tries to drill into their heads the rules and mechanics of written English; deaf and hard of hearing students (for the most part) have very little authentic experience or meaningful interaction with language. Furthermore, using the "Chat Pals" can increase motivation to write well because students know that someone other than the teacher will be reading their responses and if they want their "Chat Pal" to understand their responses, students need to be very careful to make their writing clear. Printing out the chats also allows teachers to directly address individual needs in writing, because the printed chats can provide an ongoing record of student improvement--both strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, student vocabulary words can be chosen from the writing of their "Chat Pals" by using individual words from their partner's writing students did not know. This makes learning literacy, reading and writing, meaningful to both sets of deaf and hard of hearing students.

However, in order for an activity like this to occur safely and be meaningful, both teachers involved would have to have a high level of communication, high level of monitoring of student chats, and support from administration and parents. Furthermore, teachers would have to have set aside time in their day (at the same time if it is to be real-time chatting) for chats to occur, be covering similar topics to make discussion meaningful and educational, have the appropriate technology available (which the website lists), and have technical support for when things go wrong (they always do). Moreover, this activity is not necessarily an innovation in the making. This is an everyday use of technology for the mainstream being adapted to use with deaf and hard of hearing students. For further information on how to set such a program up or more detailed ideas on its integration one could visit the website above or probably other "keypal" type website on the Internet. This is an educational use of technology that is easily adaptable to use with deaf and hard of hearing students, but it is important to remember that it would require a great amount of time and dedication on the part of both teachers for it to work to its fullest potential.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Article: Effectiveness of Multimedia Reading Materials When Used With Children Who Are Deaf

Gentry, M. M, Chinn, K. M, & Mouton, R. D. (2004/2005). Effectiveness of multimedia reading materials when used with children who are deaf. American Annals of the Deaf, 149(5), 394-403.

Found at:

This article began with a brief review of the influx of technology in education over the past few decades and provided definitions for five basic types of educational programs or software: drill and practice, tutorial, simulation, problem solving, and tool. After providing this basic information for various uses of technology in education, the authors presented brief summaries of the use of computers with hearing children and the use of computers with deaf children. After this, the article discussed the use of videodisc technology and CD-ROMs. The author's described videodisc technology as a system that provides "a multimedia environment that combines television and computer-based instruction." Furthermore, they mentioned the use of videodisc technology in the program HandsOn, which presents ASL video and English text simultaneously. The idea behind this program is that deaf students will be able to use their fluency in ASL to enhance their English literacy skills. As for CD-ROM multimedia, the authors mentioned the creation of a software, Rosie's Walk, which allows deaf students to choose to supplement print with Signed English, ASL, or both. Games within the software also address vocabulary and reading skills for deaf children. This was the first interactive software for deaf children in the area of literature and it was created in 1994 (is this a bit behind the times?!). Before addressing their study, the authors mentioned that multimedia is being increasingly used in developing literacy (and other skills) in deaf and hard of hearing students but that their is little empirical research to back up the claims that it has a positive influence. I was very pleased to read an article that confirmed my comments in previous posts that there is little, if any, reliable data regarding literacy technology for deaf and hard of hearing students.

As for their actually study, the authors conducted research of twenty five deaf and hard of hearing students from various schools and programs in Louisiana who read on a third to fourth grade reading level and used sign language as their primary form of communication. The study addressed the following two questions: "Compared to print-only presentation, how effective is multimedia in transferring linguistic information to deaf children? [and] If multimedia is an effective tool, what is the relative effectiveness of available presentation options? Specifically, what is the relative effectiveness of each of the following: print alone, print plus pictures, print and digital video of sign language, and print, pictures, and digital video of sign language." Students were presented with the previous four forms of presentation in a multimedia format and then retold the stories to three "judges" who scored their responses. (If you want to know the actual methods used to conduct the study you can read the article from the above link) After reading the results of the study, I was extremely shocked by the results. I would have assumed that the print and digital video of sign language combination would have yielded the best results, however this was not the case. In actuality, the print and pictures combination presented the strongest, most positive influence, on student comprehension. However, not surprisingly, the print only method yielded the least results and comprehension was at its lowest when this method was used. The articles explained that a possible reason for the results of the study could be that deaf children are accustomed to receiving print and pictures more than they are print, pictures and sign language simultaneously.

