Friday, April 01, 2005

Mainstream Educational Software (It's Effective With Deaf Children, Too!)

Paper of Conference Presentation: Mainstream Educational Software (It's Effective With Deaf Children, Too!) By: Rosemary Stifter & Nancey Topolosky

Link to rtf of paper can be found at: http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/iscs/conf.html


Although today's post is not regarding an "article" it is in reference to a paper written to accompany a presentation given at the Instructional Technology and Education of the Deaf - An International Symposium conference in 2003. The paper did not directly address technology related to assisting in the development of literacy and the deaf and hard of hearing, but it did discuss ways to determine whether or not software designed for the mainstream culture (i.e. hearing kids) will be beneficial to deaf and hard of hearing students. Therefore, I felt this paper would benefit my blog because it provides the reader with some "evaluation" tools in choosing literacy software to be used with deaf and hard of hearing students. The authors presented the results of a software evaluation workshop conducted at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center in the summer of 2002. They presented eight characteristics to look for when determining whether software would be valuable to deaf and hard of hearing students. In order a piece of software to be "worthwhile" it should be visual, interactive, engaging, motivating, challenging, intuitive, structured, and include an assessment feature.

Software that is visual should provide students with visual cues rather than purely auditory ones. Feedback should be visual (i.e. a smiley face for something done right or a frowny face for something done wrong) and printed lables, answers and directions are also key. However, I was pleased that the authors did mention that too much visual stimulation (what they referred to as "visual noise") can be distracting to the student and counteract the intended learning. Furthermore, in order to maintain student interest and appeal, software should be interactive to the point that students can use the mouse, keyboard, etc to complete the tasks given. Also, it should be interactive in the sense that they are able to make certain decisions regarding what happens next. In the same sense, software that is engaging is colorful, contains graphics, and animations---this is somewhat related to visualness. Engaging software attracts children and draws them back for further use. The next attribute is somewhat related to the last two. Software should be motivating to students in such a way that it is so challenging they want to continually work to the end result for the purpose of completing it (although rewards are sometimes a factor). As you can see the challenging attribute is closely related to motivation. However, it should not be thought that software cannot be structured; as we all know anything in moderation is fine and drill and practice software that is extremely structured has a place in education as well. Finally, the last characteristic deals with assessment. Software that provides ongoing assessment of student progress and mastery of skills will be extremely valuable to the student and the teacher.

Although it seems obvious that all of the characteristics listed above are important, the interesting point of this paper that drew me in was the assumption that if software (i.e. literacy software in my case) contains these eight qualities it would be valuable to deaf and hard of hearing students regardless of whether it was specifically designed for them or not. Although I would love to believe this to be true, my own experience with software designed for the mainstream has been somewhat negative. However, if I look back on that software now, I would make the assertion that it did not contain all eight of the characteristics mentioned by the authors; for one, it was extremely auditory in nature---instructions, feedback, etc. It did, or I guess I should say does, have immediate and continuous feedback on students progress. However, students are not really learning anything from the software because the beginning levels are centered around the use of phonics. I guess this experience could go to support the assertions made by the authors, but I would still like to have more accurate "research" to support this belief.

The authors did present a list of software that was evaluated at the Clerc Center that summer that they said was valuable for use with deaf and hard of hearing students even though it was designed for the mainstream. However, the list was extremely difficult to read and understand (it was "clumped" together). It is a nice start to have the names of programs, but still, the more and more I research this topic the more and more I realize that there is little empirical data to support, or back up, the use of specific technology for increasing the literacy of deaf and hard of hearing students. Or, if it is out there I have not found it yet. I will continue my search, but I think that one of the problems I am seeing is that there just isn't enough quantitative (or true qualitative) research regarding the effectiveness of literacy technology with deaf and hard of hearing students.

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