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How American Sign Language course utilizes technology to broaden student perspectives

Julie Barrows

Roughly 466 million people worldwide––34 million of whom are children––are deaf. In order to expose more students to sign language, American Sign Language (ASL) teacher Sally Ann Zwicker, who is Deaf, worked with VHS Learning to create an ASL 1 course that is conducted entirely online.

“An obvious reason for learning ASL is that deaf people are everywhere and the chances of meeting and communicating with them are higher than they used to be,” says Zwicker. “Plus, learning a new culture allows students to experience a new world, reduces stereotypes, and exposes them to new values and ways of thinking.”

ASL had been the most-requested course according to VHS Learning’s student surveys and over 400 students registered in the first year. Through a combination of selected readings, visual recordings, and interactive online activities, students learned to communicate at a basic level in ASL. In 2019 and 2020 VHS Learning added ASL 2 and ASL 3, respectively, to expand students’ vocabulary and speed. 

Presenting an ASL course through online learning is particularly effective, as viewing videos is an excellent tool for ASL teaching and allows students to view recordings multiple times to learn the language. “I use both video notes and written feedback,” says Zwicker, who has taught hearing students and paraprofessionals ASL in both face-to-face and online settings for over 20 years. “I also use a lot of signed videos on the internet to show students how to sign things accurately.”

For Zwicker, teaching in a “hearing” learning environment isn’t harder because she is Deaf. VHS Learning’s platform provides her with the capabilities she needs to teach effectively and the tools and equipment she needs to overcome any challenges. Plus, the connection Zwicker makes with her students as they learn about Deaf culture and sign language creates an enriching online learning experience for everyone. 

Now in its third year, ASL 1 continues to be one of VHS Learning’s most popular courses.