After thinking about the results of the study, I am still perplexed by the conclusions, however I do agree that it is probably due to a lack of familiarity on the part of deaf and hard of hearing students in seeing all three-print, pictures and sign language- at one time. However, I guess one could also make the assumption that perhaps all three modes is just to much for the deaf and hard of hearing student (or any student) to attend to at one time. One could relate the concept to good and bad design of websites in that anything that is too "busy" is too hard to attend to. However, I am still unsure at how this settles with me, because when students read storybooks they are interacting with print and pictures (just not in a multimedia fashion) and clearly this is not doing the job because many deaf and hard of hearing students read well below grade level. However, this is one of the only studies I have found that actually presents reliable data regarding literacy technology and deaf and hard of hearing students so it makes me somewhat question some of my previous posts regarding matching English print with sign language. Furthermore, it leads me to raise the question that if the multimedia combination of print and pictures showed improvement in comprehension, yet clearly our traditional storybooks do not, what is it about the technology presentation that makes the difference? I guess this a question for further research...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Media Equation

Reeves, Byron, and Clifford Nass. 1996. "Ch 1, The Media Equation," pp. 3-18 in The Media Equation. Cambridge University Press.

This post is slightly different from the other posts I have made to this blog. Chapter 1 of The Media Equation does not discuss literacy technology or deaf education, however it raises interesting points regarding the interaction of people (i.e. students) with media. In short, the article states that the "media equation" is that "media equals real life." The authors claim that people automatically react in social and natural ways to media in the same way they do when interacting with other people. In all honesty, at first I was somewhat skeptical of this claim, but the more I read and the more I thought about the implications the more I found it to be true.

As I read I began thinking about my own interactions with different types of media. Did I respond to media in the same way I respond to my friends or family? In essence, I believe I do. For example, when I watch movies I become extremely involved in the stories; I feel connected to the characters and if something sad occurs cry or if something happy occurs I laugh or smile. If I was completely disconnected from the media (i.e. movies) and did not "perceive" them as real, I would not react in such a manner. Furthermore, I began thinking about my friends and their reactions and interactions with media. One particular friend came to mind, because she would say on numerous occasions that "she and the computer did not get along." Can you "not get along" with an inanimate object? Apparently you can if you perceive it and your interactions with it to be "real" enough. This particular friend has true hatred toward computers and this leads me to believe that people do develop personal feelings and interactions with media.

Now, how can this be related to my topic of literacy technology and deaf education? I may be stretching this a bit, but I think it would be extremely important as a teacher (or designer) to consider how students will perceive technology and how students will interact with technology if we are to choose it and use it in appropriate, meaningful manners. If we automatically reaction to media in a social and natural way than these are factors that should be considered when choosing media for any students in any classroom, not just deaf and hard of hearing students. Furthermore, the media equation leads me to believe that when choosing literacy technology for deaf and hard of hearing students, teachers need to be extremely careful to choose media that students will easily and effectively interact with. Many deaf and hard of hearing students are already "turned off" literacy and teachers need to consider these social and natural (human like) reactions to media to promote effective interaction between students and the educational technology used.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Teachers' Voices: A Teacher Speaks Out About the Challenges of Deaf Literacy

Milone, M. (2003, February). A teacher takes on the challenges of deaf literacy: An interview with Jennifer Herbold. Reading Online, 6(6). Available:

This article presented the results of an interview conducted by the author with a deaf teacher at the New Mexico School for the Deaf. Jennifer Herbold, the interviewee, comes from a deaf family and is currently working on earning her doctorate. The interview consisted of several questions relating to her background, job as literacy specialist, and position on literacy challenges facing deaf and hard of hearing students. However, for the purpose of this post, I focused on the questions pertaining to literacy development and the use of technology. The author asked Herbold for information on some of the ways she (and other teachers) use technology with deaf students. Herbold's response included uses of technology that I was previously familiar with and technology, or ideas for using technology, that I had never considered.

