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Achievements and Challenges in Delivering Deaf Studies Curricula at Higher Education in Ireland

Author Brian Nolan, Lorraine Leeson
Abstract Irish Sign Language (ISL), an indigenous language of Ireland, is recognized by the European Union as a natural language. It is a language separate from the other languages used in Ireland, including English, Irish, and, in Northern Ireland, British Sign Language. Some 5,000 Deaf people use ISL. Across the EU, the average Deaf person leaves school with a reading age of 8.5 to 9 years. Deaf people are the most under-represented of all disadvantaged groups at 3rd level. This poses challenges: (1) getting Deaf people into third level; (2) presenting education in an accessible form; (3) describing, in a scientific form, the grammar of Irish Sign Language, in particular, the linguistic description of the phonological-morphological interface in ISL, and (4) understanding and describing the linguistic and cultural background of the Deaf Experience in Ireland. Back in 2005, two Irish colleges, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the Institute for Technology Blanchardstown Dublin (ITB) started a partnership to create a unique e-learning environment based on MOODLE for delivering of Deaf Studies programmes at TCD. This partnership delivers 3rd level programmes to students while maximizing multi-functional uses of digital assets across the 3rd level curriculum. Since then, we have built a considerable repertoire of digital assets including a corpus of ISL, the Signs of Ireland Corpus, which is one of the largest, most richly annotated in the world. We have operated online delivery since 2005. This project now has its own website at and details the significant research successes achieved to date under the SIF II funding and since we initially started our collaboration many years ago. The project has delivered programmes using blended learning, optimally maximizing ICT in the teaching and learning of ISL. It is important to note that there are currently no other universities delivering Deaf Studies programmes with this degree of online content internationally. The programme and its associated research are innovative in its guiding philosophy, its focus on linguistic analysis, Deaf Cultural analysis and its use of rich media and digital content. Signed languages are natural visual-gestural languages, which do not have a written form. Consequently, online content must be multi-modal with SL rich-media learning objects. Specific serious and important challenges include: 1) Universal design in an online curriculum for Deaf students 2) Identifying what aspects of ISL learning can best be supported and assessed online 3) Producing an accurate and detailed Irish Sign Language linguistic description of the morphosyntactic-phonological interfaces 4) Understanding and describing the linguistic and cultural background of the Deaf Experience in Ireland. A version of this paper was presented at INTED 2012 in Valencia, Spain Investigating the potential for creating Irish Sign language Avatars in software A range of doctoral studies are linked to this project, initially focused on the deployment of digital learning objects for online delivery of Deaf Studies. Later, we addressed issues in 1) the actual linguistic description of the phonological-morphological interface in ISL and 2) the Deaf Experience in Ireland through a sociolinguistic research study of Deaf-hearing bilingual and bicultural interactions. This important sociolinguistic research explores the linguistic and cultural background of the communicational behaviour of ISL. This paper reports on our research work and experiences focusing on achievements, research outputs and successes.
Keywords Irish Sign Language (ISL), Deaf Studies, Signs of Ireland Corpus, higher education, educational access, blended learning
Published In ICEP Proceedings
Year 2012
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