Category Archives: teaching

The Best Laid Plans: A remote teaching journey

This is a repost of The best laid plans from Dr. Rachel Obbard’s blog Pandemic Pedagogy. The post is the first in a series that chronicle her adjustment to remote teaching after the coronavirus pandemic shut down face-to-face learning. Rachel still has a few more weeks of remote teaching this term, so stay tuned to her blog for more posts.

Drawing of a horse at the left it is realistic (semester begins) the middle is more cartoonish (told to plan for remote teaching) the right is stick figured (actual teaching)

The drawing above came across my Facebook feed. The artist’s comment was “We’re stick footing it now, people!” Indeed.

Last week I took my carefully crafted syllabus for Spring 2020 and tore it up. Then I sat down with a pad of paper and a pencil and worked out what my class this Spring will look like, taught remotely. I would like to think that Technology and Sport this spring will look more like the middle of the horse than the stick foot, but stay tuned. Both the students and I need to adjust to this new way of teaching, learning, and engaging.

How I Hope to Adjust – Fortunately I have been using the learning management platform Canvas for four years. It is fairly easy to upload reading assignments, either by downloading a PDF from our library or scanning a few pages from a book. I can also collect and grade student work through Canvas. Faculty who teach in the spring are still allowed into the office to use the scanner, and we even have one at home. I much prefer to mark up physical copies, and can do a better job that way, but it is possible electronically.

The hard part, I think, will be replicating or replacing the classroom discussions and in-person individual conferences with students. With video conferencing apps such as Zoom it is technically possible, but as with many things, the devil is in the details. One of the problems I’ve always had with Zoom meetings is that the dynamics of speaking in turn are pretty kludgy. It takes time to get everyone’s attention (and unmute yourself) when you have something to add, and this means missed opportunities, awkward pauses, and people accidentally talking over each other. Moreover, the latter is harder to sort out when all those voices are coming from the same direction.

Perhaps this is a good time to add that I’m hearing impaired. I have a congenital hearing loss in both ears, and grew up supplementing my hearing with lip-reading. As a result, I really need to read lips to hear people. This makes the challenges above even more difficult for me. Another problem arises when the audio and video aren’t synchronous. I note lags of even fractions of a second. As the lag gets larger, my difficulty with understanding increases. I hope that all my students have good internet bandwidth, and that the internet and Zoom don’t get bogged down by all the demand!

On the plus side, Zoom seems better than some other video conferencing applications I’ve used because in gallery view it puts a green frame around the person speaking, and in another mode it makes the speaker’s face larger. Also a tremendous help is that I have an ADA accommodation for remote captioning for our Zoom classes. Speech-to-text applications still don’t work great (as was the case when I worked at a firm in the 1980s who made one). Remote captioning means having a real human being listening to what is being said (using either a telephone or Zoom itself). They type what they hear and this text appears on my screen. It’s amazing!

What About the Students – Notwithstanding all of the challenges above, I know that many students this term will have an even more difficult time. Not everyone can return to a stable environment conducive to scholarly pursuits. I couldn’t have in my first year of college. Some of our students don’t have internet access at home or a quiet place to work. Some return to family responsibilities or will need to get jobs (having lost the ones they had at school). All will have to work harder to access the services and resources they had on campus. That’s on top of having to adjust to living at home again, and at the same time meeting our expectations of them. Here are some comments from my past students:

“The first thing that comes to mind is the mixed challenge and blessing of being at home with family. While school has its own (quite extensive at times) set of distractions, it is fundamentally a place of learning where most of your peers probably spend at least a few hours every day studying, there are many different places to go to study, and you can study whenever you’d like and really make your own schedule. In high school, I must have mastered the art of getting my work done in spite of my family, but it was a bit jarring to come back to it.”

This student and others talk about how even with supportive, understanding parents, it can be difficult as an adult to resume the ‘child’ role and live by someone else’s rules. Aside from general friction, it forces students to alter their work routines and creates new demands on their time – family dinners, babysitting, chores, and as one student puts it, to “generally be an active and contributing citizen of the family.”

For many students it can mean difficulty working at the times they find best and finding a quiet place to do work. Getting it right, if even completely possible, can take weeks.

