Before 2008, KSD’s deaf and hard-of-hearing staff and KSD students did not even have a video telephone system to make a phone call using ASL. They used a TeleTYpewriter system requiring deaf users to type conversations even to each other. Deby Trueblood said, “We struggled on campus to communicate with one another. Teachers would have to leave their classrooms and students to walk to the office or walk across campus or ask a secretary to place a call. Not safe, professional or efficient!”
Students, staff and families now have faster, free and user-friendly videophones through Sorenson VRS. Videophone calls use a high-speed Internet connection and video relay system equipment. Deaf individuals can call each other directly. Calls between deaf and hearing individuals are placed and received through an ASL interpreter and the users’ VPDirect number.
In October 2008, kindergartener and first-graders held the first official student videoconference with their peers at the New Mexico School for the Deaf. Since then, KSD students have visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario and shared cookies with Santa. The first-ever MegaDEAFConference, sponsored by KSD’s videoconferencing mentor Tandberg, was held in 2009 with 40 schools and 1,000 viewers. The second conference, MegaDEAFConference 2010, attracted 60 schools and more than 2,000 viewers watching through video streaming.
For deaf students videoconferencing is an ideal way to provide experiences that would be prohibitively expensive if carried out on an actual worksite, says Judy Burkhead, careers teacher. Careers teachers use video conferencing to introduce middle and high school students to unique career opportunities, allowing them to talk to individuals in those careers through an interpreter and to view actual worksites.
“These videoconferences provide an essential tool to expand the horizons of students whose understanding can be limited to what they actually see and experience,” Burkhead said.
Students, from the youngest to the oldest, respond positively to the project. A six-year-old signed she liked different people teaching her. To their teacher two others signed: “learned dinosaur teeth fell out” and “butterfly spot 4 on the front,” indicating she remembered the butterfly she studied had four spots on the wings. Their teacher Mary Fran Melton, said, “Videoconferencing helped my students remember small details in a fun way. My students liked being in a different environment learning and doing things in a different way than our everyday instruction in the classroom.”