This interdisciplinary, collaborative project brings together colleagues from the Institute of Education who are experts in promoting good teaching practices and have a strong portfolio in research on the barriers to learning for disabled students, with colleagues from the Department of Computer Science with programming expertise in online learning. They will be joined by CEOs from two Deaf charities who together with a user group will ensure the project is well grounded in users’ experiences. The Institute of Education is well known for its research in language and literacy with current research in reading, vocabulary acquisition, bilingualism and English as an additional language (EAL).
Digital access for Deaf people has benefited from the development of automatic speech recognition (ASR), but its accuracy varies with context. Mistakes made through ASR are less confusing if you have good literacy and can guess, on the basis of phonetics, what the substituted word should have been. Both aspects are more likely to be problematic for the deaf learner. However, research suggests that signing is not necessarily a better medium than text, especially for acquiring new technical vocabulary. Text can be static, read and re-read for meaning. A central debate concerns whether it should be provided word for word as spoken or whether it should be edited, and if so, how. Paraphrasing can result in text that is dense and harder to mentally process- too much information in too short a time. Our research concerns examining the linguistic AND cognitive demands of text and testing modifications. In addition, deaf learners have been found to benefit from a variety of visual aids. The challenge then is to understand how they can best be accessed online in a manner that does not overly divide attention and prove distracting.
Although our prime focus is on deaf learners, research suggests that other students with literacy and language difficulties also benefit from subtitling and visual materials. These include dyslexic students and those with EAL and therefore there is much also to be gained from examining how these other two groups benefit.