Another past student writes, “I’ve had an idea of how disruptive this pandemic is, but as spring term gets closer, I’m realizing more and more how this really complicates and changes things for the worse.… I’m certainly anxious to see how this will all work out. I do have internet access at home, but my house has never been a great place to study (noise, commotion, etc.). I’m hoping I can find my way to the library or coffee shop, but I live pretty far away from both.”

And so … – We are encouraged to teach as much as possible asynchronously, which means in ways that don’t require the students to turn up at the same time via high-speed internet. I have decided to hold a short (~1 hour) Zoom meeting twice a week, attendance optional but encouraged, and to hold most ‘discussions’ on Canvas (i.e. students type their responses to a prompt into a text box, which other students can read and respond to). It is going to be super hard to have really complex discussions and build community this way, but we shall try (again, stay tuned).

I will have to replace one of their major projects, a group one. The project requires in- and out-of-class group work and culminates with a presentation to the whole class. If that isn’t bad enough (for asynchronous teaching in times of social distancing), the project requires that I work with one group at a time to help them understand a peer-reviewed engineering paper. Sooooo…… NO. I am replacing that with an independent assignment, and, hopefully, some great discussions as a class and in breakout groups. I think more than anything this term, I want to see if I can build the kind of community we do in on-campus classes. I don’t mind if my horse has a stick foot, as long as he has friends.

white woman with ombre green hair wearing maroon sweater in front of treesRachel Obbard: I am an Adjunct Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire), and a Senior Scientist at the SETI Institute (Mountain View, CA). I teach writing in science and first-year college writing courses. The latter revolve around the intersection of technology, sport, and ethics. My SETI research involves exploration of planetary ice (Earth and Mars) and I am currently leading a project to develop instrumentation for a future mission to Mars’ north polar cap. I am congenitally hard of hearing (HoH) and lip reading accounts for at least 50% of my access to speech. While I wear hearing aids, I need to see a face and mouth, or captioning, to have full access and understanding. 

Sudden Remote Teaching – Deaf/HoH

-Ryan

Here we are navigating our 5th week of remote / online classes here in NYC (and beyond of course) and adapting to our “new lives”. I can’t think of anything else to call it as of right now, so I’m going with this. I say this from the perspective of integration as I’m very much still in the: “I’m really perplexed about how we are even in the position that we are in” phase along with having adjusted to this new life and fulfilled so many new, mandated compliances to keep my courses going simultaneously. (That was a long sentence, too!) I originally started writing this post about 3 weeks ago. A lot has changed, which makes it seem harder to update, since I’ve made more progress than I thought I would. Or could.

Along with following all of the administrative protocols, attending endless Zoom meetings, making course updates, reformatting everything, and dealing with the staggering amount of e-mail and overall communication—and that’s just work stuff—not including connecting with family and friends. Whew!—I’m finally starting to reflect on things. Or… wait, is my ego reflecting on what it thinks it is reflecting on? Reflection invites in ALL of the emotions. And the feelings—both positive and negative. And there’s been quite a bit of the negative! Why am I reminded of past failures at a time like this? We humans like routines, they help us stay focused and structured. Uncertainty isn’t something we’re really good at, right? Wrong, we certainly adapt, and adapt quickly. I can see that as I edit this post!

cog-fatigue

Here is a visual interpretation of me after the first 2 days of my 3-in-a-row-straight zoom meetings..

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the conversion to remote and online teaching in general. As I see it now, especially as a deaf/HoH professor who depends on “visual everything,” I have much more to organize than I thought. I teach simultaneously between 4 colleges here in NYC. I’m teaching 7 courses between all of these schools to 99.9% hearing people. As we know, the reality of “just switching to video chat classes” is NOT easy, even for a hearing person teaching hearing people. Especially if you’ve never done this before. Video chat platforms can actually work well for me if it’s a one-on-one situation, but add 5-15-24 people and access really changes.

