Sunday, May 17, 2009

Learning American Sign Language

I am required to attain a certain level of proficiency in ASL (American Sign Language) by my third anniversary date in order to keep my job at the National Institute for the Deaf. To help me, NTID makes a variety of resources available. I take a class four times a week, have a tutor twice a week, and am going to attend residential camp this summer.

I have been pretty surprised at how little hearing people know about ASL. I didn't know much about it, but I assumed it was a fully developed language. After all, there are many many Deaf people using it to communicate on a daily basis, right? But my hearing friends and family seem to be kind of surprised by this news. It makes me realize how much we (humans) tend to think that if people aren't doing "it" -- whatever "it" is -- the way WE do it, then they just couldn't be REALLY doing it, right? ASL vs English isn't my blind spot, but I wonder what my blind spots are?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Our New Department website

My department at RIT rolled out a new website on Friday. We are accepting projects from faculty and staff -- called Major Design Projects -- that will constitute about 75% of the work we will do for the next year. To advertise the fact that we are now accepting projects, I asked the team to create a little Second Life piece and also to use augmented reality to make another one. The Second Life thing is on the site now -- the augmented reality thing will be there in a day or two.

I used some of the Scrum principles to manage the projects, and it went pretty well -- well enough that I am going to use Scrum in a much bigger way going forward.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Personal Branding

Good News ... I'm digitally distinct!

Personal branding is something I became interested in a few years back when I realized that for years I had been working very hard at improving someone else's brand and hadn't done anything to protect, cultivate, and promote my own. I decided that I wasn't going to go very far until I changed that.

My first step was to determine what was my value proposition. I started think -- what did the world need? What skills, talents, abilities, experiences did I have that would fill that need? We don't think of ourselves in this way, or at least I didn't. But once I started to think of myself as a product, it became easier for me to talk about myself to potential employers. It also helped me to focus my efforts because I wasn't responding to needs that weren't going to be filled by my value prop.

Once I had determined my value proposition, I started to think about how to talk about it. I started to look for places on the Internet where I could get my message out.

When you have doing that for a while, it's a good thing to evaluate how your efforts are working. ">Here is a site that can help you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wanderings in to Photo Pictorialism

Tuesday, April 07, 2009 -- What an very cool site!

I am very impressed by what I am seeing at CommonCraft -- what excellent e-learning. Take a look.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Constructivism and Online Learning, part 1

A confession. I am a constructivist.

Constructivism is the belief that learners construct mental models of the world, and then integrate new information into those models. Learners need to direct the learning process, because they know where their mental models need work. This integration is an active process, where the learner has to seek out the knowledge, examine it, determine how and where it fits, reject it if it isn't sound. It is about as far away from a traditional learning model, where the teacher is the font of knowledge and determines what is going to be learned.

For a long time I didn't even know what the name of this was. I hadn't heard the term constructivism. But I grew up in a family that revered self-directed learning. As a child and young adult, I spent the summers studying some topic of my own choosing. One year it was falconry. Not a lot of need for falconry in suburban Dallas, Texas in the late 1960s. But that's what I wanted to learn about. Another year it was folklore, the oral tradition and nursery rhymes. I would read everything we had at the Garland Public Library on my subject of choice. Sometimes that wasn't much. It would have been great if there had been a way that someone could have helped me to construct a framework to think about these subjects, or a way I could have discussed my ideas with others. But I did learn how to dig into something for myself, and I didn't have to apologize to anyone for being interested in kind of weird stuff.

Being able to learn on one's own, to direct a program of study, was much appreciated in my family. Here is a story about my father's uncle. (Warning: this is not the History Channel. I have adjusted the "facts" to suit my need, and over time I don't even remember how much I adjusted the facts. I do this all the time. Some people may call this "lying". I call it "story-telling.")

Ok... So, my grandfather and my great uncle had a dairy business. Grandpa was good with the housewives, and Uncle Lawrence was good with the cows. Grandpa was handsome and smooth and a good enough business man that he retired very early and left southern New York and moved his family to someplace nice -- San Diego -- while he was quite young and still enjoying life. Uncle Lawrence was good with the cows.

One day, Uncle Lawrence had a question about the education that his childern were receiving. So, after tending to the cows, he hitched up his overalls and made his way to the School Board meeting. Uncle Lawrence didn't have the advantage of much formal education -- he had not finished high school. In those days people did that, they quit school and went to work to support their families. So when he got down to the School Board meeting, he was a man who knew how to work hard, who wasn't educated and was good with the cows. Family lore has it that the School Board men weren't very hospitable to Uncle Lawrence. Maybe they chuckled at his un-educated, go0d-with-cows ways. They embarrassed him. Uncle Lawrence returned home.

