Danville, KY, US
Education and Academia
Management of application development/performance and solutions delivery
Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD)
DEAFinitely Connected: Bridging the Language Divide with Telecommunications
For the past two years Kentucky School for the Deaf has explored the vast possibilities of videoconferencing through a partnership with Tandberg. Our highly visual students have traveled through the Maestro and Gigantor big screens to deaf schools, dance studios and museums across the globe. Closer to home, rain and hail couldn't stop a Gigantor videoconferencing system from diagonally transmitting "No Character Left Behind", a middle school spoof of Mother Goose characters, across the 160 acre campus to delight our elementary students and staff, as well as the 100 other students in six distant schools who watched the performance. In 2009 the school established and hosted MegaDEAFConference 2009, the first ever multiple-site video conference for deaf students. Over 1000 students and staff in 40 schools attended the two-hour conference. Year Two, MegaDEAFConference 2010 brought together over 2,000 students and staff in 60 schools and programs. Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) has a long tradition of leadership in deaf education. Established in 1823, the school is the oldest public residential school for the deaf in the western hemisphere. Currently the school educates 140 Kindergarten through twelfth grade students on the Danville, Kentucky, campus. Only 20% of the students live in the Danville area the rest, who live on campus five days a week, come from rural and urban areas all over the state. As a statewide educational resource center on deafness, KSD also offers staff development and consultation for teachers, schools and summer institutes. Through a statewide outreach program, KSD staff supports families of deaf students enrolled in their local school districts. Videophones and videoconferencing systems are essential to serve hearing-impaired students, their families, and other educational stakeholders from all over the state. We knew that, in the 21st century, we wouldn't be as effective as we wanted to be without a level of technology that visually connected our students to other students and schools and our students, staff and families together in real-time. With seed money from an AT&T Excelerator grant, federal E-rate funds and support from Tandberg and Sorenson VRS, KSD took a leadership role in using video phones for campus and outreach communication and videoconferencing for instruction. The DEAFinitely Connected project met two important KSD goals: To provide equal access to telecommunications for students, staff and families To provide learning experiences which will foster the development of strong communication in ASL and English and refine social skills The school named a veteran KSD teacher, Clyde Mohan, to head up the telecommunications project. As the Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS), Mohan worked with KSD's Director of Technology, Deby Trueblood, and the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Educational Technology Systems and Tandberg staffs to determine needs, purchase or acquire equipment, put it in place and train teachers. Mohan and the staff searched for sources for videoconferencing experiences, in particular for connecting with schools for the Deaf. Teachers began small. In October 2008 our class of five Kindergarteners held the first official student videoconference with their peers at the New Mexico School for the Deaf. Since then KSD students have visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario and shared cookies with Santa. The first-ever MegaDEAFConference, sponsored by KSD's videoconferencing mentor Tandberg, was held in 2009 with forty schools and a thousand viewers. The second conference, MegaDEAFConference 2010, attracted sixty schools and over two thousand viewers watching through video streaming.