Simply put, I need to see a face and mouth at all times to have access to a spoken conversation. Yes, I wear hearing aids but they are NOT magical devices that mean I can “hear” what normal hearing people hear. I don’t, not even close… Because I’m deaf. My hearing loss is degenerative and has been decaying over time since birth. So these days, I only catch about 30% with hearing aids. The other 70% of the conversation is absorbed from lip reading, speech patterns, emotional rapport, facial expressions, and body language. When it comes to only seeing someone’s face, head, and shoulders on a flat monitor or screen, that 70% contextual part is naturally limited, and understanding speech becomes harder.

IMB_LPIpfu

When switching to “synchronous style” remote teaching formats using Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or Google Hangouts or another video-chat platform (I recently tested Microsoft Teams that DOES have a live, real-time captioning feature. I much prefer this over the others and will be switching to this. You do need to download the desktop application and have access to the business or education licensing, though), things can get really challenging, especially with a sea of small icon-like faces as the number of people increase in the chat session. Three of my classes have 20-plus students in them. As I mentioned, one-on-one video chat works well for me, but add several others to the chat, and, well, the faces get smaller, and visual access decreases. I need to adapt to this by using a text-chat feature to support the visuals. This can be done and I have been making several adaptations as time has passed. However, typing out the conversation slows down the process, and others in the virtual classroom may become a little impatient. “Please be compassionate, please be patient, please put yourself in the shoes of others and try to understand.” Hmm, this is tough, especially if I’m your first Deaf professor. Believe me, I know I am. We are learning together in this experience, in real-crazy-time. Things will be tweaked as we go along. We can’t be selfish and expect communication to function as it would in the normal classroom. It’s just not the same thing

Aside from what I said above, accessibility has a context that expands and extends far beyond myself; it is collective and contextual. I can share my own experiences here but my experiences obviously relate to my life experiences as a whole—and that includes all of my students. I care about them deeply and protect them fiercely. They come first, always have, and I am fully responsible for making the choice to teach and work where I do. What does accessibility look like on my students’ end? My students have their own issues, struggles and problems. Some have no access to the internet, no access to a computer, laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet. Which means no access to certain software applications. Some do not have a physical space to sit and be present in a video chat class as their living space is shared with parents, siblings, and other relatives who are also home, and in some cases working from home. Many have lost their jobs altogether. Some are living with multiple family members who are sick, whether with Covid-19 or other pre-existing conditions. This all happens simultaneously. But what we don’t really talk about, when we discuss how wonderful all of these new adaptations are, are the emotional and psychological aspects of this entire situation. Do we have enough contrast yet to fully understand the current and continuing impact of the last 5 weeks? No way.

I have adopted the mantra of Compassion, Patience, Understanding, Accessibility, Adaptability, Inclusion, Helpfulness, and Humility. We can do this together both inside and outside academia. Fellow students, faculty, and colleagues, both those with accessibility needs and those who need help working with folks with accessibility needs, let’s pull together and contribute our resources and knowledge to help each other. Blogs like this one and other social media have a huge reach and can be used to share useful perspectives and resources.

It is also crucial that we communicate honestly with our colleagues, students and administration. I AM Guilty of this in the past myself! I have and continue to reach out to my people. All of my students already know that that I am deaf/HoH. I was upfront with them from Day One of our semester. I explained my communication needs and stated that I always need to see a face, lips, and body language to follow verbal conversations. If not, then we need to type, write, text, or make written communication happen. The application of a speech-to-text application like Cardzilla (that I love! iOs  Android) or another form of text/type/visual communication also helps! Of course, content management system (CMS) platforms like WordPress websites are also super effective, and I have built a website for every class that I teach! No, not Blackboard or Canvas. I build my own websites for my courses so that I have full autonomy of the admin aspects of communication and access and so much more.

The combination of Zoom and the CMS platforms have allowed for a relatively smooth integration for me. As I mentioned above I will integrate MS Teams this week over Zoom. Zoom allows for simultaneous Video, Audio, and Text Chat, so for me and my students, this is crucial! I can see a face to speech read and then ask for additional text follow up via text in the chat box. Plus, if turn the audio on my computer speaker up, in my case to Very High, I can place my iPhone next to it and have the Cardzilla app transcribe the audio to text. It is a hack, but it works, and I am grateful for that. My students have been super patient and seriously awesome at this point! Accessibility is EVERYTHING! Especially in this very NEW situation we find ourselves in.

