Interactive Whiteboards Enhance the Learning Experience for Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing Students

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The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center in Washington, D.C., has a mandate to provide exemplary education to deaf and hard-of-hearing students from two schools on the Gallaudet University campus: Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD). This includes providing teachers with the knowledge and resources to do their job, as well as working with parents, administrators and support personnel to teach students nationwide.

For several years, the center provided computers, printers and network connections to educators at KDES and MSSD. Unfortunately, only a few teachers took full advantage of the technology and used it in their instructional processes. As a result, students were not acquiring the skills needed to succeed in the increasingly technology-dependent work environment.

The center's Information Systems and Computer Support (ISCS) unit determined that teachers not only needed to be taught how to use technology, but also its value in the classroom. Since there were a few cutting-edge teachers using technology already, ISCS wanted to create a mechanism that would allow teachers to share their successes and setbacks with other educators. The ultimate goal was to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing students with the technology skills they need to compete in the workplace. The underlying principle is that teachers cannot help students achieve technology literacy unless they are technology literate themselves.

Empowering Students

The TecEds (Technology in Education Can Empower Deaf Students) project was created by ISCS to meet the needs of students and teachers. The program was developed with consideration for the requirements of adult (deaf and hearing) and student (deaf) learners in a typical classroom or computer lab setting.

To teach using a computer, instructors must project the computer image onto a large screen at the front of the classroom. However, since much of the U.S. deaf population communicates using American Sign Language, visual contact must also be maintained. This means teachers cannot be at the back of the room or sitting at a desk to control computer applications; instead, they must be at the front of the room where the whole class can see the sign language.

As the TecEds project staff investigated projection options, they became aware of the SMART Board interactive whiteboard. The SMART Board interactive whiteboard is a large screen located in the front of the classroom with which teachers can project computer-based information and control the computer while still facing students and remaining in full visual range. The big difference from traditional projection screens is that the SMART Board interactive whiteboard is touch-sensitive. The SMART Board interactive whiteboard also has a feature that gives users the ability to write in electronic ink over any computer application. At any point during a lesson, teachers can pick up a stylus from the SMART Pen Tray and write on the board, either with the stylus or with their finger. All annotations are seen on the SMART Board interactive whiteboard and can be saved for future use and test review.

Using SMART Board interactive whiteboards, teachers at KDES and MSSD are able to use a computer in the classroom while remaining at the front of the class where students can see and understand sign language. As a result, classes are more productive and students have an easier time understanding the concepts being presented.

In addition to the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, the TecEds program also installed SynchronEyes software into its computer lab-style training room, where a teacher may have as many as 12 students working on separate computers. Because these students are deaf, it's very hard to request their attention when it's time to teach again. SynchronEyes allows a teacher to monitor each computer screen in the lab, as well as disable mouse and keyboard control when students need to look to the front of the room. Teachers can choose for student screens to appear blank or display a message such as "Eyes to the front, please."

Technology Training

Since the implementation of the TecEds project in January 2000, teachers have begun to use technology in their classrooms more readily. As part of the implementation, each of the center's academic teams was given a SMART Board interactive whiteboard, a projector and a laptop, provided that at least one team member was trained in using the technology.

Since then, the instructional uses of the SMART Board interactive whiteboard have been expanded by the creativity of the teachers. Teaching methods have changed, and students now often share information with their classmates using the interactive whiteboard instead of the teacher constantly remaining at the front of the room. The students want to come to the front of the room, and they get excited about learning and sharing information with their classmates. The program has been so successful that the teachers have asked for a SMART Board interactive whiteboard in each classroom instead of for each team.

The SMART Board interactive whiteboard and its features are an integral part of all technology training provided by the TecEds project. The tool facilitates visual communication between the trainers and presenters and the deaf individuals. In fact, it has become a standard tool in training and in meetings where computer technology will be used. In addition, the Clerc Center has partnered with Gallaudet University regional centers to deliver more teacher training sessions, which started last summer and will continue through this summer. SMART Board interactive whiteboards were purchased for each of the centers to facilitate both TecEds programs and other training.

- Phil Mackall

For examples of the training materials developed by the TecEds project on the use of the SMART Board, visit http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/TecEds/training/materials/index-smartboard.html.

Contact Information

SMART Technologies

(888) 427-6278

www.smarttech.com

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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