She discussed the use of sharing emails with other students to increase writing skills and "social" English skills. Deaf and hard of hearing students live in culture that is completely different from the mainstream and it is important for them to learn what is "acceptable" in the mainstream environment if they are to succeed. I thought the idea of email pen pals was a wonderful concept in addressing the issue of writing and social skills. Furthermore, she discussed the use of connected notebook computers (E-mates) for the purposes of interactive communication. I found this to be similar to the idea of the ENFI program discussed in an early post. Both provide students with opportunities to write for a purpose in an authentic experience. If students feel they are writing for an audience they are likely to increase their motivation and effort in order to "impress" the reader. Other uses of technology she discussed that I am more familiar with (or at least have thought of and used before) concern the use of the SmartBoard and digital cameras. I was lucky enough to have access to a SmartBoard during my internship and I can say from experience it makes creating a visual literacy environment much easier. Also, in my experience it drastically increased student motivation and enhanced the desire for my students to come up to the front of the class and read/share their own stories. In regards digital cameras, the author suggests using them to allow students to take pictures and then use the pictures as writing prompts. I have thought about this many times but have never implemented it into the classroom. However, when the opportunity arises I believe I will try it because I think it can provide deaf and hard of hearing students with wonderful opportunities for taking ownership of their writing.

Although several other uses of technology were mentioned, I am only going to discuss one final one here. If you wish to see the others you may visit the website. I am currently involved in a practicum at a public elementary school (hearing students) and my students are in the process of completing a documentary. I have thoroughly enjoyed this project and believe my students have gained valuable leaps in their knowledge surrounding the topic. Herbold mentioned the use of digital videocameras and iMovie for deaf and hard of hearing students to make documentaries, and I know this is a wonderful learning experience from my current involvement in such a project. However, the added flare to her response regarding the documentaries that really pertains to literacy (besides the research involved in creating one) deals with the concept of captioning. Herbold mentioned that students create documentaries in American Sign Language, edit them in iMovie, and then write captions for the movie in English. What a great interdisciplinary idea! I thought this was a wonderful way for students to create innovative projects while at the same time making the assignment meaningful to their culture and allowing them to develop writing skills. Although this idea seems clear to me now, I am not sure I ever would have thought of it on my own.

I enjoyed reading this article because it provided a very personal account of the use of technology in literacy development by a teacher that actually uses it. Although there is no "research" (presented in the article) to back up the statements made by Herbold, I would venture to say that her experience as a deaf student and a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing provides her with a certain level of credentials to trust. The "hard" research I have located in other articles I have posted (as little as it may be) is useful, but I find a different level of usefulness in information that is presented by a teacher actually using the technology. Furthermore, the technology ideas Herbold presented use technology that is accessible to almost any teacher and show that although there is not a lot of software specifically designed for deaf and hard of hearing students, there is value in the everday technology that we use!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Crossover Technology for Deaf Learners

Crossover Technology for Deaf Learners, orginially printed in the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf magazine

Found at:

Although I could not find the author of the above article or the date that it was printed, I am assuming it is a fairly recent publication because the copyright of the website is 2005. Furthermore, I am finding that information is extremely limited on the topic of technology available to improve the literacy development of deaf and hard of hearing students. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find information that I have not arleady reviewed. However, this article discussed an interesting aspect of finding software available for these students by looking to technology created for use with students who are dislexic. I would never thought to look to technology for this population of students, but the article raised several valid points on the similarities between deaf and hard of hearing students and students with dislexia. For example, both populations of students have difficulties processing information orally and often rely heavily on visual cues/information. Software programs that are designed for dislexic students (at least those not completely dependent on auditory means -- which they should not be anyway) would provide a wonderfully visual environment for deaf and hard of hearing students to develop literacy skills. However, I will emphasize the word "skills" because with the exception of one program, Inspiration/Kidsperation, all of the software programs suggested by the article focus on drill and practice means of learning to read and write.