Aside from teaching and hacking accessibility and expanding my awareness of how amazing our collective human potentials are, how are you all coping with the isolation, and order to stay home? I’m focusing on self-care. Making healthy meals and setting a cozy and loving environment in my space. I’m also making a lot of new art, I mean A LOT!

breakfast

IMG_3076

Ink-Jet-SeriesWIP-Paintings

Communication is EVERYTHING so please be mindful and specific about what you NEED.

Much Love to all!

How much listening is too much?

– Michele

Listening is hard work. At the end of a long day of meetings I’m exhausted. When I share this with my hearing colleagues they’ll say “Oh, I know—me too!” But is it the same? Really? 

Studies have shown that users of hearing aids like me, who rely on speech reading along with amplification, experience listening fatigue as much higher rates than hearing people (e.g., Bess and Hornsby, 2014). We are working much harder than everyone around us to piece things together and make sense from what we are able to hear. Most listening fatigue studies are on school-aged children and the few studies of adults show that “Adults with hearing loss require more time to recover from fatigue after work, and have more work absences.” (Hornsby et al., 2016). As academics, our jobs require us to listen to others all the time—in our classes, in faculty meetings, in seminars, and when meeting with students. How do we recognize cognitive fatigue due to too much listening and mitigate this fatigue so that we can manage our work responsibilities? This is a tremendous challenge for deaf/HoH academics and The Mind Hears will explore this topic in several blog posts. 

In this post I share how I figured out my daily listening limit, which turns out to be 3 hours with good amplification and clear speech reading. For many years, I pushed through my day not paying attention to how much time I was spending in meetings and classes. Some days I felt okay while other days I ended up utterly exhausted. The kind of exhausted where I can’t track conversation and even have trouble putting my own sentences together. When this happens, I can’t converse with my family and exercise class is out of the question because I can’t follow the instructor. I just take my hearing aids out and lie on the floor with the dog— I don’ need to speech read him and he gets me. Yay dogs!  

When I explain to my listening fatigue to non-native English speakers, they get it right away. They recognize that this listening fatigue is just like when they first moved to a country with a new language; while they had good command of the new language, following it all day exhausted them. Exactly! Except I’m not going to get any better at my native language.

After a while—actually a really long while because for many years I tried to work as if I was a hearing person due to internalized ableism, which really is a whole different blog topic—and now this sentence has really gotten off track so I’m going to start over. After a while, I started to realize that for my own health I needed to avoid becoming so exhausted that several times a week, I could only commune with the dog.

undefinedIt turns out that my fancy new Garmin watch that tells me to “MOVE” every hour also detects my stress level. This image at left is from a day at a conference. All I did that day was sit in one room listening to talks with occasional breaks for coffee and meals. My heart rate stayed elevated all day due to the work of following the conversation and the anxiety of constantly deciding whether I should ask for clarification on something I may have missed or just let it go. When even my watch is telling me ‘enough is enough’ or more specifically “You’ve had very few restful moments on this day. Remember to slow down and relax to keep yourself going”, it might be time to figure out how much listening is too much

So last February I tracked both my hours each day spent listening and my evening exhaustion level in my bullet journal. 

Actually, I didn’t track this much detail—I just made marks in my bullet journal for each hour and then noted whether this was manageable. Below are two example pages. For the day on the left, the 3 Xs represent 3 hours of listening and this was an OK day. The image on the right is from another day that month. The horizontal line below the Xs means that I was on the floor with the dog that evening after 5 hours of listening. 

Yes, I know that my handwriting is messy and I tend to kick a lot of tasks to the next day. But this blog post is not about my untidiness and unreliability. What I learned from this exercise was that any day including more than 3 hours of listening would be a tough an unmanageable day. Armed with this knowledge, I could start to try to rearrange my schedule to avoid having days with more than 3 hours of listening. 

Interestingly, this goes against the advice that many academics give each other. Early career researchers are encouraged to push all meetings to one day so that you have a day free for research. This is great advice… for a hearing person. For many deaf/HoH, we may do better with two free mornings a week rather than 1 full day so that no one day is overloaded with listening.

