“Using Collaborate to Provide an Accessible Environment for Individuals with a Hearing Loss”

by Samuel B. Slike, D.Ed., Director
Special Education Online ProgramsSamuel B. Slike, D.Ed., Director of Special Education Online Programs, Saint Joseph’s University, discusses Blackboard Collaborate.

The field of Deaf Education has been my home for the past 37 years. I began as a teacher of the deaf and then worked as a professor and director of a Master of Science Program for the preparation of teachers of the deaf. My first career goal was to determine best practices for teaching deaf and hard of hearing students and, more recently, my focus has changed to best practices for teaching deaf and hard of hearing college students in synchronous online environments. Currently I am the Director of Online Special Education Programs at Saint Joseph’s University where I use Blackboard Collaborate for virtual faculty meetings, faculty training in the use of Collaborate, and to teach a synchronous real-time course in American Sign Language. Below are a few thoughts and tips to consider if you find yourself with a student with a hearing loss in one of your synchronous online classes.

Students with a hearing loss in a classroom setting benefit greatly from the presentation of visual information. Creating a “real-time” synchronous online course for students with a hearing loss requires that we provide them with the same access to information as hearing students. (Note: equal access of information is also required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)). In developing a Collaborate online classroom that includes a student with a hearing loss, you should consider the following checklist:

  • PowerPoint slides or an outline of lecture material (in Collaborate, the white board is good for this) need to be provided so that students with a hearing loss can follow along by reading important lecture points.
  • The course must be closed captioned for those students who have a hearing loss, but who don’t use sign language.
  • For Deaf students who sign, the course may need to be interpreted (using a certified interpreter for the Deaf is a must!) unless the students feel that closed captioning provides them with appropriate information.
  • All students in the class should be encouraged to use the Collaborate chat box so that students with a hearing loss can read the comments of everyone in the class.
  • The course must have volume loud enough for hard of hearing people to hear what the professor is saying. (Because of my hearing loss, I have attached an external speaker to my computer so that I can increase the volume.)

On a final note, professors should be sure to use the archive feature of Collaborate every class so that all students are able to review each lecture as necessary. Interestingly, my hearing college students give as much positive feedback about the use of the archived classes as the students with hearing loss!