But as I said earlier, Uncle Lawrence knew how to work hard. So he decided to work hard at becoming educated. He visited the free public library and he read and studied. Eventually he became the President of the School Board.

The moral of the story to me was always clear: Education isn't only what happens at school. As long as there is a free public library, there is no need for me to ignorant. Hard work, study and reading are all it takes.

In this series of reflections, I will discuss how Constructivist theory can be implemented into the development of online learning. I encourage you to share your thoughts -- this isn't just me talking, it should be one side of a dialogue. So, please, pipe up as you think of stuff. The conversation with help us both.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I Got a New Camera

garden This is the tulip Joanne's kids sent me for my birthday. I was going for a soft focus look.

This is the Japanese Garden in Delray Beach Florida. I saw it while I was down seeing my daughter and her husband.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Learning from My Deaf Teachers

Last July I joined the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, NY. Because of NTID, there are quite a few Deaf folks in Rochester, so I had some causual experience of seeing people sign. But I didn't know very much about the culture, and never really thought about how my instructional design "played" to a Deaf audience. Our content was captioned, so it was accessible, right? Wasn't that enough?

When I started to dig into the work at my new job, I decided that I wanted to develop an instructional design model for creating online learning for Deaf adults. It only took me a few minutes of watching my old e-learning to realize that it was woefully poor, if you did have the sound turned on. It lost most of it's meaning and the captions just didn't work to fill the void. But beyond that, I want to develop a model that actually works best for Deaf learners, and doesn't just have access tacked on as an afterthought.

So, it seems to me, that a good place to start is to observe good Deaf teachers. I am assuming that a Deaf person would know the very best how to teach a Deaf student. Lucky for me, I spend an hour a day, four days a week with such people -- my ASL teachers.

We have two languages at NTID: English, and ASL (American Sign Language). I have the opportunity to attend ASL classes and also to work with a tutor twice a week. I have a very long way to go to master this lovely language, but I am making progress.

I have had two different teachers for my ASL classes, and they are both really excellent. They are Sam Holcomb and Barbara Ray Holcomb. I have observed four things that they both do. I am going to assume that these are common practices of excellent Deaf teachers.

1. They don't assume that because they are broadcasting, I am receiving. They make sure I am attending before they communicate. I have started noticing my own communication patterns, and I see that I have a working assumption that because I am talking, you are listening. Of course that's not true -- how many times have I said something, only to discover that the recipient of my communication wasn't listening. Then I have to (after expressing frustration!) repeat myself. Barbara Ray and Sam signal that they are ready to begin -- then check to see if I am making eye contact with them - attending to them. They do that with everyone in the class, all 10 - 15 of us. And if someone isn't ready, they wait.

2. Barbara Ray and Sam both check for understanding after they communicate something. They look right in my face to see if I have understood what they are saying to me. If I don't actively communicate back that I understand, by nodding, saying 'ok' or 'yes' or 'right' -- they communicate right to me and keep doing it until I understand. I can't just zone out and not pay attention because they are checking to see if I am following at every juncture.

3. Both teachers will use a variety of ways to communicate new information -- fingerspelling the word, signing it, and sometimes using pantomime or pictures. Sam frequently explains how the sign might have evolved. It is amazing to me that I have developed the vocabulary that I now have almost completely by this method. Can you imagine learning Spanish at the earliest, most basic level without using English? I can't. Yet, this is how we have learned ASL.

4. The curriculum is entirely material that I need to do my job. It is completely relevant to my everyday existance at NTID. We do learn a little about the daily life of Deaf folks, and a little about Deaf culture, and I find that interesting. It helps me to understand how to modify my communication to be better understood by my Deaf clients and colleagues. But by and large, the stuff I am learning is what I need to survive, on the job.

You may be reading this and thinking, "Well, that's not very ground breaking -- that's just good teaching!" and you would be right. However, in my experience in all levels of education, from primary school up to graduate school, I have rarely had teachers who actively communicated as well as these two people do.

I am going to continue to observe Barbara Ray and Sam, and am going to try to observe some other Deaf professors here. I feel like there is a lot of gold here. Watching them is going to help me to devleop my instructional design theory, and after that, develop the best e-learning ever for the Deaf.