So how successful have I been? Moderately. While I have control over some aspects of my schedule, I don’t over others. I schedule my one-on-one meetings with my research assistants on days that I don’t have a lot of other meetings. If I’m teaching a 3-hour lab, sometimes it’s just impossible for me to have no other teaching or meetings that day. But I am considering restructuring my lab activities so that I don’t need to be ‘on’ the whole time. I’ve also started talking with my department head about my effort to limit my daily meetings; this involves educating him on why listening fatigue is different for me than for hearing faculty. Had I been more savvy, I might have negotiated a listening limit when I was hired. Take note of this, future academics! 

I’m still sorting out how to manage my day and eager to learn more from others on how they successfully manage listening fatigue. As I mentioned at the start of this post, The Mind Hears wants to have a series of posts about listening fatigue. Tell us how has this fatigue affected your work day and your health. What solutions have you found?

References cited

  • Bess, F.H., & Hornsby, B.W. (2014). Commentary: Listening can be exhausting—Fatigue in children and adults with hearing loss. Ear and hearing35(6), 592.
  • Hornsby, B.W., Naylor, G., & and Bess, F.H. (2016). A taxonomy of fatigue concepts and their relation to hearing loss. Ear and hearing37(Suppl 1), 136S.

Mandated equal opportunity hiring may not ensure equal considerations by hiring committees: A hypothetical scenario

-Ryan

Imagine that you are a deaf/hard-of-hearing (HoH) person applying for a full-time academic position in a U.S. public institution of higher learning. The position is listed nationally across multiple job boards. At the offering institution, deaf/HoH faculty, students, administrators, and staff members represent 1% of the population. You are highly qualified and display an extensive résumé with many accomplishments in your field and a strong history of service. Information about you is highly transparent on the internet at large.

You investigate and discover that the offering department does not currently have a deaf or hard-of-hearing person among their full-time and adjunct faculty.

Applying for the position:

When applying, you check the general “YES, I have a disability” box on the institution’s application and contact the human resources (HR) department directly to let them know that you are applying specifically as a deaf/HoH person. If you are offered an interview for the position, you request, as is your right, to meet with the search committee in person, rather than have the interview over a conference call. You cross your fingers, hoping that the HR department communicates with the department offering the position to ensure that they are presenting an equal opportunity for employment for those with disabilities. Does the HR department actually communicate your request for accommodation to the academic department? You may never know but let’s say that it does in this case…

Considerations of the hiring committee:

When the academic department’s search committee learns that you are deaf/HoH how will they respond? Are they experienced in the process of interviewing a deaf or hard-of-hearing person? How many interviews have they given to deaf/HoH applicants in the past? How many of those previous applicants were given an interview, made it to the second or third round of the process, and hired full-time? Where are the statistics to prove that equal opportunities are being given?

When the search committee learns of your request to meet in person for an interview because you are deaf/HoH, how aware and educated are the search committee members of Deaf culture and what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing? How aware are they of what it means to be a deaf/HoH faculty member teaching in a mainly all-hearing environment? Do they know the benefits of having a deaf or hard-of-hearing person as a part of their full-time or part-time faculty? What evidence is there within the department’s current publications, seminars, exhibitions, faculty development, and outreach efforts of awareness of the advantages brought about by workplace diversity that is inclusive of disability?

Is the typical academic faculty search committee equipped, skilled, and supportive enough to interview a deaf/HoH candidate if none of their members are deaf or hard of hearing? If they don’t have deaf/HoH members, are they sufficiently trained in deaf/HoH experiences to judge your application fairly against the numerous other applicants who do not have any disabilities? Are search committees trained enough to distinguish between medical and cultural models of disability, and to understand how these models impact their perceptions of your strengths? Are they savvy enough to move away from focusing on what the you can’t do, and focus instead on what your diverse perspective brings to the hiring unit?

Answers to many of the questions I ask above shouldbe part of the public record. My experience in the job search circuit thus far has left me disillusioned and believing that departmental search committees and HR departments are likely ill-equipped to handle deaf/HoH applicants. Studies have shown that search committees have many implicit biases. One of these biases is that since deafness may impede academic success, it is safer to hire a hearing applicant.

It’s time to fix this.

Have you ever been a on a faculty search committee where a deaf or hard-of-hearing person applied? If so, did that person receive the position? If not, would you like to share your experience?

