In a unique approach to deaf education, two members of Southeastern Louisiana University’s education faculty are using RFID technology to assist young children learning American Sign Language (ASL).
Assistant professors Robert Hancock and Becky Sue Parton have received a $360,000 grant from the Department of Education to develop their “physical world hyperlinking” teaching system, a term used to describe the process of connecting digital data on a computer and real-world objects. The researchers are constructing an initial set of 500 objects with RFID tags that trigger a computer to respond with instructional content, such as a video of a human interpreter signing the word and several photos or other images of the object.
For example, a deaf student can pick up an ordinary object, like a crayon, wave it in front of an RFID reader, and trigger a presentation on a computer screen that includes a video of a human interpreter signing the word with an image of the object superimposed.
What follows in the next several seconds are three to five photos or clip art images of variations of the object, such as a red and green crayon or a male and female lion, a video of an animated character signing the word beside the object, the written English translation for print recognition, and an audio pronunciation for hard-of-hearing children.
Traditionally deaf children learn sign language by coupling objects in a classroom environment with simple drawings to depict the corresponding signs. This usually involves intensive teacher guidance and results in the child falling five or six years behind in language acquisition. Education researchers argue that the new RFID system is far superior in that it teaches young children through interacting with their environment–or as they see it, through play.
The system can be used in the classroom on smart boards for group exercises, or in smaller portable laptop kits for home use.