The Importance of TechnologyHow did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
To understand the importance of videophone and videoconferencing technology to our students and staff, you must enter the world of the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Theirs is a visual world that requires visual cues such as signing and lip reading. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people communicate most fluently using American Sign Language (ASL) which is a conceptual language with no relationship to spoken or written English. Since there is no real relationship between ASL and written English, visual cues are essential communication techniques for deaf individuals. Our students are, in fact, bilingual, developing literacy and communication fluency in both ASL AND Standard English throughout their school years. Extensive research shows that highly visual technology has an extremely positive impact on the development of literacy skills and broadens employment and social opportunities for deaf persons in a hearing world. (I.e., Harriet Kaplan, et al, Research Synthesis on Design of Effective Media, Materials and Technology for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students.,1993, and David Passig, Enhancing the Induction Skill of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children with Technology. 2000.) Effectively transmitting the "written in the air" ASL signs requires extremely high quality digital equipment. Cameras that cannot record the very fine hand movements of signs and video transmitters that stutter and transmit in fits and starts, are worthless. Before 2008 KSD's deaf and hard-of-hearing staff and the students did not even have a video telephone system to make a phone call using ASL. To on the telephone required using a TeleTYpewriter (TTY) system requiring deaf users to type conversations even to each other. We struggled on campus to communicate with one another. Teachers would have to leave their classrooms and students to walk to the office or walk across campus or ask a secretary to place a call. Not safe, professional or efficient! Faster, free, user-friendly videophone service is now available to students, staff and families through Sorenson VRS (SVRS). Videophone calls use a high-speed Internet connection and VRS equipment. Deaf individuals can call each other directly. Calls between deaf and hearing individuals are placed and received through an ASL interpreter and the users' VPDirect number. For teachers of deaf students in a residential setting, finding affordable opportunities to collaborate with deaf or hearing schools is challenging. Economic belt-tightening results in smaller staffs, fewer field trips, and fewer special events. There is a general constricting of opportunities for growth and exposure without quality videoconferencing equipment. In order to tap into the distance learning opportunities of vendors such as the Mid-Atlantic Gigapop in Philadelphia for Internet2 (MAGPI} and the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), requires videoconferencing equipment. Thus, acquiring sophisticated videoconferencing equipment brought a multitude of opportunities for our students. We use two different Tandberg systems. The smaller unit, the Maestro, known to our students as "R2D2" because of its resemblance to the Star Wars character, is used for classroom videoconferences along with a Smart Board and a digital projector. The Gigantor, used for large group videoconferences, consists of two large screen TVs and the videoconferencing equipment. Our "bridge" for any teleconference project is the Kentucky Commonwealth Office of Technology. Their multi-calling unit bridges conferences between our site to the other sites, necessary because of KETS firewalls and security systems. The same office will tape the session onto our content server for viewing later For KSD videophone and videoconferencing technology has given students, staff and families access to experiences and opportunities that allow us to meet our project goals. Without the equipment we would be stranded on our island to which an eighth grade teacher refers later on, restricted by old technology, without enough time or money.
BenefitsHas your project helped those it was designed to help?
Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?
What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
Before 2008 KSD students did not share many experiences with their hearing peers. Videoconferencing has changed that. With an interpreter, KSD students participated in several collaborations with hearing students. During the International Math Challenge a collaborative math project each participating school made a presentation about a math game and then all sites played the game together. The activity boosted our students' confidence and self-esteem. They realized they could do many things hearing students around the country do. The sheer size of the videoconferencing screens brings a special benefit for to KSD students with limited or deteriorating vision... These youngsters require powerful screen magnification software to use computers. The huge videoconferencing screens bring the sights and ASL communicators up close and personal for these students. Teachers find that the projects with students in deaf schools have been the most rewarding because the students can all use ASL to interact. Fifth grade students participating in a language activity with the Delaware School for the Deaf worked quickly and purposefully with their distant peers. They gained some informal sharing time after completing the lesson conversed with each other about their schools and lives. Our students did not want to stop; they were so excited about meeting other deaf students their age. Using videoconferencing allows students to hone their language skills. Students make an effort with their signing, because they have to communicate effectively. Instead of using slang, they want to be clear and concise. Teachers report that the level of student discourse has been heightened. Students consciously want to make a good impression on the people they meet. After sharing short stories with Kansas School for the Deaf, one eighth grader said she didn't want to use signed English anymore. She wanted to learn better ASL. Signed English is a word-for-word translation of English through finger-spelling and some ASL signs. Videophones have become the primary mode of communication between the distant dorm departments at middle school and high school levels. Students use them almost constantly in the dorms. Because students are no longer dependent on staff to make phone calls to their parents, their ties with their families have been strengthened. Using a videophone gives students an opportunity to refine their language skills. Sixty per cent of KSD students do not have videophones at home. Every time these students use a videophone on campus to call home there's a chance to practice ASL as they work with the relay ASL interpreter to make sure that the message is translated correctly. Thus, students get to practice ASL with a wider variety of people fluent in their language. The final major benefits of this project are savings in time and money. With today's curricular demands and severely limited funding, there is little of either to spend on out-of-town field trips. A virtual field trip can be integrated into the daily schedule and curriculum can be built around it. There are a few services that offer free virtual field trips. Subscription rates are generally low; MAGPI charges $75 to $125, inexpensive compared with the costs of even an short offsite trip. For deaf students videoconferencing is an ideal way to provide experiences that would be prohibitively expensive if carried out on an actual worksite. Career teachers use video conferencing to introduce middle and high school students to unique career opportunities, allowing them to talk to individuals in those careers through an interpreter and to view actual worksites. These videoconferences provide an essential tool to expand the horizons of students whose understanding can be limited to what they actually see and experience.
