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Thursday, 6 September 2007

Sign language and online learning

Elina McCambridge (Univ. of Oulu, Finland) presented an interesting case study where she looked at small uses of language in the students' everyday life. The case is based on observations from her previous studies where deaf students have participated in online courses with other students. It seems that the deaf students are like any other students: they are heavily involved in various online and offline social networks. They use English in a skillful way without even realising that they are using a foreign language.

The students in the current study are all deaf (in the social meaning of the word, Elina correct me if I am wrong, will you?) and the course set-up had been designed to accomodate for their needs. The study is an ethnographic study where Elina is heavily involved in the activities she is researching. The course itself was a 2-wk crash course in Moodle with six participants. It is a real challenge to plan a course for the deaf students as their language backgrounds can be very varied (native sign language speakers, hard of hearing, native Finnish, etc.) and the content to be taught is challenging too: how to teach the spoken element as the students can never hear it (and have most likely never heard it) as you cannot really use the written format to model the spoken one.

Preliminary conclusions at this stage are that access to different varieties of language is of great importance as these students don't necessarily have access to that in the school context. Another thing to consider is that should international signing be included in the teaching as it would have added value to the students? Courses like these seem to empower the students to discover new ways of learning and using the language in their own lives.


Elina said...

Yes, Peppi, you got it right. =)

In my research I take the socio-cultural view on deafness. With that I mean that the level of hearing is not the most crucial thing but being the member of the linguistic minority of Finnish Sign Language users and a member of the Deaf community. This includes also CODAs, the children of Deaf adults who might be hearing but their mother tongue is sign language since they learned it from their parent(s). Some researchers spell Deaf with a capital 'D' to show that they consider deafness from a socio-cultural view.
In this particular study the participants are deaf or hard-of-hearing in medical point of view as well as from the socio-cultural view. In other words: Deaf Finnish Sign Language users.

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