The Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education at Utah State University is taking its American Sign Language program to a new level after receiving a gift of $25,000 from the AT&T Foundation. The gift is allowing the department, based in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, to use video-conferencing technology to create new opportunities for American Sign Language courses to be taken over the Web.
There is a national and statewide shortage of people with the skills to teach ASL and serve as interpreters. According to the Utah Deaf Center, there are currently only 74 qualified (master and intermediate) interpreters, and more than 400 additional interpreters are needed. USU’s new online ASL classes have the potential to address this nationwide problem.
USU’s Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education department is recognized nationally for its history of excellence in ASL instruction. Now USU instructor Curtis Radford, who is deaf himself, has created what USU’s Tech Center has called “one of the best online courses Utah State has to offer.”
Radford’s new classes make ASL via distance learning possible not only for USU students in Logan, but for students in rural and remote areas, at regional campuses where ASL instructors are in short supply, for Utah high school students or for anyone interested in developing ASL skills.
Until recently, sign language instruction has been offered only in traditional classroom settings because instructors believed students needed that face-to-face interaction. But USU’s latest experience in the classrooms is proving otherwise so far. Radford is offering students an online introductory course in ASL. With ASL being such a hands-on and visual language, Radford said some people thought it sounded difficult to teach in a computer course.
“Some were worried that online ASL students would have a disadvantage to learning the curriculum,” Radford said. “We are finding this to be just the opposite. The online course gives students an advantage to go back and relearn those things they may not understand as many times as they want to click their mouse.”
“Our online ASL class has been in attendance now for two weeks. They are already four weeks ahead of ASL classes offered on campus.”
Video conferencing technology provides a mechanism for delivering state-of-the-art interactive ASL instruction at all levels, from introductory to advanced. The department’s ultimate goal is to complete the development of ASL online course levels 1-3 and then begin advanced courses for students to learn how to teach and interpret ASL.
This is an exciting time for the COMDDE department, said Beth Foley, head of the department. She anticipates that the online ASL program will only continue to grow. Her hope is that students will develop a passion for the ASL program and continue furthering their education to one day become instructors and interpreters for Utah State and around the world.
Foley thanked AT&T for supporting this innovative program. In particular, she noted the commitment of L.J. Godfrey, a USU graduate and AT&T’s vice president for government affairs in its western region.
“Mr. Godfrey has been a huge asset in providing USU with support for many education programs,” Foley said. “This gift will help fund a unique, revolutionary part of our American Sign Language program and, in time, have a significant impact on the lives of many people.”