How to work with ASL-English interpreters and Deaf academics in academic settings

Just like their non-Deaf colleagues, Deaf academics teach students, discuss and present their research, attend various professional meetings, and give media interviews. Communicating and sharing knowledge with others is a critical part of academia. However, not everyone has had experience communicating with somebody using sign language, and many non-signers are unfamiliar with the protocols of working with ASL-English interpreters. Ashley Campbell, the staff ASL-English interpreter at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Linda Campbell, a Senior Research Fellow of Environmental Science at Saint Mary’s, have put together a rich set of resources: a series of tip sheets on how best to work with interpreters in various academic scenarios. By sharing these resources with The Mind Hears, Ashley and Linda provide quick reference tools that will simultaneously educate and lessen any stress around facilitating communication through interpreters. Though originally written to facilitate ASL-English communications, these tip sheets can be applied to any settings that incorporate signed language-spoken language communications.

The tip sheets can be found at:

https://smu.ca/academics/departments/environmental-science-work-with-interpreter.html

Do you have ideas on further tip sheets to add to this resource? Are there other recommendations that you would add to the existing tip sheets? Please let us know what strategies you have found useful in educating non-signers, and help Ashley and Linda expand the reach and utility of the resources they have created. Write to Ashley at Ashley.N.Campbell@smu.ca or share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Ashley Campbell

Since 2015 I have been the staff ASL-English interpreter within the Faculty of Science at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada. My first exposure to sign language was in Belleville, Ontario where I lived for a short period early in life. Many years later I took ASL night classes for enjoyment and through learning the language and culture I became interested in studying it more formally. I graduated from an interpreting training program in 2010 and along with interpreting have volunteered for both provincial and national interpreting association boards. I have a passion for sharing knowledge with the mentality of “each one, teach one”. When I’m not working I am a mom to a very active toddler, cooking feasts for my family, and enjoying the odd Netflix program.

Linda Campbell

Dr. Campbell is a Professor and a Senior Research Fellow at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.  She moved to Halifax from a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) faculty position at Queen’s University in Kingston. Her research and teaching at Saint Mary’s University focus on contaminants in the environment and on sustainability / resilience issues, with emphasis on aquatic ecosystems and water resources. Currently, Dr. Campbell’s research group is examining environmental contaminants across the Maritimes and around the world, with projects looking at impacts of legacy gold mine tailings from the 1800’s and contaminant transfer in aquatic food webs, birds, bats and humans.

Teaching (very) large classes

-Ana

This semester I am teaching a large lecture course with about 175 students. I have taught this course 6 times before, with enrollment varying between 150 to 200. To be completely accurate, I only teach a third of the course, usually the first third of the semester, with two hearing faculty leading the other portions. Of course, teaching even a third of a course represents a challenge when your hearing is as crappy as mine. Therefore, my top priority for this class is ensuring that the students and I can communicate effectively (I speech-read and don’t sign). How do I do it? And does it work?

Like much of my professional life, the answer to the question “does it work?” shifts frequently. Some days I come out of class thinking I’ve nailed it and given students the educational experience they deserve. Other days, not so much. But, for better or worse, here is what I do:

I start out by making a very explicit announcement about being deaf/HoH the first day of class. I love the language that Michele used in her recent post about announcing your deafness to your class, and am thinking of borrowing some of this language next semester. Besides giving students tips on how best to communicate with me, my main preoccupation this first day is to emphasize that my deafness should not in any way scare them from asking questions, as I will work hard to ensure our communication. In a class this size, I am not always 100% sure I am getting this message across, but I try.

The second thing I started doing 3 or 4 years ago is using clickers. This classroom response system allows students to use handheld remotes to choose from alternative answers to a question I have posed, and I can assess their understanding in real-time. For me, this opportunity to interact with ALL students in my very large class, bypassing the usual difficulties of oral communication, is a radical departure from the usual state of affairs. I really like clickers, and love not having to dread the very solid silence that sometimes followed my lobbing a question to the class, while vainly hoping that an individual would venture an answer. However, clicker questions only go in one direction; they are no substitute for class discussion or questions asked by students.