If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
From the youngest to the oldest, students respond positively to our project. One six-year old signed that she liked different people teaching her. To their teacher two others signed: "learned dinosaur teeth fell out" and "butterfly spot 4 on the front", indicating she remembered that the butterfly she studied had four spots on the wings. Their teacher commented, "Videoconferencing helped my students remember small details in a fun way. My students liked being in a different environment learning and doing things in a different way than our everyday instruction in the classroom." A fourth grade teacher felt that a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario, Canada, brought important science experiences right to her science students. "The presenter did an excellent job of showing seeds on her document camera and explaining seeds. She also sent us wonderful handouts and activities we could do before and after the program. The children learned a lot from her and even remembered her when we saw her again on screen during the MegaDEAFConference. I could never have brought that information to my class without her assistance." Students are genuinely excited about the social aspect of video conferencing. "When the Mason-Dixon Games (an annual basketball tournament for public deaf schools in the South) were going on, the boys were here (at KSD) and the girls were in South Carolina at the same time," Mohan, the project director said. "We had a Videoconferencing Party Night and the kids were thrilled to be able to talk to one another. We can see the potential for all kinds of after-school activities and social events." Through a videoconference KSD shared their first Future Farmers of America (FFA) Officer Installation Service with the only other deaf FFA chapter in the nation. The West Virginia FFA members watched the ceremony live from their school. The assistant FFA sponsor reported,"We were also able to live stream it into the National FFA Office in Indianapolis, IN and the Northern Kentucky High school of the FFA Chapter who conducted the service for our new FFA Chapter. The new FFA chapter at Kentucky School for the Deaf is now being featured on the National FFA website, accessible to 500,000 FFA students and teachers throughout the nation. Our students realize the significance of the work they are doing here when they see the outside interest in their FFA. In a larger sense, the video conferencing created an environment to share the abilities and unique attributes of our deaf students with high school students throughout the nation." The vital importance of reaching out to the wider hearing and deaf world is explained by a middle school teacher: "It would be very easy at a residential deaf school to become like an island. The staff understands the communication and educational needs of the student and so the students get comfortable. We have many talented staff members here, but we try very hard to broaden our students' world because they will be living outside the walls of this school when they graduate. That is why the videoconferencing is so beneficial to our school. Our students were able to share their short stories with deaf students at Kansas School for the Deaf and take a hip-hop class from dance teachers in New York, interacting with people and places they would otherwise miss because of the restraints of funds or time. Videoconferencing is a great way to expose our students to the world bigger than their school or community."
