Deaf/hard of hearing education students enter virtual classroom at BU

For immediate release: Nov. 21, 2007

BLOOMSBURG — Two departments at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania have collaborated to offer deaf/hard of hearing education courses online, without sacrificing the interaction found in a traditional classroom.

Sam Slike, professor and curriculum coordinator of the education of the deaf/hard of hearing program, and Pamela Berman, instructional designer for the Institute for Interactive Technologies, used an online program to combine sign language interpreting, real-time lectures and interactive question-and-answer sessions, making courses available to deaf and hard of hearing students, as well as hearing students, despite their location.

“This type of education is training future teachers of the deaf to use technology to communicate with their deaf students. A lot of people think ‘online classroom’ and they think ‘text.’ But this is an online, virtual classroom that functions like a regular classroom,” Slike said.

Every Tuesday, Slike, Berman and two sign language interpreters meet in a classroom set up with a computer, microphone and webcam. At the same time, students enrolled in the course log onto Wimba, a program that allows real-time interaction between Slike and his students. No matter where they are located, students can listen to Slike’s lecture, watch video of a sign language interpreter and review slides of Slike’s presentation as they occur.

Meanwhile, a deaf student in the class can read closed captions of the lecture on a computer and use a Sorenson Videophone to communicate with the interpreter. Students can also type in questions that Slike can address immediately. At the end of the class, the video and text of the discussion are archived, so students can review the material covered in the lecture.

Because there are relatively few deaf education programs – only 70 in the nation, according to Slike – students enrolled in other programs can take Slike’s courses to supplement their regular coursework. With Berman’s assistance on the technical aspects of Wimba, Slike has made deaf education courses available to students as close as Bloomsburg and Scranton and as far away as Hawaii.

“This technology allows as many people as possible to take these classes, because they can take them from anywhere,” Slike noted.

To date, Slike has offered four undergraduate courses online using Wimba. He hopes to soon incorporate the virtual courses into BU’s graduate program for education of the deaf/hard of hearing. “My hope is that this technology can someday be used by my students in their own classrooms,” he said.

Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 8,000 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Professional Studies, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.