So the final frontier—answering students’ questions! Large classes are, by their very nature, less interactive than smaller ones, as students are much more reticent about speaking out. I will here make a shameful confession in the era of “active learning” buzzwords—I derive some amount of comfort (or at least a decrease in anxiety) from knowing that a large class means fewer questions for me. Of course, questions still get asked, so the problems remain (and what serious instructor would prefer that their students ask less questions?!).

Walking up to students when they ask a question is not really an option in this course. I teach in auditorium-style classrooms and there is no way to get close to a student sitting in the middle of a row. What I have been doing instead is getting myself a student translator. I don’t have a TA, so I designate somebody in the class, ideally seated in the first row, to repeat questions for me. I have tried a few different student translator strategies. One semester I hired a work-study student to perform this role. The student was not a biology major and struggled mightily with the scientific vocabulary in the class—which meant that I struggled to understand the questions. I chalked this up as one of my not-so-good semesters. Another semester I asked a different student in the course to play the translator role each class period (in the interest of not overburdening anybody); this led to a lot of re-explaining of what I needed at the start of each class, which in turn led to awkwardness. Most semesters what I’ve done is ask two students—one for each side of the room—at the beginning of the semester if they are willing to play this role.

In general, things worked better once I started asking enrolled students for help, as students immersed in the class are very capable of understanding their classmates’ questions. A nice consequence is that most students feel surprised and elated to be asked to perform the translator role (that said, a few students have turned me down). Yet each year I find myself re-evaluating what I do. There can (and have been for me) hiccups with this approach. Examples are, designated students missing a class, leaving you without a translator.  Or, students’ unease about speaking up in large classes might result in your designated translator whispering, and now you have TWO students you can’t understand; to work around this, I have occasionally fitted my student translator with a directional mic that my FM system can pick up, but have found the amplified sound of notebook pages being turned too overwhelming. Finally, there is that constant whispering doubt: is it fair to ask a student to perform this extra bit of work for me?

You will notice an underlying thread to these strategies. At no point have I asked my university or department for help (though I should clarify that my department contributed to the work-study hire I once tried). Why not? Hmm, this sounds like material for another blog post. What I’m doing seems, for the most part, to be working for me so far. But there is room for improvement. I would be thrilled to hear from other deaf/HoH instructors about the strategies used to manage large classes.

How do you introduce your deafness to your class?

– Michele

The first class meeting of every semester includes imparting a vast amount of different kinds of information. Professors endeavor to make their brief introduction to the course content engaging and relevant, while also outlining expectations of the students and establishing course ground rules. Covering all this within 50 minutes is exhausting for everyone. If we are deaf/HoH and our students are hearing, at what point during that first course meeting do we mention our deafness? How do we explain that our deafness might affect students’ experience since we may teach our courses differently than hearing instructors do?

One strategy is not to mention our deafness and hope it doesn’t come up. I’ve tried that. Or you have every intention of telling them, but in the kerfuffle of sorting out all the course logistics on that first day, you forget. I’ve done that, too. Of course, you can always bring up your deafness later in the semester, but I’ve found that the first class is the easiest time to do so. The course instruction seems to go more smoothly when students know early on that I might not always hear them and they understand why I speak and behave the way that I do.

So after I introduce my name and my background that establishes my expertise in the course content, I have a standard spiel that seems to work for both large and small classes. I say:

I’m part deaf, so I wear hearing aids and depend on speech reading. What this means is that I may ask you to repeat your question/comment. That doesn’t at all mean you asked a bad question, it just means I didn’t catch it. This also means that if you say something while I’m facing away from you, I may not respond no matter how brilliant the comment/question. You can help me out by waving your hand to catch my attention before you speak. You should expect that I may walk right up to you when I ask you to repeat a question/comment because I really want to hear what you have to say. You can also expect that I will never talk while writing on the board because for me, effective communication involves facing each other.

Maybe this presents the students with a lot of new ideas early in the class. Maybe they want their money back after learning their professor has broken ears. Maybe, on the other hand, this introduction reminds them that professors are human. Maybe my approach to establishing a deaf-friendly classroom will show them that there is no single or proper way to run a classroom or to learn.

How do you introduce yourself to your class on the first day?