OriginalityIs it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind? All of the above
What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
Using videophones throughout our campus, we have linked our campus to families and service areas across the state. Through the use of videoconferencing, KSD has brought the wider world right into the campus, linking deaf schools to deaf schools and deaf students to exceptional tours and experiences. Mohan, the project director, feels that the most immediate impact of this project is on actual classroom instruction. Small staffs and small student numbers limit the number of courses that can be offered at many deaf schools. When combined with a video camera and two larger screens, the videoconferencing system allows teachers and students in different classrooms or schools to see one another throughout a lesson. As other deaf schools acquire high-level videoconferencing equipment, deaf schools will be able to set up distance learning classes and collaborate with other schools. If there is not a teacher for a certain class at a school for the deaf, a student could connect to a classroom at a school that does offer that subject. KSD is focusing on lining up content and instruction with other schools and even Gallaudet (college for the deaf). There has been very little collaboration between deaf schools because of their distance apart and budgetary struggles. But the most original aspects of this project are the MegaDEAFConferences of 2009 and 2010, the only teleconferences of their kind or magnitude. The idea began to take shape two years ago when Mohan became aware of students in distant locations being linked together for multiple-site "mega conferences" online. Mohan recognized that what worked for hearing videoconferencing could play an even greater role at a deaf school. In March 2009 KSD again hosted MegaDEAFConference 2009 The two-hour videoconference visually connected students from 40 schools in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. A thousand observers watched as KSD high school students playing the role of "video jockeys" introduced a series of six student-produced live performances. These ranged from ski lessons at Montana School for the Deaf and Blind to the event's 2009 award winner, Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton, Ontario. At the second MegaDEAFConference in February 2010, KSD hosted a two and a half hour gathering for 60 sites and 2000 registered viewers. Viewers included 22 deaf schools (two in England and a third in Canada) and 36 schools with deaf programs. The nine presenters included the Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa, California, North Carolina and Kentucky Schools for the Deaf. After the conference a participant from a state school for the deaf pronounced that KSD is recognized as the leader in videoconferencing among deaf schools. He said that, at this point in time, Clyde Mohan and KSD are the only ones who can pull deaf schools all together for a conference of this size. Trueblood said that the program is just the beginning of what can be done to connect deaf students. "About three percent of Kentucky's population is deaf with deaf and hard of hearing families living all over the length and width of the state. Outside of school our kids are often live in a narrow isolated world. The MegaDEAFConferences allow them to interact with deaf students all over the world. This expands their contacts with ASL users, increases both English and ASL skills, and permits them to see beyond their immediate world, which for most of them is narrow and poor. We are really only limited in what we can do with this by our imaginations."
DifficultyWhat were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
Implementing the Sorenson videophone system was complex. It was necessary to find a means to use a proprietary home product, Sorenson, on the KETS network, a business secure network. First, KSD technology staff had to convince state technology leaders (KETS) that it was the appropriate technology as outlined in the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) regulations on access for the disabled, especially the deaf. Sorenson VRS offered a free, high-quality product that met FCC requirements and an excellent record for service and repairs. Next we waited for KETS to develop a solution for using the videophones on a secure network. The technicians created a subnet mask with open ports in the firewall only for that subnet, allowing only Sorenson videophones to operate. In the end, the results were excellent, providing videophones for our deaf staff, students, and customers (parents and alumni). KETS videoconferencing vendor of choice is Tandberg. The videoconferencing equipment that is most appropriate for our students and setting is expensive and required a multi-year purchase because of limited funding. We first applied for eRate funding to improve our network infrastructure to use videoconferencing equipment. In the next year we applied for eRate funding to purchase the actual videoconferencing equipment. Many of the videoconferencing events available today are designed for hearing participants. Our students and staff require ASL interpreters. When we were not able to provide onsite interpreters, we used a third party vendor whose interpreting was transmitted through videoconferencing equipment. This process resulted in a loss of quality. Instructors for field trips with hearing schools were not accustomed to teaching deaf students and the pace was often too fast. If the students had to look away from the screen to respond to directions, they missed what the instructor said next. With practice our students will adjust. For several trips, the presenters sent vocabulary and instructional materials before the videoconference. Students appreciated the opportunity to prepare so that they'd have a better chance of keeping up. When they have opportunities to work with deaf peers, our students view these as perhaps the most exciting and rewarding experiences. To initiate videoconferences with schools for the deaf we had to locate schools that had videoconferencing equipment. This took a lot of calls and e-mails. A few schools had equipment but were not using it because it was old, cumbersome or broken. KSD continues to face funding issues such as paying for maintenance and upgrades to the systems, for a project director and for virtual field trips. Because KSD is a state education agency the school does not qualify for some funding available to public schools through Title I and federal grants that require Title I eligibility, such as an annual federal grant for schools and libraries that requires a poverty level of over 20%, a level that KSD greatly exceeds. Right now, Mohan, the project director, has been partially assigned to work on this project. There is great concern about what happens when KSD has to choose between funding a classroom teacher and funding a videoconferencing specialist. We are still encountering technical problems. When we interact with multiple sites, some schools have low-end technology which causes problems for all connected. Some might say that we should not proceed until everything works perfectly. Our feeling is that if we wait for perfection, we will do nothing. Fast-changing technology and quick obsolescence makes today's problems history and opens the door to new issues. We will just go with the flow.
Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
The most difficult aspect of our telecommunications project centered on using a proprietary home product, the Sorenson VRS, through the Kentucky Educational Technology System (KETS), a secure network system. Since the TTY communication system met Federal Communication Standards for equal access to telecommunications for deaf individuals, there was no sense of urgency for making a change that would involve penetrating network security. Persistent politeness governed KSD's approach. KSD did the research, located the appropriate product, brought the experienced vendor and the KETS system technicians together and after a long wait, a solution was found. KETS technicians created a single secure portal in the firewall for Sorenson technology to operate and the videophone system could be put in place. Mohan started working toward this in the 1990s and it was accomplished in 2008.
SuccessHas your project achieved or exceeded its goals?
Is it fully operational? Yes
How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
Our data on videoconferencing indicates that KSD teachers are developing confidence in using videoconferencing technology as instructional tools. Over 85% of our classroom teachers have participated in one or more instructional videoconferences offered through vendors such as Tandberg, the Mid-Atlantic Gigapop in Philadelphia for Internet2 (MAGPI) , the Center for Interactive Learning and Cooperation (CILC), and Two Way Interactive Connections in Education (TWICE). The fledgling Future Farmers of America club gathered government officials and the staff and student body of KSD and other deaf schools together for the installation of officers here on campus. We broadcast the installation so that the distant participants could witness the program in real time. Hosting a MegaDEAFConference with sixty schools and programs and an audience of 2,000 was inconceivable two years ago. We know that we have only scratched the surface of possibilities videoconferencing for the deaf. As a result of the MegaDEAFConference successes we see that we have the possibility of bringing the global community to our campus and leading the way for schools for the deaf to successfully move their students "off the island" through technology. We would like to now take this program "on the road" to schools for the deaf across the United States. Communicating through videoconferencing and videophones we can build a global community designed to meet the needs of staff and students in deaf schools. This community would feature professional development in using videoconferencing for teachers, collaboration and sharing resources among schools, and opportunities for presenters to learn how to work with deaf students during a videoconference. Sharing resources, deaf professionals such as writers, photographers, actors and other performers could work with several schools at one time through technology. At KSD some of our deaf students with degenerative eye disease could videoconference with a KSD graduate in New York who experienced the same problems and went on to be a successful adult, learning how the graduate overcame vision problems. Tandberg is continually connecting us with deaf programs in public schools where we would not usually have classroom-to-classroom collaboration. Personnel in these schools have heard of us and want to learn more about how we developed our successful video communications project. These schools now want to discuss curricular programs that are working and not working for us such as methods and materials for teaching reading and math. We know that through videoconferencing we can reach that one Kentucky deaf child in a public school perhaps the only deaf child in the school -- the child who is deaf or hard-of-hearing attending a local school with an ASL interpreter. We can teach that child and his/her hearing peers about Deaf culture, about the rich heritage of the Deaf in Kentucky and broaden the horizons of all of the children in the school.
How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
KSD teachers and staff have used videoconferencing to bring the deaf world closer together for two years now with our targeted audience -- our students and students at other deaf schools in the United States. Teacher use is increasing. Last year 16 of 29 KSD teachers individually or collaborating with other KSD teachers held 13 videoconferences between October and May; this year 25 out of 29 teachers have already collaborated with each other in 10 videoconferences between October and the end of January with more scheduled. Clearly the MegaDEAFConference concept is embraced by both deaf schools and deaf programs even beyond the United States as evidenced by the tremendous increase in registration and participation for MegaDEAFConference 2010. We knew that our teachers as a whole would love this because the research says it is the key tool for deaf education and it opens the door to so many possibilities for learning. And they did! However, we have found that, even with a supportive technology staff and a highly-respected integration specialist, selecting, preparing for and participating in a videoconference is still a daunting prospect. Teachers have to be flexible and create teachable moments, for instance through an October videoconference on a unit topic scheduled for March, recognizing the value in repetition of vocabulary and content and in language development from the October experience Integrating multiple videoconferences into instruction during the school year will require additional professional development as well as a great deal of dedicated time and careful planning.
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