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Teaching ASL Online:  How to handle expressive and/or interactive skill development.

An ASL Hero asked a question:

"When I taught ASL online before, I found it extremely difficult to do online meetings with more than one student.
Can you share some strategies regarding how you interacted and/or met with students?"

The following is to be considered brainstorming and not any sort of "have to" nor "must." It is just some ideas and thoughts for you to consider:

The simple fact is that interaction and "face time" (the activity -- not the software) is NOT something at which online instruction is effective (for classroom-size groups).

Sure, live one-on-one interaction is possible in an online course -- but trying to teach an online class via "live interaction" (one-on-one) would require a massive amount of time, effort, and organization. Typically online one-on-one tutors charge $40 for a half hour of instruction "one-on-one." Multiply that $40 by 25 students times 90 (half-hour increments to equal 45 contact hours of a typical three-unit course) and you end up with a value of $90,000.
[$40 x 25 x 90 = $90K]

Trying to interactively "meet" online "synchronously" (live / at the same time) with 25 students in an online college class is (sort of) like trying to provide $90,000 worth of instructional value. Yes, yes, some "course management systems and/or learning management systems" may provide or allow for "group management" but it is currently still awkward for teaching ASL.

I think it is important to take a step back and ask ourselves:
"What does this particular mode of instruction allow us to do WELL?"

"What does this mode of instruction NOT allow us to do well?"

"What does the Canvas (or a similar) "Learning Management System" do well?

Then approach our online instruction based on the strengths of the medium and the system through which we are teaching.

At the present time online instruction doesn't "afford" (allow for) effective "live" interaction with more than a few students. (And certainly NOT with 25 students).

So what DOES online instruction do better than live instruction?

The answer is simple: The computer doesn't get tired.
Input your content and then have the computer drill the student on the content again, and again, and again -- until the student masters the content (or fails -- or quits).

If you think about it, online instruction should probably result in either an "F" or an "A."

When a student is able to access the material and information 24/7 and have that information presented "ad infinitem" (again and again forever) by a computer that doesn't get tired of "showing the information yet again" -- the student is able to choose their grade by the amount of effort they invest.

It is up to us as instructors to decide what level of performance equals "mastery." Then automate our courses to elicit the corresponding amount of necessary work and provide sufficient formative (guiding) feedback for the student to reach the desired level of performance.

Some observations:
Area 1: Online instruction excels at developing "receptive" signing skills.
Area 2: Online instruction does "less well" at developing "expressive" skills.
Area 3: Online instruction does "less well" at developing "interactive" skills.

Eventually the efficacy of online instruction for expressive and interactive skills may (will) change as (so called) "artificial intelligence" learns how to "read" signing and provide feedback.

In a typical in-person (brick and mortar: same time same place) course it is not uncommon to see a syllabus requiring a percentage of 60% of total points possible in order to pass the course.
Visualize that as:

In-person course requirements in order to pass:
Area 1: "receptive" skills: 60%
Area 2: "expressive" skills: 60%
Area 3: "interactive" skills: 60%

In order to compensate for the deficiencies in Areas 2 and 3 (until computers can hold conversations with online students in sign language) we could (should) increase our expectations in Area 1 (receptive skills) for "online courses."

Visualize that as:
Online course requirements in order to pass:
Area 1: "receptive" skills: 80%
Area 2: "expressive" skills: 50%
Area 3: "interactive" skills: 50%

Or perhaps even:

Online course requirements in order to pass:
Area 1: "receptive" skills: 90%
Area 2: "expressive" skills: perfunctory
Area 3: "interactive" skills: perfunctory

My point is:
We should HEAVILY test our online student's "receptive" skills.
We should do "good enough" testing of our online students' expressive and interactive skills.

As far as expressive testing:
We should require students to record themselves signing a selection (sample) of the overall vocabulary. (For example, 25 vocabulary items or sentences out of a bank of 400). If they do well (over 70% right) they get a checkmark (some basic amount of points). If they do not do well enough they receive a temporary "F" and the chance to fix their mistakes AND sign a different selection of signs.

A sample bit of simple feedback from the teacher could be:

Dear student, 
You have failed the expressive assignment.
If you take no further action your end of course grade for this course will be an "F."  
You may avoid receiving an end of course grade by fixing your expressive errors and taking a different version of the expressive test with a result of 70% or better.  
You missed these items, numbers 4, 7, 9, 10, 16, 17, 20, and 23.  
How to avoid the "F" grade for this class: 
1.  Look up online items: 4, 7, 9, 10, 16, 17, 20, and 23 (in the lessons and/or at compare them with how you signed those items and then re-record those items. Sign the item number to the camera and then show the corrected sign or sentence.
2.  THEN record yourself signing this second (new) list of signs and/or sentences (show the item number before each item) and send me your link. If your video is marked as private and I am unable to easily access it you will automatically lose 5% so make sure your video is either public or unlisted but not private. You may delete the video after it has been graded: 
[Insert list here.]

Your instructor.


If the students don't fix their mistakes AND do well enough on the second selection of signs they get a temporary "F" AND a third chance to fix their errors and record themselves signing a third (different) selection of signs. 

Warn them STERNLY that this is their last chance to avoid the end-of-course "F" grade.

 If the student does poorly on the third set of signs then give them an "F" for the course.  
Three strikes and they are out. You literally allowed them three tries to get their act together.  

The above process doesn't require face time nor "live interaction."  
The feedback from the instructor is efficient because it is basically "you missed these items (go look them up)." 

By requiring 90% or better receptive skills and 70% or better expressive skills your students will then survive (quite well) in their next course whether or not that course is taught by a different instructor and whether or not the course is online or in-person.

Tip:  To avoid giving lots of "F's" it helps to provide plenty of self-practice, automated-feedback exams. These can be as simple as: "Watch this video and type out your answers THEN when you get done click here to see a list of the right answers and compare your answers with the right answers."





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