Although I do not agree with the use of only drill and practice software, I do believe there is a time and place for its use, and teaching deaf and hard of hearing students to recognize words or learn to punctuate sentences may be such an instace. Some of the programs mentioned in the article I believe fall under this category are GAMZ Player, Soapbox, Punctuate, and the Kaz Typing Tutor. In regards to the GAMZ Player, which is a program designed to improve visual memory through the use of pictures and words, is an excellent way for students to have repeated access to given vocabulary. Although some deaf and hard of hearing students develop a sense of internal (or external depending on hearing loss) phonemic awareness, many do not. Often deaf and hard of hearing students learn to read based on word recognition and this program would provide access to repeated experiences with words in a fun environment. Furthermore, the teacher is able to create their own games which allows them to individualize the words each student is having access to. I know that in my internship, each one of my students had a different set of spelling words each week, therefore it was difficult to design learning experiences that would assist students in reviewing their vocabulary/spelling words. However, the GAMZ software would be a wonderful way for teachers to address this issue. (if you want to know more about the other programs listed above visit the website)

Moving away from the more drill and practice type software, the article mentioned the use of Inspiration/Kidspiration for mind mapping, or concept mapping. I can attest to the use of this program on several counts of literacy, because I used it (along with the Smart board) many times throughout my internship. With a little imagination this program can be used to do more than map out writing, as the article suggests, but it can also be used to assist students in understanding key literacy concepts. For example, during my internship my students had an extremely difficult time grasping the concept of main idea. With the help of Inspiration and a "main idea" web they slowly began to pick it up. I created a template for my students to use when reading a story and as a class we would fill it in to determine the main idea. In order to assist students in understanding that the main idea was the overall, or general, point of the story (which is the part they were having difficulty grasping), I created a web with all of the outside nodes pointing toward the center node which stated "Main Idea." Students would write one phrase regarding what happened on each set of pages and then would determine after looking at the outside ring, what belonged in the did it all relate. This easy use of Inspiration made this concept visual to my students and I think that was the lacking factor prior to its introduction.

In regards to the information presented in this brief article, I am not sure I learned as much as I did from previous posts. However, it did stimulate my thinking into looking into programs designed for other special needs students with similar learning styles, such as dislexia. In addition, I came away with the name of a program to look into for word recognition and I was able to confirm my thoughts and support the article with my experience with Inspiration. However, as I have found with several other posts I have made, this article lacks substantial evidence in the effects of the named programs on the literacy development of deaf and hard of hearing students. Hopefully in the near future this "issue" will be rectified.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Storybook Weaver and Deaf Students

Storybook Weaver and its use with deaf and hard of hearing students: Review found at:

Although this was not an article, it did contain a review of the use of Storybook Weaver with deaf and hard of hearing students, as completed by a teacher of the deaf. I was interested in looking at this review, because I was wondering whether or not the teacher felt this program had strengths with deaf and hard of hearing students since it was designed for the mainstream. The reviewer mentioned that the program worked well for motivating students, was easy to use, could be adaptable to different levels, and allowed for scaffolding if needed. However, she mentioned that it would only be beneficial to primary age students or students working at a much lower level than your average "older" student. In specific reference to deaf and hard of hearing students, she stated that students often required assistance in the beginning on how to use the program, but I believe this would be true for any novice user.

One of the reasons I decided to focus on a review of software designed for the mainstream is that I wanted to "analyze" in terms of the characteristics presented in last weeks post. If one recalls, I posted an article that described characteristics of software designed for the mainstream. In order for a piece of software to be "worthwhile" it should be visual, interactive, engaging, motivating, challenging, intuitive, structured, and include an assessment feature. With the little experience I have with Storybook Weaver, I know that it is an extremely visual program, with little dependence on auditory learning. This is extremely beneficial for deaf and hard of hearing students. Furthermore, the reviewer stated from first hand experience that the program was motivating, which in my opinion also implies that it was engaging. Obviously, with students writing and illustrating their own stories, the program is interactive in nature and this is one of the key attributes of software for deaf and hard of hearing students. The reviewer also mentioned the ability to scaffold and individualize instruction which addresses the ability of the program to be challenging and structured. I believe assessment could be seen within the student's final product and through comparison of various projects completed throughout a year. Students would be able to see their progress throughout their "writing career" in the classroom.

Although I knew about Storybook Weaver before, and have seen it used in classrooms, it was not until the previous post that I had "valid" (I use that term loosely) judgment to decide whether or not it would work well with deaf and hard of hearing students. However, I now feel that it would provide students with a creative, interactive outlet to reading and writing in which they take ownership of their literacy, which can be nothing but positive with any student, especially those that are deaf and hard of hearing.